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By Amy Hoak

RISMEDIA, August 27, 2007-(MarketWatch)-Tammy Winfield made every effort to depersonalize her home and keep it free of clutter. She even baked cookies before prospective buyers came in for a look, hoping that the homey scents would help persuade them to make an offer.

Still, the Truckee, Calif., home that she and her husband, Bill, put on the market in September sat for months without any takers.

“We were getting a lot of showings, but not many offers,” she said.

Then, in February, they took some home-selling advice — and a leap of faith.

At the suggestion of their Realtor, Brandi Benson, they brought in a stager who refocused the home using the concepts of feng shui. Tammy Winfield also addressed the reasons why she was having a tough time detaching from the home, possibly causing buyers to stay away.

And then there was the little matter of burying a statue of St. Joseph in the yard, a ritual she learned about from her Catholic friends.

The couple closed on the sale of their home in March.

These unconventional tactics can be last resorts for desperate home sellers willing to try anything for an offer. And if a buyer materializes soon after, sellers are certainly less willing to dismiss the techniques as superstitious hooey.

One or more of the following strategies may have been the Winfield’s ticket to a sale — that is, if you believe in such things.

Feng shui staging

When Benson suggested using feng shui to stage the Winfield home, there wasn’t immediate acceptance of the idea by the owners.

“I was somewhat skeptical. My husband was more so,” Tammy Winfield said.

At its heart, feng shui staging involves adjusting a place’s energy and enhancing the perception of space, often done by reconsidering furniture placement, said Christine Ayres, who staged the Winfields’ home and also co-wrote the book “Sell Your Home with Feng Shui.”

It’s a technique that has been around for hundreds — and some say thousands — of years, she said. And while the concept has long thrived in China, it’s only recently that it has been embraced in the United States.

A home with a good flow of energy is one that makes someone feel comfortable immediately; a home without it, on some level, makes a person want to leave, she said. Feng shui can also be used to create a clear path to a home’s “room of first impression,” the room that will make the biggest impact on a buyer, Ayres added.

“Most Realtors are very open to it. They’re going to use any tool possible to help market the property,” she said. There’s also little cost involved, she added.

Some tips to consider for those who want to try using feng shui to sell their home:

– Furniture shouldn’t be placed in the direct path of the entrance of the room, said Cynthia Chomos, a feng shui consultant, speaker, teacher and founder of the Feng Shui School for Real Estate Sales, in Seattle. For example, if the back of a couch faces a room’s entrance, the piece of furniture can cause a person to “ping pong” back to the door, Ayres said.
– Chomos also advised having a solid wall of support behind a key piece of furniture — a rule that makes it a bad idea to place a bed under a bedroom window.
– The front door, “the mouth of the house” should get special attention because “it’s where the house inhales its vitality and brings in the buyer,” Ayres said. Spruce it up with a fresh coat of paint, replace scratched hardware or frame the door with matching pots, which has the visual effect of widening the door, she said.
– If potted plants flank the house, the plants shouldn’t have sharp, pointed leaves, Chomos said. A plant such as a palm can appear aggressive and ward buyers off, and “the last thing we want are sharp points pointing at (a buyer’s) stomach,” she said.
– Ayres also suggests hanging a wind chime at the front, right corner of the home. That area is the buyer’s area, she said, where decisions regarding the sale might be made.

The feng shui techniques used by the Winfields “opened the house up a lot,” Tammy Winfield said. However, she still isn’t sure she’s a feng shui believer.

But Benson, her Realtor, is — after the success of two sales with feng shui makeovers, she applied the concepts to her own home.

Emotional check

Some say that other factors holding a home back from a sale are those that can’t be seen.

Negative events such as bankruptcies, divorces and health problems leave negative energy in the walls of a home, Chomos said. So she does space-clearing techniques that get the home back to neutral and ready for new occupants.

For sure, this idea has its skeptics.

But some home sellers, including Winfield, do believe that their troubles in letting go of the home can conspire to impede a sale. Ayres said there are certain techniques sellers can use to let go, making it easier for a buyer to come in and claim the home.

The home Winfield was trying to sell was filled with memories, including when her son graduated from high school or when the family dog fell ill. And while she and her husband, who decided to move to Colorado for a job, knew the area in which they’d be living, they hadn’t yet bought a new home.

“I don’t think I realized I was holding on to it,” she said.

As a symbolic gesture that helped her let go, Winfield took a few crumbles of foundation from the old home and tossed it into the Colorado River, near where they were moving.

Divine intervention

The act of burying a statue of a saint for a home sale can easily be viewed as superstition.
But for Stephen Binz, another home seller who struggled to get an offer, the ritual became more of a prayer. Binz is the author of “St. Joseph, My Real Estate Agent: Why the Patron Saint of Home Life is the Patron Saint of Home-Selling.” He spends the first chapter of the book explaining how the process helped him, and focuses the book on how the saint can be an inspiration to those in the transitional process of moving.

“If a person believes that by saying certain words or performing a certain action something is going to occur, that’s superstition,” he said. “But appealing to a saint is an act of devotion.”

Seven days after he buried the statue as directed — upside down in the yard — he had an offer.

After the home is sold, the statue is supposed to reside in a place of honor in the seller’s new home. At the Winfields’ new home, St. Joseph sits in the kitchen window.

While to some this process may seem a far-fetched idea, there might not be as many doubting Thomases out there as one might think.

According to Phil Cates, owner of the online retailer, sales of figurine kits have risen about 100% every year since 2004. For $9.95, the statue comes with a burial bag and an instructional booklet, all packaged in a cotton tote bag with a logo of St. Joseph on it, Cates said.

Orders to the Modesto, Calif.-based company come from across the country, although states with troubled markets — including Florida, Michigan and Ohio — seem to be ordering the most nowadays, he said. Believers and skeptics are invited to submit their stories on the Web site.

But when customers call Cates, who is also a mortgage professional, he often gives them a dose of market reality with their prayerful purchase. (The company’s phone number, by the way, is 888-BURY-JOE.)
“They need attractive pricing and you have to start thinking like a home builder and give incentives,” he said. “It’s important that people know, that they don’t have rose-colored glasses on. They need to know what they’re faced with.”

Amy Hoak is a MarketWatch reporter based in Chicago.