There are homes that are so coveted they sell almost as soon as they're listed.
Then there are homes that require the services of a savvy real estate agent who uses all the marketing strategies to bring in a contract.
And then there are homes that seemingly no one wants to buy. Homes that sit stranded in the market, for whatever the reason. Homes where only divine intervention would help.
To Allen Becker and his wife, that kind of intervention became imaginable. Even though the home had been up for sale for just six weeks, the Beckers knew they were in a competitive market with other nearby homes that had been languishing.
So when their agent suggested using the spiritual power of St. Joseph to help bring a buyer for their Bel Air home, they figured why not.
Becker took a 3-inch, tan plastic statue of St. Joseph that the agent had given him and on March 4 buried it headfirst, facing his house.
Four days later the house sold, astounding even the Realtor.
In a housing market controlled by so many whims, there exists a core of Realtors who believe in the power of St. Joseph -- the patron saint of workers, carpenters and consequently the home -- to sell those stubborn homes as much as the multiple-listing system.
Now sitting amid boxes from their impending move, Becker says he doesn't consider himself a religious man, but he does believe in faith.
"I don't care if you call him God or St. Joseph," he said. "There's a presence watching over us. It could be spacemen -- I don't care. I've never seen it. I just know."
Those Realtors normally offer the St. Joseph advice only for listings that have had a long, rough ride on the market with no end in sight. They don't want to abuse the privilege of St. Joseph. But many times the requests come from the sellers themselves.
"Someone may ask, 'Do you think it will help,' and I say it couldn't hurt -- just plant St. Joe," said Kathleen Buffington, a Realtor at Chase Fitzgerald in Roland Park.
Many Realtors have their "Believe It or Not" stories.
Such was the case of a woman who moved from Maryland to Arizona.
After eight months of paying the mortgage on her unsold home in Baltimore, she sent her agent a statue and burial instructions.
Within two weeks, the house sold.
Another case involved a couple moving because of a new job. But their house, which was in a very active neighborhood, wasn't doing anything, even with St. Joseph in the ground. But St. Joseph's presumed inattention turned out to be for the better. The husband got a better job offer, and that's when the house sold.
In 1995, Betsy Moyer was determined to sell her house on Lake Avenue in Baltimore at a premium. She listed it for $15,000 more than other sellers in the same neighborhood. After seven quiet months a friend recommended that Moyer plant St. Joseph.
The next week a group of nuns arrived to look at the house. Three months later, the house was sold at the highest price ever in that area, according to her agent, Joanne Davenport, a broker at ERA Equity in Parkville.
And St. Joseph isn't getting used just in Maryland. After a buyer backed out of a sale, an Orlando, Fla., Realtor had one more tip for her client, now a Baltimore resident.
"I happen to be a Jewish Realtor, but people are talking about this St. Joseph's statue," said Debbie Brooks-Kantor, a Realtor for Higgins and Heath/Better Homes and Gardens.
Her client said she mentioned her plans for a St. Joseph statue to a priest, decided it couldn't hurt and buried the plastic figure in her Orlando back yard. Within three weeks, Kantor had four serious offers on the house, one that lead to a closing. It had been on the market for nearly a year.
"Three people were hounding me: 'What happened to the house? What happened to the house? -- I wanna buy the house.'"
When the sale went through this month, the seller called Brooks-Kantor and asked her to go to the citrus tree in the back yard, take 10 paces toward the house, dig up the St. Joseph statue and send it to her at her new home in Baltimore.
"It was spooky," Brooks-Kantor said. "I have to tell you something I don't want to send it back. I believe it works."
Many faithful agents are leery of talking about St. Joseph to a skeptical and nonbelieving public. Regina Crabb, a Realtor for Century 21 Joan Ryder who buys her statues by the hundreds, tries to be careful with whom she shares her belief. Some, like the Beckers, are willing to give St. Joseph a try. Others, such as Barbara Mears, who received a St. Joseph from Crabb, was more hesitant.
"She left the written prayers and they are very honest and very sincere prayers, but we believe we can pray right to the Father instead of a statue," Mears said.
But it makes sense that religion plays a part in what for many people is the biggest sale they ever had to make, so they can make an even bigger purchase.
The origins of the practice vary. According to the Catholic Information Center in Washington, an order of European nuns in the Middle Ages buried a medal of St. Joseph -- while asking the saint to intercede -- in its quest for a convent. Another theory is that it may be connected to a practice by German carpenters who buried the statues in the foundations of houses they built and said a prayer to St. Joseph.
Msgr. Jeremiah Kenney, a judicial vicar of the Archdiocese of Baltimore who did graduate work studying folklore in Scotland, said burying the statue might not be part of church teaching, but it's a custom that's been passed on through generations.
"It's people trying to do something to bring about a solution to a tough situation. It's kind of a wish, a hope, a kind of an expression of faith," he said.
"It's a calling down from the supernatural and the creative figures of that world into the natural world to remedy a tough situation," he said. "It's asking God for help."
And judging from how many $2 statues are sold, people still turn to St. Joseph, according to Lewis Good, a salesman with Grottendick J. F. & Sons, a religious goods store in Catonsville. Good says he sells at least one a day and a few times someone has bought a box of hundred.
Recently, a customer called and said the statue wasn't working, so Good gave him a holy card of St. Jude, the patron saint of hopeless causes, to give St. Joseph a little help.
"When they call and say it doesn't work, they think they're doing something wrong, like there's another prayer they need to say or they've buried it wrong," Good said.
There is some debate on how the statue should be buried. Most believe the statue should be buried upside down facing the house. Some people leave the statue in the ground after a sale to bring good luck to the buyers. Others dig up the statue and keep it in their new house. One woman buried St. Joseph in a plastic bag to respectably keep dirt off the statue.
But in whichever way it works, all that Allen Becker knows is that his prayers have been answered. In fact, he's encouraged his mother-in-law, who's trying to sell her house in Aberdeen, to do the same.
"I have worked in the church all my life," she said after putting St. Joseph to work. "God has answered my prayers so plainly so many times that there is nothing I could do but believe."
Pub Date: 3/30/97