Ocala Magazine’s March 2021 digital edition is now available. Click here to read it online now!
BY FAMILY FEATURES
Devoting a little time every day to care for yourself can go a long way toward protecting the health of your heart. Simple self-care, such as taking a moment to de-stress, giving yourself time to move more, preparing healthier meals and not cheating on sleep, can all benefit your heart.
Because heart disease is largely preventable, focusing on improving your heart health is important. Heart disease is a leading cause of death for women and men in the United States, and many Americans remain at risk, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). People with poor cardiovascular health are also at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
“Studies show self-care routines, such as taking a daily walk and keeping doctor’s appointments, help us keep our blood pressure in the healthy range and reduce our risk of heart disease and stroke,” said David Goff, M.D., NHLBI’s director of cardiovascular sciences.
It may be easier than you think to “put your heart” into your daily routine. Each Sunday, look at your week’s schedule and carve out 30 minutes for heart-healthy practices. Take an online yoga class, prepare a heart-healthy recipe, schedule your bedtime to get at least seven hours of sleep or make a medication checklist. Then seek out support from others to help you stick to your goals.
Consider these self-care tips to try each day to make your heart a priority:
Find a moment of serenity every Sunday. Spend some quality time on yourself.
Be mindful about your health and regularly monitor your blood pressure or blood sugar if needed. Keep an eye on your weight to make sure it stays within or moves toward a healthy range.
Choose how you want to approach eating healthier. Start small by pepping your meals with a fresh herb or spice as a salt substitute. Get adventurous and prepare a simple, new, heart-healthy recipe. Or go big by trying a different way of eating, such as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan, which is scientifically proven to lower blood pressure. DASH is flexible and balanced, and it includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, fish, poultry, lean meats, beans, nuts, whole grains and low-fat dairy products.
Don’t waffle on your wellness. Move more, eat a fruit or vegetable you’ve never tried, make a plan to quit smoking or vaping or learn the signs of a heart attack or stroke. You could be having a heart attack if you have chest and upper body pain or discomfort, shortness of breath, cold sweats, nausea or lightheadedness. You might be having a stroke if you experience numbness in the face, arm or leg; confusion; trouble talking or seeing; dizziness; or a severe headache.
Treat Yourself Thursday
Treats can be healthy. Try making a dessert with fresh fruit and yogurt. Then stretch your imagination beyond food. Host a family dance party, take a few minutes to sit and meditate, go for a long walk or watch a funny show. Whatever you do, find a way to spend some quality time on yourself.
Follow inspiring people and pages on social media, or text a friend to help you stick to your self-care goals. Remember to take care of your mental health, too. Two of the main hurdles to self-care are depression and a lack of confidence, according to a study published in the “Journal of the American Heart Association.” If your mental health is taking a toll, take action to show your heart some love. Reach out to family and friends for support, or talk to a qualified mental health provider.
Inspire others to take care of their hearts. Talk about your self-care routine with loved ones or share a selfie on social media. Having social support and personal networks can make it easier to get regular physical activity, eat nutritious foods, reach a healthy weight and quit smoking.
Learn more about heart health and heart-healthy activities in your community, and see what others are doing for their heart health, at nhlbi.nih.gov/ourhearts or follow #OurHearts on social media.
Story, Recipes and Photography by Robin Fannon | IG: rsvp_robin
When it’s cold outside, we tend to think about hearty, stick-to-your-rib type meals, but during the winter months delicious vegetables are plentiful, in particular those of the cruciferous variety which happen to have some of the greatest health benefits. They are low in calorie, rich in folate, vitamins C, E and K, and are loaded with dietary fiber. These dynamos can lower body inflammation and have been proven to reduce the risk of developing cancer. Unfortunately, they can also be tough with strong unique flavors, so the challenge is to make them palatable and delicious. This month’s recipes are just that! One extra salad recipe consisting of fennel, beets and in-season citrus fruits is included for good measure. All are extremely delicious and packed with life affirming super foods. Here is just a fun fact: The name cruciferous comes from a latin word meaning “cross bearing” because their base petals resemble a cross.
