Sellers wonder if saint will speed home sale

DEAR MR. MYERS: Do you believe that burying a small statue of Saint Joseph will make a home sell faster?

ANSWER: Oh, Lord ... I get asked this question often. It’s usually when sales are slow and sellers are desperate. But this year is different, with mortgage-interest rates low, sales brisk and home prices in most parts of the nation rising.

In good markets or bad, though, my response is always the same: Burying a likeness of St. Joe in the yard won’t necessarily bring buyers flocking to your door, but it won’t hurt your marketing chances, either.

No one is sure how the practice got started, although many experts trace it back to a group of European nuns in the Middle Ages who are said to have buried a medal of St. Joseph — the patron saint of home and family — in a quest for land to build a new convent. The needed land supposedly soon was granted by a feudal landlord.

Yet, even true believers disagree over how the small statue should be placed. Some say it should be buried with the face looking toward the home to protect the family. Others say it should be planted with eyes facing the street, so St. Joe can view potential buyers and welcome them to come into the house.

Many who believe in the practice also say that the statue should be planted upside-down, because Joseph will work even harder to find a buyer so he can “right himself” and get out of the dirt.

Though some believe that the practice is tantamount to blasphemy or even sorcery, officials of the Catholic Church say they don’t have a problem with it — as long as the statue is dug up, cleaned and placed on a mantle or other place of prominence when the sellers move into their next home.

REAL ESTATE TRIVIA: There are more than 1,700 cities and towns around the world that are named after Saint Joseph, many of them commonly called “San Jose.” The U.S. Board on Geographic Names (yes, there is a taxpayer-funded program for that) says that it’s Earth’s most popular name for a community, followed closely by San Antonio.

DEAR MR. MYERS: What is a “shelter belt”?

ANSWER: It’s a row of trees that has been planted to help protect a home or other building from extreme weather, such as high winds or drifting snow.

DEAR MR. MYERS: Is it true that the state of California runs a program that will make a homeowner’s monthly mortgage payment for his or her home if the owner becomes unemployed or suffers some other kind of financial setback?

ANSWER: Yes, it’s true. California operates arguably the most generous set of mortgage-assistance programs of the 18 states that were declared “hardest hit” during the recent Great Recession and thus qualified for billions of dollars from the U.S. Hardest Hit Fund.

More than 60,000 homeowners have already received mortgage help through the state’s so-called Keep Your Home California program. Its most popular plan will pay some or all of a homeowner’s mortgage payments — as well as property-tax bills, private mortgage insurance premiums and even homeowners’ association dues — if the owner loses a job or suffers certain other types of serious financial problems.

Of course, there are lots of strings attached, but in California, many of those strings are fairly thin. For example, owners can qualify for help as long their first mortgage loan doesn’t exceed $729,750. That’s a big-size mortgage, even in the state’s costly housing market.

And despite their recent financial hardships, owners still can qualify for help as long as their total household income doesn’t top $77,750. That type of dough would allow someone to live like a king in dozens of other states.

For Californians who qualify, the state will provide up to $3,000 per month in mortgage-payment help for as long as 18 months.

Other states that qualify for Hardest Hit federal funds include Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey and Ohio. A complete list of states and details of their different programs can be found on the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s website,

David W. Myers’ column is distributed by Cowles Syndicate Inc.