8 Stunning Florida Towns You NEED To Visit!

Florida’s a big state, and possibly the best one to road trip through!

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1. For secluded and untouched beauty, visit Sanibel Island.

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You won’t find many buildings that are taller than a palm tree on Sanibel Island, and that’s because the city has taken careful measures to preserve the natural beauty of the area. The town is markedly devoid of fast food restaurants, which were banned, and even stoplights. So get ready to step into a world that feels totally removed from the norm.

Where to stay: For an all-inclusive resort, stay at Casa Ybel, which is right on the Gulf Of Mexico and features a spa and gourmet dining. And if you’d prefer something cozy, the Mango Street Inn B&B is perfect.
Where to eat: Don’t let the name fool you, The Mad Hatter restaurant is excellent fine dining and seafood; you’ll want to take home the hot sauce from Doc Ford’s Rum Bar and Grill.
What to do: Do the “Sanibel Stoop,” which is when you stoop down to collect some of the 250 different kinds of shells found on the island.

2. If you’re looking for fresh seafood, sponges, and Greek culture, visit Tarpon Springs.

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Tarpon Springs is a riverfront town with a historic downtown district and brick streets. It’s also heavily influenced by Greek culture — the Greeks began to immigrate there in the 1880s when they were hired to harvest sponges — and as you walk down the main drag you’ll find authentic foods, like moussaka and baklava.

Where to stay: The 1910 Inn is packed with charm and fresh bread baked daily.
Where to eat: Get a Greek combo platter at Mama’s, then indulge in some spanakopita at Hellas.
What to do: Shop for fresh sponges along the famous sponge docks; If you’re there in January, make sure to watch the Epiphany celebration held each year.

3. If you’re longing for white sand and outdoor adventures, look no further than Santa Rosa Beach.

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Santa Rosa Beach is all white sugar sand and nestled along a 26-mile stretch of Florida’s Emerald Coast. It’s home to a unique artist colony, as well as the Point Washington State Forest, a 15,000-acre preserve, making this town one of those rare places where you can go from luxury to the rugged outdoors easily.

Where to stay: If you’re traveling with a family, the WaterColor Inn & Resort will have everyone covered. Or if you’re looking for something outdoorsy, pitch a tent in the Topsail Hill Preserve State Park.
Where to eat: If you’re in need of a lively atmosphere, head to The Red Bar for live music and fresh grouper. Be sure to save room for a slice of key lime pie at Christiano’s.
What to do: Catch a concert at the Seaside Amphitheater, or rent a kayak and sail down the breathtaking Dune Lakes.

 

4. Delray Beach is a slice of paradise you won’t want to miss.

 

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Delray Beach was named the Most Fun Small Town in America in 2012 by USA Today, which probably has something to do with the busy downtown area. You can sip wine as you roam through a gallery art walk, or snorkel through a sunken steamship during the day.

Where to stay: If you’re looking for cozy and fun, then Crane’s BeachHouse — with 27 guest suites and live music on the weekends — is ideal. While the Sundy House is perfect for a romantic getaway, with just 11 guest accommodations, private gardens, and an all-natural pool so you can swim with tropical fish.
Where to eat: Sip sangria and share tapas at Papa’s, or get your fill of oysters at the J&J Seafood Bar.
What to do: Walk across the three-mile boardwalk on the Wakodahatchee Wetlands to try and spot alligators and identify the more than 140 different species of birds.

 

5. For a quintessential beach town, it’s Destin for the win.

 

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Most people go to Destin for the unbelievable beaches, and it’s easy to see why: They’re quite perfect. Plus, there’s a fun (and free!) boardwalk to stroll on. If you’re looking for loads of outdoor action, Destin is a great spot to visit.

Where to stay: The Sandestin resort is in a great location and perfect for those who have some cash to burn. But if you want to stay outdoors, you can set up camp at Henderson Beach State Park.
Where to eat: You can literally have dinner on the sand at the Beach Walk Cafe, or get your fill of seafood at the Louisiana Lagniappe, which also serves complimentary hush puppies with every meal.
What to do: Take a professional sand sculpting class from the masters, and wade around Crab Island, which is a part of the beach where the water is waist deep and floating vendors (think ice cream and sandwiches) cater to your every whim. Also, if you’re a movie buff, take a detour to Seaside, Fla., where The Truman Show was filmed.