Fennel, Roasted Beet and Citrus Salad
Collard Green Wraps
Kale Caesar Salad
Sautéed Cabbage with Cumin Seeds and Turmeric
Confessions Of An Over-Pruner: How I Butchered My Crape Myrtle, and Why It Won’t Happen Again
BY R.J. JENKINS
I grew up with my hands in the dirt. My great-grandparents gardened, my grandfather gardened, my parents gardened. On my tenth birthday, I asked for vegetable seeds and cow manure. Nobody batted an eye.
I think that’s why, when we moved into our house on Fort King Street in Ocala’s historic district, I was especially excited about the yard and gardens. But the property had been unoccupied for months before we bought it, and so the landscape sat smothered under a year’s worth of Spanish moss. The azaleas were spindly, wild, and mildewed. The box hedges, normally the most well-mannered plant in the garden, were feral. And the weeds. Goodness gracious the weeds.
And then there was the crape myrtle in the front yard. A beautiful specimen of the plant: tall, graceful, dressed in satin bark and covered in showy white blooms. For someone with an informed eye, the tree looked exactly as it should look, the product of decades of immaculate, knowing care. But to my eye, unfamiliar with the nuances of gardening in the south – and of crape myrtles in particular – the tree seemed simply too tall.
And so when the time came, just as soon as the threat of frost had passed, I did to my crape myrtle what I saw so many other people doing to their crape myrtles: I unceremoniously lobbed off the top of every branch, not quite in a straight line, but almost. And with each satisfying slice, I thought to myself: “I am a good boy. I am helping.”
I was not a good boy. And I was not helping.
Folks in the know call it crape murder: the unapologetic and aggressive – but almost always well-meaning – over-pruning of crape myrtle trees every spring. Thinking back, I can identify three main reasons why I thought I was doing the right thing when I gave my tree a bad 90s buzz cut.
First, I saw other people doing it, and so I assumed it was the right thing to do (pro tip: this is a really bad reason to do just about anything.) Second, it seemed like a common sense way to re-shape a tree that, in my estimation, had gotten too big for its britches. And third, it felt intuitive to me that a good, hard prune in the spring would encourage more enthusiastic flowering come summer.
I have since learned that I was maybe a tiny bit right, but mostly – and in an impressive variety of ways – I was dead wrong.
Happily, Ocala abounds with folks who know more about southern gardening in their green thumbs than I know in my whole body, and a few of them have been kind enough to educate me on the subject. One of those folks is Cathy Steppen-Snyder. Cathy is a Master Gardener and a brilliant practitioner of natural plant propagation, soil building, and pest management. Whenever I mention crape murder to her, she winces:
“If you don’t know what to do, then it’s probably best to do nothing. Pruning crape myrtles can be beneficial in certain circumstances, but for the most part, it’s unnecessary. For me, it’s all about right plant, right place – and that’s true of any plant. If you have to brutalize your tree every year to make it fit, then you’ve probably got the wrong plant for that place. Put the loppers down and look for a different variety.”
Fellow Master Gardener and professional horticulturist/floriculturist, Suzanne Shuffitt, is equally protective of this staple of southern landscapes:
“First, let’s give credit to this genus of plants for it’s extreme forgiveness of mistreatment. Even through all the improper pruning habits, the weed eater blight, the lack of proper fertilization – despite all of it, crape myrtles just keep on giving. They refuse to give up. They are generous, gracious plants.”
When asked to share with me their most trusted tips for the proper pruning of crape myrtles, Suzanne and Cathy echoed each other beautifully:
Prune to remove dead or damaged limbs, limbs that are crisscrossed and rubbing, suckers sprouting from the base of the tree, and nuisance limbs that might endanger passersby. Prune with discretion. If you’re wondering whether or not a limb should go, it should probably stay.
Only prune branches that are the thickness of your thumb or smaller. Leave larger limbs be.
