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Local
Home prices soar but market is cooling

The median price for an existing single-family home in Citrus County in March was $280,000.

That’s up 30 percent from the same month last year when it was $216,000, according to new data from Florida Realtors.

Statewide, the median price in March was $396,558.

Other than the huge rise in prices, the local and state markets are showing signs of cooling off and analysts attribute it in part to rising interest rates, a limited supply of homes for sales and continued rising prices.

In Citrus County, there were 19 fewer closed sales for the month (a 4 percent drop from a year ago). Pending sales are down 14 percent and inventory of homes for sale are creeping up.

“Housing affordability remains a challenge, and higher mortgage rates may mean some buyers who had previously qualified under a lower rate are forced to rethink their plans, Florida Realtors President Christina Pappas said.

One thing that didn’t change in March: existing single-family homes are selling almost as fast as they are listed. The median time to a contract in Citrus County is only 12 days, down 48 percent from last year. And sellers are getting 100 percent of their asking price.

“Mortgage rates have ratcheted up dramatically over the past few months, and historically such large movements have ended with a housing slowdown,” said Doug Duncan, chief economist with Fannie Mae. “Consequently, we expect home sales, house prices, and mortgage volumes to cool over the next two years.”

Here are other highlights from the March report:

There were 171 buyers who paid cash for their homes (up from 141)

New listings were down 5 percent, from 393 last year to the current 372

New pending sales went down 14 percent, to 377

The inventory of homes was 295 in March, down from 301

Habitat to the rescue

George Rusaw, president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Citrus County, said it is hard for Citrus Countians working in the service-oriented sector to buy expensive homes.

“They simply don’t make a lot of money and can’t afford to plop down (a) down payment and pay a conventional mortgage,” he told the Chronicle Editorial Board Wednesday.

Rusaw also said Citrus County is “woefully lacking in transitional housing,” defined as short-term housing for the homeless until they land a job and earn enough for a rental unit.

Once in a rental home, folks can look into a Habitat home, the next logical step for those who want to be a homeowner, he said.

To that end, Habitat embarked on building 500 affordable workforce homes in Citrus Springs.

“We hope to get the first five building permits from the county today (Wednesday) to start the first five homes,” Rusaw said.

For more information, visit www.habitatcc.org or call 352-563-2744.


Local
LHS student appointed to Air Force Academy

Nick Post isn’t just aiming high, soon he’ll be ready to fly, fight and win for the United States.

The Lecanto High School senior and JROTC Cadet First Lieutenant was recently appointed to the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, via nomination by Florida Congressman Daniel Webster.

Cadet 1st Lt. Nick Post received a number of medals and ribbons for his accomplishments with the Lecanto High School U.S. Army JROTC program.

The process to be appointed to one of the prestigious military academies is no easy feat and to receive appointment means that Post stands out above thousands of other applicants.

To be admitted, Post had to submit two different applications, one to the academy and one for the congressional nomination. The academy won’t admit anyone until they receive a nomination. The last step is an interview process, said Post, in which several different judges ask about the candidate’s experience in high school and plans for the future.

Post has known for years that he wanted to join the military after high school since he knew it’s a guaranteed job, he can retire early and if there’s something he wants to do, they’ll let him do it if he has the experience.

“That’s not really anything you can find anywhere else,” said Post.

So, he joined JROTC his freshman year to see if he would actually like it.

Cadet 1st Lt. Nick Post, of the Lecanto High School U.S. Army JROTC, was appointed to the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado after a nomination from Florida Congressman Daniel Webster.

“I started a little freshman not knowing anything, completely unknowledgeable,” Post explained. “It was a little hectic because we had all these rules on us that we had to do every morning or afternoon, you had to do the creed, the pledge and stand in the weird position. It was uncomfortable at first. A lot of us were like ‘I don’t want to stand like this,’ but as you got used to it wasn’t much of a big deal.”

He came to realize that this was something he really enjoyed doing and being a part of.