6. For southern charm in a small town, take a side trip to Mount Dora.

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Located more centrally in Florida, Mount Dora is a sleepy little town with enough charm to knock you off your feet. The historic downtown area is packed with boutiques, local coffee shops, and events like the annual art festival. If you’re in the mood for some southern charm, and wraparound porches, then definitely stop here.

Where to stay: For a little slice of history, stay at the 130-year-old Lakeside Inn (President Calvin Coolidge vacationed there for a month!) Or for a cozier stay, try the Heron Cay B&B.
Where to eat: You can devour a pulled pork sandwich and top it off with some key lime pie at Sugarboo’s BBQ. Or grab some authentic Cuban food at Copacabana.
What to do: Do you like antiques? Get ready to shop in the two enormous markets. Then grab a Mount Dora brew at the brewing company. Or take an eco boat tour around Lake Dora and learn about the Spanish moss. There’s an adorable farmer’s market with fresh seafood, local crafts, and produce.

7. Don’t miss visiting America’s oldest city: St. Augustine

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St. Augustine is America’s oldest city. It was founded by the Spanish and settled in 1565, and because of that it has a lot of history to explore.

Where to stay: The St. George Inn is located smack in the middle of the historic district and even has a view of the oldest masonry fort in the U.S., the Castillo de San Marco.
Where to eat: For perfect cocktails, go to the Ice Plant Bar, and The Floridian has amazing options for vegans and omnivores.
What to do: The most unique part of St. Augustine is just how historic it is. Make sure to see the Castillo, Fort Matanzas, the city gate, and the oldest wooden schoolhouse in America.

8. For underrated history and serene beaches, check out Fort Myers

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Certain areas of Fort Myers are more bustling than others, but the historic district is quaint and lined with hip bars, galleries, and plenty of trendy restaurants. The real highlight, though, are the winter homes of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, both of which are still intact and worth a trip.

Where to stay: The Mango Street Inn is a B&B that’s run by a husband-and-wife team who cook up gourmet breakfasts just a short walk from the beach.
Where to eat: Start your day off right with a cinnamon roll from Heavenly Biscuit, and get your fix of southern comfort food, like shrimp and grits, at Fancy’s.
What to do: Did you know that Henry Ford and Thomas Edison were buddies? Well, they were. So much so that they owned adjacent homes where they spent their winters. You can visit both of them and walk through Edison’s laboratory and Ford’s garage. It’s well preserved and absolutely fascinating.
& Why not stay? TechVenture Real Estate would love to show you the beautiful homes and golf course communities while you’re in town, such as The Renaissance Country Club!
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Foreclosures Stay Low in Lee County

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Lee County continued its streak of pre-recession-level foreclosure numbers in May while residential home permits for the month showed continuing strength. Lenders filed a mere 188 foreclosure lawsuits in May, according to statistics released Monday by the Southwest Florida Real Estate Investment Association. May’s number came on the heels of April’s 195 foreclosures, the lowest since mid-2006. That returned the county to a time before the avalanche of defaults that followed the implosion of home prices at the end of 2005. Complete numbers for home permits issued throughout the county weren’t available Monday but early indications were for a strong home construction market. Builders in unincorporated Lee County pulled 88 permits in May, up from 68 in April and 80 in May 2013. In Cape Coral, 56 permits were pulled. That was up from 54 in April and 42 in May 2014. “Welcome to the new normal,” said Jeff Tumbarello, director of the investment association and owner/broker of Steelbridge Realty in North Fort Myers. “We’re pretty much just a normal market again and with twice the national cash percentage, that’s a beautiful thing.”

Tim Rose, president of Fort Myers-based Arthur Rutenberg Homes, said May’s numbers reflect the number of new residences sold about two months earlier, when sales were solid but “relatively quiet.” However, he said, “The second quarter picked up quite a bit” both in Southwest Florida and around the state. The late season came as a surprise, Rose said. “It’s unusual. Nobody has been able to put their finger on it. Has the weather affected people being able to get down here?” Tumbarello said he expects the continuing drought in foreclosures to keep the market for existing homes tight without the constant flow of homes being taken back by lenders and re-sold. Also, he said, there should be upward pressure on prices because buyers won’t be able to buy cheap from banks forced to sell large numbers of houses they’ve taken back. “Now they’ve got to buy the home from the guy who’s owned it for who knows how many years and isn’t concerned with blowing it out like the bank,” Tumbarello said. Besides Cape Coral and Lee County, numbers were released by Sanibel (three permits) and Fort Myers Beach (one permit). Numbers from Fort Myers and Bonita Springs weren’t available Monday.