Right plant, right place. Don’t try to wrestle a too large plant into a too small space. Happily, crape myrtles are very tolerant of being transplanted. And if you’re welcoming a new crape to the yard – or any plant, for that matter – take note of the mature height of the varieties you’re considering.
While it is true that pruning stimulates new growth – and while it is also true that careful pruning can encourage more active blooming – crape myrtles will bloom whether or not you prune them. If your crape isn’t blooming, it probably wants more sun. Crape myrtles are gluttons for full sun.
When it comes to pruning, timing is key. If you decide to prune your crape myrtles, try to do it after the threat of frost has passed, but before too much new growth has emerged. You don’t want a late cold snap killing your carefully cultivated new growth, and you don’t want early pruning to coax your tree out of dormancy prematurely. Nobody likes being woken up from a nap!
And if you – like me – are a convicted crape murderer, reform is within your grasp! Remember: these plants are exceedingly gracious. They want to forgive! They want to thrive! And with a little information and a lot of patience, even a severely mistreated crape myrtle can be rehabilitated. Selective pruning – choosing the strongest two or three sprouts from each stub and removing the rest, and repeating this process for several successive seasons – can greatly improve the health and appearance of a crape myrtle in as few as three years.
As my mother always said, the best apology is changed behavior.
RECIPES AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY ROBIN FANNON @rsvpRobin
Whenever I tell someone I’m going to make a pot of soup, the typical response is “Oh I love soup!” In fact, if there is someone on the planet that doesn’t like soup, we have not met. There is no better time of the year to enjoy a steamy bowl of soup than January. Yes, even in Florida!
Apart from being easy to prepare and delicious to eat, soup has so many wonderful health benefits. Since it’s mostly liquid, it is hydrating (be mindful of the salt content), fills you up and helps keep you satisfied. It can ward off a cold or flu and is power packed with beneficial nutrients. Load up on soup with lots of veggies, beans or lentils and you’ll easily reach your daily nutritional and fiber quota. You can also thicken soups with a simple peeled white potato instead of using cream or flour. Most soups also freeze well so it’s easy to keep some on hand.
So pull out that stock pot (or crock pot) and start chopping. Your family and friends will soon be exclaiming MMMM…MMMM…GOOD!
Roasted Red Pepper Soup (shown e)
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and pinches of salt and pepper and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add the garlic, fennel, carrots, and thyme leaves. Stir and cook until the carrots begin to soften, about 10 minutes.
Add the balsamic vinegar, red peppers, beans, tomato paste, broth, and ½ teaspoon salt. Simmer until the carrots are tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
Add the simmered soup to a high-speed blender with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and puree until smooth. Season with more salt and pepper, to taste.
Roasted Carrot and Ginger Soup (shown above)
Preheat oven to 375°F/190°C.
Add the carrots, onion and garlic to a sheet tray and spread out evenly.
Drizzle with olive oil and an even sprinkling of salt and white pepper, mix until coated.
Roast in the oven for 35 minutes until tender..
In a large saucepan add the vegetable stock and bring to a simmer.
Add the carrots, onions, garlic squeezed out of it’s peel, ginger and bay leaf.
Simmer for 15 minutes.
Using an immersion blender, or add to a blender in batches, blend soup until it is smooth and reaches the desired consistency, if it is too thick, add more stock.
Classic French Onion
Caramelize the onions. In a large heavy-bottomed stockpot, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the onions and sauté until well for about 30 minutes until caramelized (but not burnt), initially stirring every 3-5 minutes, then about once a minute near the end of caramelization to prevent burning*. Add garlic and sauté for 2 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook for an additional 1 minute. Stir in the wine to deglaze the pan, using a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan.
Simmer the soup. Add the stock, Worcestershire, bay leaf, and thyme and stir to combine. Continue to cook until the soup reaches a simmer. Then reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for at least 10 minutes. Discard the bay leaf and sprigs of thyme. Taste the soup and season with salt and pepper as needed.
Toast the bread. Preheat oven to 400°F. While the soup is simmering, slice the baguette into 1-inch thick pieces and arrange them in single layer on baking sheet. Bake for 6-8 minutes, until the bread is toasted and golden around the edges. Remove and set aside.
