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East County Wednesday, Jun. 5, 2019 5 months ago

Indigo and developer Pat Neal take a turn toward family homes in Lakewood Ranch

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Side of Ranch: Jay Heater
by: Jay Heater Managing Editor

It's not often you see builder Pat Neal lost when it comes to talking about one of his Neal Communities model homes.

But on June 1, during Neal Communities' showing of five new models in Indigo of Lakewood Ranch, Neal was stumped.

He was talking about design enhancements that help sell those homes. He just couldn't think of the word.

It was time to call his wife, Charlene, who is president of Charlene Neal PureStyle, which handles the design for the models. But she didn't answer.

Side of Ranch: Jay Heater

Neal spread his hands apart, like he was measuring a fish. "It's about this big," he said. "And it's all fluffy."

Finally, as he continued to struggle, Neal said, "Follow me."

He walked briskly through a model, right to a bedroom designed for kids.

Although he couldn't come up with the term, Neal pointed. There it was.

Pouf!

Pouf, as in big, fluffy pillows or ottomans that have become popular with teens. They can squeeze them or lie on them as they watch television or play video games. Fluffy and soft would be good adjectives to describe them.

At 70, Neal could be forgiven for not knowing the name of an item geared for a younger generation.

The point, however, is that Charlene Neal knows how to design her husband's models so they move in a hurry.

The Neals might be senior citizens, but that doesn't mean they only want to sell to senior citizens.

Most of us probably haven't come in contact with many poufs as we check out models in the Lakewood Ranch area. That hasn't been part of the sales plan. Many of the models are designed for seniors, or make that active adults in terms of politic correctness.

Think about the last time you went through a three- or four-bedroom model home. What did the spare bedrooms look like? They probably had somewhat of a neutral feel so older adults could picture those rooms as guest rooms. There was enough space for a family, but dad and mom would have to do some creative thinking to picture the spare bedrooms as kid friendly.

Not the case in three of the five new Neal models, the Endless Summer, Silver Sky and Victory (the other two,  Tidewinds and Sandcastle paired villas, really are geared for empty-nesters or active adults). Each model had children's bedrooms that were decorated with kids' books and paintings.

Neal said it was an example of how he stays relevant  — or how Charlene keeps him relevant — in the changing world of selling new homes.

"Our emphasis is designing homes for families," he said.

Pat Neal said the neighboring new Mona Jain Middle School, along with B.D. Gullett Elementary school, are game changers.

"We set up these homes for elementary and middle school kids," he said. "I think we have made a successful transition."

It's a transition that shows how Lakewood Ranch continues to mature.

"The young people moving here almost are equal to the empty-nesters," Neal said.

In Indigo, Neal says about 36% of the homes sold have gone to empty-nesters, 35% to active adults and 20% to young professional families.

"Most people want to live in a community made up of all ages," Neal said.

He knows the emphasis could be somewhere else in the near future, and that's why he continues to design new products.

"We design models every two years," he said. "We put in brand new laundries, new kitchens, we use new materials and stay up with the newest technology, security, electronics and heating and cooling systems."

If people suggest Neal should slow down building due to national economic reports of a housing sales slowdown, he would say they don't understand Florida.

"There are 850 new people coming to Florida per day," he said.

Beside unveiling the new models, Neal, who has built more than 14,000 homes in southwest Florida, also opened a 2,288-square foot Discovery Center at Indigo. The community will have 661 homes at build-out and has sold 281 homes to date. Neal said the community averages about 120 sales a year. Home prices start at $259,990.

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