 

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Cash Rules Southwest Florida Home Sales

Cash is king in Southwest Florida where the certainty of a quick, uncomplicated home sale can trump a higher offer that’s at the mercy of a bank loan officer.

That’s what local buyers, sellers and brokers alike say, and the sentiment is borne out by a recent report by Irvine, Calif.-based housing data company RealtyTrac.

Among metro areas with 500,000 or more residents, Cape Coral-Fort Myers is No. 1 with 73.6 percent of its home deals in cash in the first quarter, according to the report.

 

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The Naples area wasn’t included in the report because it has fewer than 500,000 residents.

“It’s amazing how much cash offers there are,” said Courtney Neuhausel, co-owner of Fort Myers-based Sandbill Homes, which buys and sells homes and property. “You would think things would be tighter” with the recession still vivid in people’s memories.

He cited an example of a purchase brokered by Sandbill in which the buyer “offered $20,000 under list price, and the seller took it just to have the comfort of knowing it was a done deal.”

But deals don’t always play out that way, Neuhausel said, because someone in no hurry to sell won’t be swayed by the prospects of a speedy transaction.

Still, he said, some sellers — especially of land — buy and sell at a rapid pace and won’t deal with anything but cash offers because they can’t afford the delays and the uncertainty that go with financing.

When Sandbill buys land, Neuhausel said, he has to close the deal quickly and irrevocably. “If I have a nonretractable contract and I put $5,000 down, I don’t want to walk away from that money.”

Jeff Tumbarello, owner/broker of North Fort Myers-based Steelbridge Realty, said the difference between cash and carry can cut both ways.

A cash buyer using his own money might be unwilling to bid up to the price needed to close the deal in a rising market, he said, while “a leveraged buyer will pay more” because he’s financing the deal with a loan.

In that case, Tumbarello said, “the narrative favors the leveraged buyers, who are able to respond more to the sellers.”

Bob Knight, co-owner of Cape Coral-based Paul Homes, said that for a buyer having a house built, there’s been a recent shift back toward financing.

“During the recession it was more cash for building new construction because it was difficult to get financing,” he said. “Banks were still reeling because of what happened. Now, in the past 18 months, the banks have opened up a lot more.”

As a result, Knight said, some of his clients who have the wherewithal to simply write a check are financing because low interest rates make that a more attractive proposition.

From a builder’s perspective it’s a wash, he said. On the one hand, “With the bank, the money’s in place and it will be to the end of the project. It’s more work, though, dealing with the bank’s regulations.”

Dealing directly with a buyer is generally simpler but the builder has to make sure he’s good for the total cost of the project,” Knight said. In the end, “It’s probably about the same amount of time.”

Mike Diamond, of Diamond Custom Homes, who builds upscale houses in Lee and Collier counties, said his clients generally can pay cash although sometimes they choose strategically to use a private banker or a line of equity. “Most of these people aren’t obtaining a mortgage.”

Also, he said, a lot of customers simply have a lot of cash lying around with no attractive options to invest it: interest rates are low and the stock market is arguably over-bought after five years of strong gains.

“There’s just a lot of cash on the sidelines,” Diamond said.

Housing Starts Up In Fort Myers/Naples Area

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Builders started construction on 818 houses in the Naples/Fort Myers housing market in the first quarter of 2014, up 21 percent from a year earlier, according to a report by Metrostudy, a national provider of housing data.

“Finished, vacant home supply continues to be virtually non-existent,” said David Cobb, Metrostudy’s Regional Director in the Naples Market. “Lee County has only a 0.7 month’s supply, while Collier remains below equilibrium as well at 1.7 months of supply. As in the previous quarter, this is a reflection that almost every home under construction has been sold.”