Broil the topping. Switch the oven to the broiler. Once the soup is ready to serve, place your oven-safe bowls on a thick baking sheet. Ladle the soup into each bowl, then top with a baguette slice and your desired amount of cheese (I used about 1/4 cup shredded cheese for each). Place on an oven rack about 6 inches from the heat and broil for 2-4 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbly.
Roasted Cauliflower Soup
Place the cauliflower florets into a large bowl of lightly salted water; allow to stand for 20 minutes. Drain well, and arrange on a sheet of heavy aluminum foil on a baking sheet. Spray the olive oil cooking spray evenly on the cauliflower.
Preheat the oven’s broiler and set the oven rack about 6 inches from the heat source.
Broil the cauliflower until browned, 20 to 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large soup pot, and cook the onion until translucent, about 5 minutes; stir in the garlic and roasted cauliflower. Pour in the water, season with salt and black pepper, and simmer until all the vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes. Blend the soup in the pot with an immersion hand blender until creamy and smooth.
Ravioli En Brodo
In a small stockpot, bring stock to a boil over medium heat. Season with salt and pepper, and stir in tortellini. Cook pasta according to package instructions (it should float to the top when finished). Remove from heat, and serve hot.
Greek Avgolemono Soup
To a large pot, add 1 tablespoon olive, onion and lemon strips.
Allow to sweat over low-medium heat while covered. Make sure that no color develops.
Add chicken stock or broth to the pot long with the rice, bay leaf and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to and simmer until rice is tender and stock is aromatic, about 20 minutes.
With slotted spoon, remove and discard bay leaf and lemon zest strips.
Increase heat to high and return stock to boil, then reduce heat to low.
Place stick blender into the pot and blend for a few seconds. If you do not have a stick blender, place about 2 cups of the soup into a blender and blend until smooth.
In a separate bowl, whisk eggs, yolks, and lemon juice lightly until combined.
Taste and season with extra salt, pepper and lemon juice if necessary.
While whisking constantly, slowly ladle about 2 cups of hot stock or broth into egg mixture; whisk until combined.
Add chicken. (optional)
Pour egg-stock mixture back into pot; cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until soup is slightly thickened, about 4 to 5 minutes.
After this, do not simmer or bring to a boil as this will cause the soup to get gummy.
Serve immediately with sprigs of dill, extra lemon zest and black pepper.
Every year keeps getting BETTER.
Ocala Magazine recognizes our community’s best businesses and service organizations, voted by our readers, with all new categories among time-tested favorites. The people have voted.
Here are YOUR 2020 Better than the Best results!
Best Photographer: Sarah Miller
Runners-up: Dave Miller, Mark Emery
Best Personal Trainer: Clint Hart
Runners-up: Tyla Kennedy, Traci Rivera
Best Barbecue: Big Lee’s
Runners-up: Sonny’s, Brick City Southern Kitchen and Whiskey Bar
Top Write-In: Artman’s Smokehouse
Best Dressed Male: Lewis Stokes
Runners-up: Ricky DeJesus, E.J. Nieves
Best Dressed Female: Angie Lewis
Runners-up: Evelyn Nussel, Candice Christian
Best Hair Salon: Face the Day Salon & Spa
Runners-up: Hello Gorgeous, Enve @ Salon 209
Top Write-In: Salon Bliss
Best Insurance Agency: Angie Lewis State Farm
Runners-up: Ocala Insurance Agency, Drew Ditty All-State