He then found out about the clubs for JROTC, Raiders and Drill. He did Raiders for a time, which he described as a “superficial track team that’s less about running and more about physicality,” but soon realized that it clashed with his basketball schedule, having played on the LHS team all four years.

“Nick has been an outstanding influence on all of our program,” said David K. Brown, retired lieutenant colonel and senior Army instructor of Lecanto High School JROTC. “He’s always in his academics, he’s studying when other kids are playing around and he’s setting a really good example for our cadets to follow on what success looks like in an educational, academic and extracurricular environment. It was a very good academy appointment choice.”

Post plans on majoring in astronomical engineering at the academy with a few possible career choices in that realm in mind for the future, including pilot.

Just like how the application process isn’t easy, neither is the academy.

“It’s going to be tough because they like to set the tone early, like don’t be stupid, be on point and just focus on studying,” said Post. Although, he mentioned that Colorado Springs has a ski resort that he is excited to check out once he’s there.

Cadet 1st Lt. Nick Post sits for a Lecanto High School U.S. Army JROTC class with his senior instructor, retired Lt. Col. David K. Brown, in the background.

After the four years spent at the academy, Post will then have to serve a minimum of five years. As of right now, he hasn’t decided whether or not he will continue serving after the required time since it’s so far in the future.

He’ll be one of the first in his family to join the military, alongside his great uncle who served, and the first to be appointed to an academy.

Herbert Neeld, Post’s stepfather, is very proud of Post, as he said, “This has been quite the process, but the determination and hard work and dedication has finally came into fruition. Our family motto has always been and will continue to be ‘don’t talk about it, be about it.’”


Local
Local brewer excited to enter craft beer for CASA fundraiser

Sean Skelonis used to make potions when he was a child, mixing grass and bugs in jars to study what would happen.

His knack for concoctions stuck because, decades later, the 42-year-old is brewing a reputation for himself as one Citrus County’s most popular creators of craft beer.

“It’s something to do,” he said.

A brain tumor at around 7 years old, and the radiation and chemotherapy treatments that followed, impacted Sean’s verbal and motor skills, but his disability hasn’t stopped him from learning about and doing whatever interests him.

“He gravitates to certain things, and we try not to stand in his way,” Sean’s father, Carl Skelonis, said. “He wants to do it, and he’ll try it. We just try to be careful he doesn’t get hurt.”

Sean thinks he’s brewed over a dozen different beers with his dad’s help since he started the hobby roughly 18 years ago.

He’s hoping people will enjoy his latest batch of beer – a blonde vanilla porter – while tasting Saturday, April 30, at the Inverness Brewers Union’s second annual Hops for Hope charity to benefit the Citrus County Abuse Shelter Association, or CASA.

Hops for Hope, which is part of Craft Brew Fest ’22, will be from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Nine State Brewery, 200 Tompkins St., Inverness.

For $25, a person can get unlimited tastings of more than 45 beers from local craft brewers throughout the fundraiser. Tickets, which sold out last year, were still on sale as of Wednesday, April 27, at tinyurl.com/ yt7sm5y5.

CASA provides lifesaving, around-the-clock services and a shelter for victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse and human trafficking. CASA staff assisted more than 1,200 individuals and their children last year, according to the nonprofit’s CEO, Sunshine Arnold.

“The event is named Hops for Hope because that is what the money raised will do,” Arnold said, “provide hope to those who are victims of domestic violence and feel they have nowhere and no one to turn to.”

For more information about CASA, visit casafl.org. Need help? Call CASA’s 24-hour hotline at 352-344-8111.

“Very often that is what an abuser will tell a victim of domestic violence – that no one else cares and no one would help them,” Arnold said. “We have a large array of services to help a victim of domestic violence to rebuild their life and make the transition to survivor.”

Arnold

More than 400 attendees of last year’s Hops for Hope raised $10,000 for CASA, and the upcoming fundraiser will offer more space, food trucks and live music from the Strutt Dance Band.