In Lee County, there were 381 lot deliveries in the first quarter, up 29 percent from a year earlier.

The county has 6,902 vacant developed lots, down 5 percent from a year earlier, according to the report.

In addition to the developed lots, there are plans for 48,012 future lots. Many of these lots lie in the northern and eastern sections of the county, where development has been slow to recover.

Collier County housing starts rose 36 percent in the first quarter to 1,624. The annual starts rate has risen for 19 consecutive quarters, from a low of 399 in early 2009, the report states.

“Builders report that the labor market remains tight, which in some cases is limiting the supply of new homes,” said Cobb. “The supply of vacant, developed lots declined 9 percent year over year to 4,496.”

Zillow: Buy A Home In Southwest Florida

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To the age-old question of whether to buy or rent, Zillow has an answer: buy if you live in Southwest Florida.

The Seattle-based real estate data collector says in a recent survey that people in Lee, Collier, Charlotte and Hendry counties have better odds than most of the country of coming out ahead if they buy.

Nationally, buying is a good decision for people who plan to stay in the home for at least two years, according to an analysis of first-quarter financial data.

But what Zillow calls the “breakeven horizon” is much shorter here: 1.1 years for Lee County; 1.0 for Collier; 1.1 for Charlotte; and 0.7 for Hendry.

Commercial real estate agent Jim Garinger of Colliers International Southwest Florida said Zillow’s analysis is borne out by what he sees in the apartment complex market.

“Traditional apartment complex occupancy has become stronger over the past 12 months or so,” he said. “There’s been a significant increase across the board but especially in Class B apartments.”

As that’s happened, rents have increased as well, Garinger said.

The average apartment complex in the Fort Myers area in March had a vacancy rate of 96.7 percent, up 1.8 percent from March 2013, according to Carrollton, Texas-based ALN Apartment Data.

In the same period, the average monthly rent rose 7.9 percent to $920, ALN’s report says.

Even as occupancy rates and values rise for apartments, however, lenders are still skittish about financing multi-family housing, Garinger said.

“Lenders are still looking at comparable sales as distressed properties,” which makes them reluctant to finance purchases or new construction, he said.

That problem will resolve itself with time, Garinger said, but meanwhile “If you’re a renter, it’s a great time to buy if you can swing it. As occupancy rates increase, rents are increasing as well.”

Home prices are also going up and interest rates are still historically low, contributing to the advantage of buying, he said.

There’s no shortage of prospective home buyers.

The share of Americans who own their homes was 64.8 percent in the first quarter, down from 65.2 percent in the previous three months, the Census Bureau said. The rate is the lowest since the second quarter of 1995, when it was 64.7 percent.

Cape Coral-Fort Myers Leads In All-Cash Home Sales

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Cape Coral-Fort Myers leads the nation in all-cash home sales, according to statistics released today by Irvine, Calif.-based housing data company RealtyTrac.

Nationally, the share of all-cash sales reached a new high in the first quarter even as the share of institutional investor purchases dropped to the lowest level since the first quarter of 2012, said RealtyTrac’s Q12014 U.S. Institutional Investor & Cash Sales Report.

Among metropolitan statistical areas with a population of at least 500,000, those with the top five highest percentages of cash sales were all in Florida: Cape Coral-Fort Myers (73.6 percent), Miami (67.1 percent), Sarasota, (65.1 percent), Palm Bay, (64.1 percent), and Lakeland, (61.8 percent).

“Strict lending standards combined with low inventory continue to give the advantage to investors and other cash buyers in this housing market,” Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac, said in a written release.

“The good news is that as institutional investors pull back their purchasing in many markets across the country, there is still strong demand from other cash buyers — including individual investors, second-home buyers and even owner-occupant buyers — to fill the vacuum of demand left by institutional investors,” Blomquist said.

15 percent of all-cash purchases in the first quarter were properties in the foreclosure process, and 10 percent were bank-owned properties.

Other findings in the report:

  • 11 percent of all-cash purchases in the first quarter were to institutional investors, investors buying at least 10 properties in a calendar year.
  • 52 percent of all-cash purchases in March (most recent month’s data only available for this metric) were sold to buyers with a different mailing address than the property address — indicating investors or second-home buyers. That compares to 34 percent of all sales — cash and financed — sold to investors or second-home buyers in March.