Top Write-In: Bradshaw State Farm
Best Alternative Wellness: OFMC Wellness
Runners-up: Faithfully Guided Health Center, Absolute Health Ocala
Top Write-In: Pulse Center, Recharge Clinic
Best Assisted Living Facility: Hawthorne Village
Runners-up: The Bridge at Life Care Center, Camelot Chateau
Top Write-In: Bridgewater Park
Best Aesthetician: OFMC Dermatology and Aesthetics Institute
Runners-up: Nirvana Medical Spa, Beyond Skin
Best Service Club: Ocala Shrine Club
Runners-up: Rotary Club, Junior League
Top Write-In: Girl Scouts
Best Retirement Community: On Top of the World
Runners-up: Trilogy, Stone Creek
Top Write-In: SummerGlen
Best Antique Store: White Elephant
Runners-up: Two Sisters, Ole Cracker House
Top Write-In: Ocala Antique Mall and Estates
Best Place to Swim: Rainbow Springs
Runners-up: Juniper Springs, Alexander Springs
Top Write-In: Silver Glen
Best Cave: Ocala Caverns
Runners-up: Scott Springs, Hitchhikers Cave
Top Write-In: Devils’ Den
Best Boutique: Ivy on the Square
Runners-up: Marley Mae Market & Paperie, Pink Hanger
Top Write-In: Serendipity
Best Summer Kids Program: YMCA
Runners-up: Discovery Center, Camp Kiwanis
Top Write-In: Martial Arts Center
Best Attorney: Daniel Hightower
Runners-up: Doc Blanchard, Cannon Law Firm
Top Write-In: Riggins Law Firm
Best Dentist: Ocala Family Dentistry
Runners-up: Chandra Smile Designs, Dr. Quinn Family Dentistry
Top Write-In: Grand Oaks
Best Electrician: Mid-State Electric
Runners-up: Ciraco Electric, Kuhn Electric
Top Write-In: Roam Electric
Best Pediatrics: Ocala Pediatrics
Runners-up: Children’s Health of Ocala, Heart of Florida Medical Center
Top Write-In: Marion Pediatrics
Best Place to Network: Ocala Business Leaders
Runners-up: CEP After Hours, Business Network International
Top Write-In: Hispanic Business Council
Best Lawn Care Professional: A Cut Above Lawn Care
Runners-up: Jason Schmidt Landscaping, Marion Precision & Lawn Care
Top Write-In: Clean Cut Lawn Care
Best Nail Professional: Azulene Day Spa
Runners-up: Face the Day Salon and Spa, Happy Nails Spa and Salon
Top Write-In: Premiere Hair and Nail
Best Food Truck: Big Lee’s BBQ
Runners-up: Smokin Swamp BBQ, Curbside Cuisine
Top Write-In: Charlie’s Pinchos
Best Medical Facility: AdventHealth Ocala
Runners-up: Ocala Family Medical Center, Ocala Regional Medical Center
Top Write-In: Family Care Specialists
Best Chiropractor: Fakhoury Medical and Chiropractic Center
Runners-up: Pitts Family Chiropractic, Downtown Chiropractic and Wellness
Top Write-In: Stenfield Chiropractic
Best Automotive Repair: Don’s Garage
Runners-up: Patrick’s Auto & Truck Repair, Firestone Complete Auto Care
Top Write-In: Spencer’s
Best Southern Food: Ivy on the Square
Runners-up: Brick City Southern Kitchen and Whiskey Bar, Cracker Barrel
Top Write-In: Brooklyn’s Backyard
Best Radio Personality: Lewis Stokes (K Country)
Runners-up: Hunter & Parker (Wind FM), Jen Ryan (Q92)
Top Write-In: Bob Rose (97.3 The Sky)
Best Commercial Realtor: Van Akin Foxfire
Runners-up: Nolan Galloway II, Philip Glassman Birkshire Hathaway
Top Write-In: Beau Broker
Best Residential Realtor: Roberts Real Estate
Runners-up: Ocala Horse Properties, Carolyn Roberts
Top Write-In: Allie Jara
Best Auto Dealer: DeLuca Toyota
Runners-up: Jenkins Auto, Ford of Ocala
Top Write-In: Automax
Best Caterer: Mojo’s Grill and Catering
Runners-up: 3’s Catering, Brick City Catering
Top Write-In: Pasta Faire
Best Event DJ: DJ Rocket
Runners-up: Just Joel, Joe Ortiz
Top Write-In: Matt Gray
Best Veterinary Facility: Magnolia Animal Hospital
Runners-up: Maricamp Animal Hospital, UF Pet Emergency Treatment Services
Top Write-In: Town and Country