“Without compassionate groups like the Inverness Brewer’s Union and giving businesses like Nine State, we could not provide all the services that we do,” Arnold said. “We rely on the support of our local community to help fund our lifesaving services.”

Sean said he’s supporting CASA as a member of the Inverness Brewers Union, which he’s been a part of for almost four years.

“It is what the club is doing,” he said about his involvement with Hops for Hope. “We all make beer, and we all taste our beer.”

When Sean participated in the last beer-tasting fundraiser for CASA, his “Not Your Grandmother’s Milk Stout” placed second as the people’s choice. Sean also brewed a third-place beer at a prior Taste of Inverness event.

“When people taste it and they’re going, ‘Hey Sean, this is great,’ and they’re giving the thumbs up,” Skelonis said, “that means a lot to me, and that’s what I go for. ... He made something that somebody enjoys.”

Before he brewed beer, Sean made wine, starting around 1996 when he and his parents still lived in his birth state of Pennsylvania.

After buying a kit, Sean started with one gallon of wine but he’d eventually finish owning 22, 5-gallon carboys or vessels of fermented grape juice.

“It just took off,” his dad said. “Sean would be giving wine away because you can’t possibly drink it all.”

Sean doesn’t drink much wine or beer himself, and indulges mostly to taste his creations. Sean’s favorite beers include porters and other dark beers. Skelonis said his son also likes wheat beers.

Friends of the Skelonis family would come over for tastings of Sean’s wine, and encourage the self-taught vintner to submit his homemade beverages in American Wine Society contests.

“They never told him what to do,” Skelonis said, “but they would taste the wine, and they would go, ‘You need to put this in the competition.’”

Sean took their advice, and ended up winning silver and bronze in separate amateur bouts.

Sean first dabbled with beer around the turn of century when his dad asked for a home brew.

He really picked it up after his family started their seasonal trips roughly eight years ago to Citrus County from Pennsylvania’s Allentown area, before they settled full time in Lecanto in 2020.

Sean’s five-gallon brewing rig, which he’s built up and upgraded over the years, can be loaded up on a push cart. His ingredients of grains, hops, yeast and other flavorful extras are shipped to him each month in packages.

“You can make it as extravagant as you can afford, or it can be very, very minimal and you can still make good beer,” Skelonis said about the scale of craft-beer operations. “Sean started out with a ... turkey-fryer pot and a propane burner. Now, it’s not much different.”

Sean’s dad helps him with the more hazardous and laborious tasks of the brewing process, guided by his son’s expertise on the chemistry of brewing beer.

“I facilitate for Sean; I’m the guy who carries the five gallons of water, the guy who does the cleaning and things like that,” Skelonis said. “He comes up with the recipes, and I get the work; it’s a collaborative effort.”

Sean said sanitation is the most important part of making beer.

“Making sure everything’s clean,” he said.

Sean’s advice for aspiring craft brewers: “Find something you like and make that.”


Local
County gives go-ahead for animal shelter design

County commissioners Tuesday voted 3-2 to award a contract to TOCOI Engineering for the design of the new animal shelter.

Cost for the design: $986,737 and funding will come from unrestricted donations specifically earmarked for the shelter. Those donations total $2,478,294.

Commission Chairman Ron Kitchen Jr. voted against.

Kitchen Jr.

“I’ve heard so many people in the community thinking this is totally outrageous to spend $1 million on a design for this,” Kitchen said.

Other people, he said, asked him whether others have built animal shelters in Florida and why reinvent the wheel on a design?

Commissioner Scott Carnahan agreed the price was excessive.

But Commissioner Ruthie Schlabach, who is the leading proponent for this project, said she also has heard from people and they support the cost.

It’s not just for a blueprint,” she said. “It’s soup-to-nuts.”

Schlabach

There is “a lot involved in it (and) it is quite extensive,” Schlabach added.

Conditions at the existing shelter are cramped and getting worse due to an increasing number of animals. Staffers and volunteers have said they are forced to work in pitiful conditions as they struggle to care for the animals.


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