The average sales price of an all-cash purchase in the first quarter was $207,668 — 13 percent below the average estimated full market value of the properties that were purchased: $237,900.

Condo Market In SW Florida On The Rebound

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Mike Banson recently handled the last sale of a bank-owned condominium at the 13-floor North Star Yacht Club on the Caloosahatchee River in North Fort Myers.

That’s a sign of the times in Southwest Florida, where the condo market has enjoyed a resurgence in the past year as single-family prices bounced back from the depths of the recession.

“I was the on-site agent for about six years, selling out all the bank-owned units,” said Banson, of Vision One Realty Group — the last unit, a penthouse, went for $531,000.

Naples-based land-use consultant Michael Timmerman, president of MJT Realty Economic Advisors, said the condo sector is doing well for sales prices, although for larger projects the cost of construction still makes it impossible to build new ones.

Projects building on a smaller scale have had better luck.

Jeff Barney, spokesman for Santa Luz LLC, said the company’s condominium Santa Luz, which started sales in February, is sold out of all but two units of the 20 in its first phase.

The project, off Daniels Parkway east of I-75 near JetBlue Park, consists of buildings with four units in each one.

“We had a very busy season,” said Barney, adding that another eight units will go up for sale within three weeks with 36 more to come.

“Most of the buyers we have are snowbirds and what they really get drawn to is the maintenance-free lifestyle,” he said. “They can leave for six months and come back and everything looks exactly the same.”

Because of its location in Gateway, Barney said, “We’re getting some young families. The last two we sold have been to folks about 40.”

Commercial real estate broker Steve Luta said he thinks there will be interest by builders in smaller projects in and around downtown Fort Myers.

That could offer a more urban lifestyle with buildings situated near the jobs, restaurants and nightlife of downtown, he said. “Some people don’t want the single-family home, lawn maintenance, pool, and all that stuff.”

Gary Tasman, founder and executive director of Cushman & Wakefield Commercial Property Southwest Florida, said new construction such as Santa Luz and Neill Communities’ Villa Palmeras, are selling well in Lee County.

“There are already home builders building condos and they’re selling as fast as they can get out of the ground,” he said.

There would be a market for new high-rise condos as well, Tasman said, but that sector — hard hit when the market imploded at the end of 2005 — is still being sold cheaply enough that the cost of new construction is far more than buying an existing one.

Banson said that’s the case at North Star, where “a lot of the units may be in the $150-per-square-foot range. It would take $300 a square foot to build this product again.”

Towers will first rise again directly on the Gulf of Mexico between Estero to Marco Island, he predicted.

For that type of construction, “The prices need to push $500 a foot to be viable right now,” he said. “It’s probably $400 right now.”

Still, Tasman said, prices are rising fast and new Gulf-front towers may come sooner rather than later. “It wouldn’t surprise me if we hear an announcement of a new Gulf Front tower within the next 12 months.”

Connect with this reporter: @DickHogan (Twitter) or email dhogan@news-press.comBy Dick Hogan

Condo costs

The cost per square foot of building a Gulf-front skyscraper condominium:

• $250 hard construction costs

• $75 soft costs (marketing, advertising etc.)

• $81 25 percent developer profit

• $101 land

Things to do in Southwest Florida: April 25-May 4

Friday

Jennifer’s 10th Annual Art of a Woman Exhibit A variety of works will be showcased, including abstract and realistic painting, contemporary raku clay creations, painted furniture and whimsical sculptures. All will be available for purchase. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. April 14-26 at Jennifer’s Fort Myers boutique, 13451 McGregor Blvd., Fort Myers, 481-8582

 

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Duo Romantico The singing couple performs opera, “popera,” musical-theater music and more at their last concert before going on tour. 7 p.m. $25. Italian-American Club of Cape Coral, 4725 Vincennes Blvd., Cape Coral. 332-1853

Rock the Dock This two-day event featuresfood and live entertainment by Deb and The Dynamics from 6-9 p.m. on Friday, followed Saturday by The Rachel Hughes Duo from 10:30 a.m.-1 p.m., the Cracker Blues Band from 2-5 p.m. and The Landsharks from 6-9 p.m. Marina at Edison Ford, 2360 W. First St., Fort Myers, 245-7320. marinaedisonford.com