Best Jeweler: Gause & Sons
Runners-up: Lady Jeweler, Silver City
Top Write-In: Kay Jeweler
Best Hotel: Ocala Hilton
Runners-up: Hilton Garden Inn, Holiday Inn Express & Conference Center
Top Write-In: Marriott
Best Physical Therapy Facility: Strive Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation
Runners-up: Fakhoury Medical and Chiropractic, Mid-Florida Physical Therapy
Top Write-In: Alpha Rehabilitation
Best Tattoo: Fat Kat Artistry
Runners-up: Crawling Panther, Tattoo Gallery of Ocala
Top Write-In: Infidels Ink
Best Breakfast: (tie) Scrambles, Darrell’s Diner
Runners-up: First Watch, The Gathering Cafe
Top Write-In: Wolfy’s
Best Gym: The Zone Health and Fitness
Runners-up: Planet Fitness, YMCA
Top Write-In: Healthy Harts
Best Home Builder: Armstrong Homes
Runners-up: Fabian Construction, Boyd
Top Write-In: Straightline
Best Place to Picnic: Sholom Park
Runners-up: Tuscawilla Park, Greenway Trail
Top Write-In: Silver Springs
Best Visual Artist: E.J. Nieves
Runners-up: Teddy Sykes, Melissa Fiorentino
Best Non-Retirement Community Golf Course: Golden Ocala
Runners-up: Country Club of Ocala, Ocala Golf Club, Juliette Falls
Best Retirement Community Golf Course: Trilogy
Runners-up: Stone Creek, Stone Crest
Top Write-In: SummerGlen
Best Bar for Live Music: Bank Street Patio Bar
Runners-up: Pi on Broadway, Charlie Horse
Top Write-In: Black Sheep on Broadway, 100 Proof
Best Place to Order a Cake: Betty Cakes
Runners-up: J Marie Cheesecakes, Stella’s Modern Pantry
Top Write-In: Publix
Best Chef: Randall White (Mark’s Prime)
Runners-up: Patrice Perron (La Cuisine), Tony Deras (Katya Vineyards)
Top Write-In: Loring Felix (Fiery Chef)
Best Thrift Store: White Elephant
Runners-up: The Monkey Cage, The Mustard Seed Collection
Top Write-In: Kids Stuff
Best Bartender: Ben Payne (Pi)
Runners-up: Billy Pickering (Ivy on the Square), Buck Martin (Tipsy Skipper)
Top Write-In: Charlotte Petersen (Oxford Downs)
Best Solo/Duet Act: Jeff Jarrett
Runners-up: Caly & Megan Music, Miranda Madison
Top Write-In: Conrad Marcum
Best Local Band: Shine and the Shakers
Runners-up: Baseline, The States
Top Write-In: Propaganjah
Best Place to Get Pampered: Face the Day Spa
Runners-up: Azulene Day Spa, Massage Envy
Top Write-In: Brick City Spa
Best Dessert: Betty Cakes
Runners-up: Ocala’s Chocolate and Confections, Twistee Treat
Top Write-In: Ms. Steve’s
Best Barbershop: Big Al’s
Runners-up: Roland’s Barbershop, Nick’s
Top Write-In: High Class Barber Spa
Best Family Restaurant: Mojo’s Grill
Runners-up: Brooklyn’s Backyard, Gator’s Dockside
Top Write-In: Pasta Faire
Best Pet Groomer: Doggy Bubbles
Runners-up: Perfect Paws, Prefurred Pet Wash and Grooming
Top Write-In: The Works, Gypsy Groomer, Dog House
Best Place to See A Show: Reilly Arts Center
Runners-up: Marion Theatre, Ocala Civic Theatre
To Write-In: Southeastern Livestock Pavilion
Best Financial Planner: Nick Navetta
Runners-up: Greg Ergle, John Moody
Top Write-In: Phil Olstein, Michael Miller, George Mathis
Best Tacos and Burritos: Las Margueritas
Runners-up: Latinos Y Mas, El Toreo
Top Write-In: MAE Beer & Tapas
Best Place for Romantic Dinner: Ivy on the Square
Runners-up: Mark’s Prime,
La Cuisine, Ipanema
Best Pizza: Brooklyn’s Backyard
Runners-up: Lorito’s Italian Kitchen, Blue Highway
Top Write-In: (tie) Wise Guys, Piesano’s, Formaggio’s
Best Equestrian Event: Horseshows In The Sun
Runners-up: Live Oak International, MCS Horse Shows
Best Event Planner: Golden Ocala
Runners-up: Party Time Rentals, Marge Felix
Top Write-In: Making It Matthews
Best Coffee: Symmetry coffee & crepes
Runners-up: Starbuck’s, Chelsea Coffee Co.
Top Write-in: The Gathering Cafe
By Chris Gerbasi
When Jeff and Amanda Ganswindt started thinking about buying their future retirement property, they envisioned a place with an “old Florida” feel: a slower pace of life, waterfront living and a nice community.
They found what they were looking for in a two-story home on three-quarters of an acre of land on Lake Rousseau in Dunnellon.
“There are neighbors but there’s nobody on top of us, so it gives us a certain amount of privacy and plenty of room for the family to gather and enjoy the lake,” Jeff said.
The couple, who own a condo in Miami and a house in Port St. Lucie, closed on their Dunnellon home in September. They spent their first weekend there in October and eventually will relocate there permanently in retirement.
They took advantage of low interest rates on loans which are helping home sales rebound from a spring slump due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Housing remains essential, and homebuilding trends in Ocala/Marion County are reminiscent of the early 2000s. Builders don’t want to go as far as to use the word “boom,” but the housing industry is at least generating some thunder.
Some homebuyers, with concerns over COVID and high costs, are moving away from larger cities to areas like Marion County that have a small-town atmosphere, an affordable housing market and a lower-density population.
“A lot of people, due to what’s happened with the pandemic and maybe even some of the social unrest in the larger metropolitan areas, we have heard from some of our builders that people were wanting to get away from those areas and move to places, like Ocala, that are more desirable to live (in) and don’t have all the other issues to deal with,” said Lance Hill, sales manager at Manning Building Supplies in Ocala.
The Ganswindts purchased their home through Hook and Ladder Realty of Central Florida in Ocala. Hook and Ladder broker/owner Virginia Wright, who is also vice president of the Ocala/Marion County Association of Realtors, says that while closed sales for single-family homes in the county are down from 2019, they gradually climbed during the summer months which are typically slow anyway. She expects a big bounce-back this fall as sellers who temporarily took homes off the market during the spring shutdown begin to put them back on the market.
Realtors also have prepared for the “new norm” in the marketplace by expanding their use of technology, social media and advertising, and educating buyers about tools such as virtual tours online, she said. Open houses also require new protocols and cleaning procedures.
“As soon as we get this down pat, we’re going to make a comeback,” Wright said. “We’re optimistic.”
Randy Alvord, broker/owner of R n B Realty, sees a large demand for housing because of a steady influx of new residents in Marion County.
“We’re just slammed; busy as can be,” he said. “As fast as we get a listing and the home is priced right, it’s under contract usually within a matter of days.”
Alvord points to several positive trends, such as high consumer confidence, rising sale prices and the continuation of low interest rates, which are making homes more affordable for everyone, especially first-time homebuyers. As of early October, the benchmark 30-year fixed mortgage rate was 3.05 percent, according to Bankrate, a financial services company based in New York City.
The Ganswindts originally were going to pay cash for their Dunnellon house, but a volatile stock market negatively affected their investments. When lending rates dropped, they decided to get a home loan instead, said Jeff, who is retired from the beverage label printing business, while Amanda still works in that field in Miami.
“We’re confident that the (stock) market is eventually going to recover,” Jeff said. “We feel we got a good price and we feel that the loan interest rates were very reasonable.”