 

Saturday

Balloons Over Paradise The two-day event features 60 hot-air balloons and performances by Sister Hazel, Rachel/Hughes Band and JJ McCoy. There will be delicious food, arts and crafts, tethered balloon rides, classic car show, dog agility performances, a polo exhibition and an equestrian drill team performance. 6 a.m.-noon. Seminole Tribe Youth Ranch Immokalee, 1195 State Road 29, Immokalee. 800-218-0007. seminoleimmokaleecasino.com

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• Fort Rock at JetBlue Park One of the biggest metal festivals to ever hit Southwest Florida. With 15 bands on two stages, the lineup includes Rob Zombie, Five Finger Death Punch, Korn, Trivium, The Pretty Reckless, Lacuna Coil, Seether, Sick Puppies, Twelve Foot Ninja andBlack Stone Cherry. 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday. JetBlue Park, 11581 Daniels Parkway, Fort Myers. $54.50-$109.50 (excluding taxes and fees, prices subject to change). Parking: $15. Info: Fortrockfestival.com

 

Drive the Lane Celebrity Basketball Game This event is presented by MADD SWFL and Lee County Coalition for a Drug Free Southwest Florida. Hometown champions Earnest Graham and Jevon Kearse, as well as Jeff Dellenbach, Daunte Culpepper and Antonio Freeman, all former NFL players, will participate on the court. Our local heroes, law enforcement officers, firefighters, high school principals, coaches and student athletes will be their teammates. 1-4:30 p.m. $5 adults, $2 students. Bishop Verot High School 5598 Sunrise Drive, Fort Myers. 791-7560. madd.org/drivethelane

Fight for Air Stairclimb The Stairclimb raises money for the American Lung Association by collecting pledges to ascend the stairway of High Point Place, the tallest building between Tampa and Miami. Teams can practice on Saturday mornings once they’ve registered. $25 registration fee; each climber must raise $100. High Point Place, 2104 W. First St., downtown Fort Myers, 908-2685. fightforairclimb.org

Sunday

Sunday Blues Benefit Great food and music will be served up at The Heights Foundation’s Sunday Blues from 2-6 p.m. Musicians Randy Thomas, Danny Shepard and Doug Molloy will entertain guests and Jake Elwood and friends will make a special appearance. The buffet features The Blue Coyote’s creative and original menu items. $50 per person; sales of wine and the Bacon & Egg Bloody Mary will be donated to The Heights Foundation. Blue Coyote Supper Club, 1100 Par View Drive, Sanibel Island. 472-9222. heightsfoundation.org

Florida Gulf Coast University Chamber Choir in Concert Admission is free for this concert, however there will be a free-will offering during the performance. 4 p.m. North Naples United Methodist Church, 6000 Goodlette Road N., Naples, 593-7600.

Taste of North Fort Myers Sample local food and drinks while enjoying entertainment, a car show, free kids games and activities, free petting zoo, raffles and more. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. $3 per person, free for ages 5 and younger. Shell Factory and Nature Park, 2787 N. Tamiami Trail, North Fort Myers. 997-9111. tasteofnorthfortmyers.com

 

Monday

Black & White Party, an Evening of Beauty & Fashion This event celebrates the new Redken Premiere School of Cosmetology. Features hair by Redken 5th Ave stylists, a catwalk fashion show provided by White House Black Market and Fantasy Makeup by Cara and the FL Academy. RSVP to floridaacademy.eventbrite.com. 6-8 p.m. Florida Academy of Massage and Skin Care, 4387 Colonial Blvd., Fort Myers, 489-2282.

Wednesday

Boz Scaggs The singer-songwriter is on tour in support of his new release “Memphis,” showcasing both original songs and choice covers. 7:30-9:30 p.m. $49.82-$81.62. Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall, 8099 College Parkway, Fort Myers, 481-4849 or bbmannpah.com

Thursday

Prism Concert The Fort Myers High School music department will be divided into its varied components. You will hear and see the full instrumental, choral, dance groups, and a variety of soloists and small ensembles. 7 p.m May 1-2. $8. Fort Myers High School, 2635 Cortez Blvd, Fort Myers, 334-2167. fmhsgreenwave.net

• ArtsNaples World Festival Venetian Masquerade This event kicks off the weeklong arts festival in Naples. An Italian Carnevale atmosphere combines with a gourmet multicourse dinner and unique musical surprises. Guests’ attire to be Black Tie & Mask, or Masquerade Costumes. 7-10 p.m. Individual tickets $350 or $2,400 table for 8. The Club at Olde Cypress, 7165 Treeline Drive, Naples. 888-613-8488. ArtsNaples.org

May 2

Digital Lee Showcase 2014 A design and technology showcase of the most exceptional student projects from the Lee County Public School District. This year’s exhibit will debut on May 2 at 6 p.m. The competition is open to Lee County’s middle school, high school and post-secondary programs in graphic design, animation, publication design and Web design. Artwork will be displayed until May 22. Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center, 2301 First St., downtown Fort Myers, 939-6326. digital-lee.com

• Art Walk The free, monthly art event takes place from 6-10 p.m. the first Friday of every month. Art galleries and other businesses stay open late for art shows, live music, an after party and more. Downtown Fort Myers. fortmyersartwalk.com

May 3

13th Annual Free Comic Book Day A single day when participating comic book shops across North America give away free, specially produced comic books. Comics Cards and Stuff will promote the event with a large sale raffle and special giveaways, along with appearances by several “superheroes” and Star Wars Stormtroopers. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Comics Cards & Stuff, 3563 Fowler St., Fort Myers. 939-0878. facebook.com/fortmyerscomics

May 4

19th Annual Taste of the Beach featuring Baywalk Blues Festival Restaurants along Old San Carlos Boulevard, on Fort Myers Beach, will offer samples of their signature dishes and compete for top Taste of the Beach Award honors. Gates open at 11 a.m. Food will be served until it runs out or at 5 p.m. Tickets will be available on site. Admission is $5 for adults and children over 12. Food tickets are $1 each with a $5 average food serving price. 454-7500. tasteoffortmyersbeach.com

Third Annual International Food Festival Sample international cuisine from eight Mercato restaurants and enjoy live music. Most menu items will be priced less than $6. Kids’ Zone available featuring bounce house, arts and crafts and many other fun activities. Location: lawn next to MASA. Noon-4 p.m. Mercato Shops, 9115 Strada Place, Naples, 254-1080. mercatoshops.com/event/3rd-annual-international-food-festival/2145431190

Fleamasters’ Best-Dressed Chihuahua Contest event begins at 1:30 p.m. with registration beginning at 11 a.m. Enjoy a special performance by the Calendar Girls Dance Team at noon. Registration is $10 per dog. Fleamasters Fleamarket, 4135 Dr Martin Luther King Jr, Fort Myers, 334-7001. fleamall.com

The Heights Foundation and Lee Reefs Present LionFish Fest – Feast on the Beast On Sunday, May 4 from 2-5 p.m. Join celebrated local chefs from Crave Culinaire, Three Fishermen, Red’s Seafood, Cru and The Timbers, as they present a unique twist on Florida fare. Guests will vote for their favorite dish. The event will include door prizes, fun auction items, a signature tropical drink and live music, as well as displays about Lionfish and our reefs. Mitch and Billy of ScubaNation television will be on hand showing their underwater videos. Katie Walls of WINK News will emcee the event. Admission is $50 per person, children under 12 are admitted free. Harlem Heights Cultural Arts and Community Center, 15570 Hagie Drive, Fort Myers, 482-7706. heightsfoundation.org

Lee County Home Sales Jump In March

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TechVenture Real Estate is happy to inform you that Single-family-home sales jumped in March, according to statistics released today by the Realtor Association of Greater Fort Myers and the Beach.

A total of 1,068 homes were sold in March, up 37.1 percent from 779 in February.
However, the March sales were down 7.1 percent from March 2013, when 1,150 were sold.
The median sales price was $185,000 in March, the same as February but up 8.8 percent from March 2013.

Median price for condominiums in March was $162,000, up 4.5 percent from $155,000 in February.
Single-family homes spent a median of 48 days on the market before coming under contract in March, and the average home sold for 93 percent of its listing price. In March 2013 those numbers were 54 days and 93.6 percent.