Realtors also may get a boost from an influx of new homes. In August, for example, the National Association of Homebuilders reported a 4.1 percent increase in single-family housing starts. From January through August, combined single-family and multifamily starts were 5.4 percent higher in the South compared to the same period a year ago.
“This is consistent with what we’re experiencing here locally,” Hill said.
The NAHB’s Housing Market Index also showed that homebuilder confidence reached an all-time high in September. The index gauges builders’ opinions on the market for newly built single-family homes.
Josh Klugger exemplifies that confidence.
“We’re as busy as we could be with new construction right now,” said Klugger, president of Center State Construction. “It reminds you of 2005, 2006.”
At that time, Marion County was adding several thousand new homes each year before the bottom fell out of the building industry around 2008. Through early September, the county had issued more than 2,200 permits for new construction of single-family residences, the Building Safety Department reported. That puts the county on pace for about 3,300 permits for the year. The total job value for the home construction was $318.7 million.
Since the housing industry is considered an essential service, builders didn’t have to worry about layoffs for lack of work, Klugger said. And projects, which require up to a year to complete, never reached a point of being stopped and just kept on rolling.
“As soon as COVID really started, they started dropping interest rates. Obviously, it helped spike the economy, which has spurred even more sales,” he said.
Center State Construction is scheduling new housing starts all the way into January, and Klugger estimates that his company’s business will increase 50 to 75 percent in 2021.
Armstrong Homes is exclusively focused on building new homes in the current market, said sales and marketing director Mike Mazzurco. Armstrong builds houses starting in the low $100,000s on up to million-dollar homes in gated communities. With the exception of a temporary slowdown in the spring in the active adult retirement market, Armstrong’s business has increased this year in all other markets and price ranges, he said. And the 55-plus market bounced back to being busier than it was before the pandemic.
The reason? Simple: shelter is a necessity. Like groceries, clothing and new technology, housing is a must for consumers, Mazzurco said. The industry also came into 2020 riding the momentum of a strong second half of 2019, he added.
“We really haven’t slowed. The way the last part of last year ended was pretty much how January and February started,” he said. “March through August have been consistent and very robust.”
Some roadblocks for builders, Klugger said, include supply shortages and delivery delays, which, in turn, cause spikes in prices for materials and homes. For example, the supply of timber is down because lumber mills shut down at the height of the pandemic. Lumber prices have skyrocketed about 170 percent since mid-April, adding about $16,000 to the cost of each new single-family home, the NAHB reported in September. As a result, more homebuyers are moving to lower-cost markets.
Shortages and delays have also hit suppliers such as Manning Building Supplies. Manning, which provides materials solely to building contractors, has been able to successfully navigate through the setbacks, Hill said.
“Business has actually increased as the year has gone on,” he said.
The rise in homebuilding has extended to remodeling and improvements on existing homes as well. Nationally, big-box retailers like Home Depot and Lowe’s have reported quarterly sales increases of 25-35 percent.
Locally, staff members at RoMac Building Supply expected business to drop off during the pandemic but instead were pleasantly surprised by an increase in sales, store manager Tony Smith said. RoMac serves both contractors and homeowners.
Smith believes the pandemic had an unintended benefit for some people who found themselves out of work: it became the perfect time to do that remodeling job they may have been putting off for years.
“People can’t go back to work in a lot of different businesses, and the stimulus money that came out helped,” he said. “People are stuck there in the house. I think they were bored and they had time and they were getting this money coming in.”
Smith sees customers tackling all types of projects, such as changing doors or windows, repairing roofs and building decks or other additions onto their houses.
“Whatever they had on their wish list is coming to fruition,” he said.
In an uncertain year, uncertainty remains for what’s ahead. But home sales appear to be rebounding, building is blossoming, and Hill, who was born and raised in Ocala, likes what he sees on the horizon in his hometown.
“It’s definitely good for growth. Obviously, as always, all of us together have to be responsible managing that,” he said. “We certainly welcome the growth and the business and we’re very thankful for it.”