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Concealed doorways are the latest trend in home design

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WASHINGTON, D.C.—This city and secrets go together hand in glove. Or maybe it’s more like cloak and dagger. And now the D.C. area is helping energize the nation’s growing demand for secret panels, bookcases, mirrors and artwork that swing open to reveal another room.

For resident Nicole Buell, her 540-square-foot condo had doors to the only bathroom in her bedroom and the living area. Since the living area door left too little room for pictures or bookcases, walling over the door was an option. “But,” she said, “I didn’t want guests to have to go through the bedroom to get to the bathroom.”

Nicole Buell and her father built a secret door to her bathroom that provides storage and display space in her living room.
Nicole Buell and her father built a secret door to her bathroom that provides storage and display space in her living room.  (Bill O’Leary / The Washington Post)

The solution began with door hinges bought from Secret Doorways, in Ohio. With her father’s help, she built shelves and mounted them on the hinges for a novel door to the loo. “It’s fun to surprise my guests when they visit,” she said.

Now secret doors are going mainstream. “It has become more of a trend than we expected,” said Jeff Watchko, the interior door buyer for Home Depot.

Three years ago, Home Depot began to offer, online, pre-hung bookcase-doors from Murphy Door in Ogden, Utah. “The overall draw to the site was more than we expected,” Watchko said. “It’s very popular on the East Coast and anywhere there is a large metropolitan area.”

The Murphy doors can come pre-hung and mounted in a frame in standard door sizes.

Watchko said the popularity of the secret doors — which range from $850 ($1,115 Canadian) to $1,750 ($2,295 Canadian) — has prompted Home Depot to go beyond their web offering and introduce displays.

Leigha Basini of Lorton, Va., bought a kit for her contractor to build. Kit doors save $200 on assembly and $125 on shipping, said Jeremy Barker, chief executive of Murphy Door.

“We were redoing our master bathroom and closet, and I don’t know where I saw hidden doors, but I was a big mystery reader as a child, and when I saw we could have a hidden door, I wanted one,” Basini said.

Basini’s contractor assembled and installed the door, with bathroom shelves opening to a walk-in closet. “It brought me back to my childhood, wanting a secret room, and I loved it,” she said.

The door's concealed panels hold items for the bathroom.
The door’s concealed panels hold items for the bathroom.  (Bill O’Leary)

Victor Brown, a real estate agent and a home appraiser, said it’s unlikely that hidden doors will raise a property’s value. But he said mentioning a hidden door in ads might be effective. “Indirectly, it might help you get a higher value because you are getting more people interested, which might drive the price up,” he said.

For those who want something more elaborate Creative Home Engineering, in Arizona, designs doors with options including a mirror that hides a safe room.

“I’m going to say 75 to 80 percent have a security purpose in mind,” said company founder Steven Humble, who quotes mirror panel doors starting at $1,500 ($1,970 Canadian).

“We were reorganizing the closet, then we thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to have a secret door mirror?’ ” said Daren Rubenstein, director of engineering at the Jefferson luxury hotel in Washington.

Rubenstein hired Creative Home Engineering to do the job and says the year-old novelty installation has been a bit of a problem for that very reason: the staff doesn’t always remember to alert guests to the door’s existence.

“A lot of times, the guest can’t find the closet,” Rubenstein said, which leads to a call to the front desk. “When they find it,” he said, “they love it.”

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Victoria real estate agent disciplined for false advertising, encouraging cash deal to avoid taxes

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A Victoria real estate agent is facing $9,000 in fines and a 60-day licence suspension after breaking several professional rules during the sale of her father’s half-million-dollar property, according to a decision by the Real Estate Council of B.C. 

Whitney Garside’s missteps — outlined this week in a disciplinary decision posted on the council’s website — included falsely advertising the property as being almost twice its actual size and advising the buyer they could avoid the property transfer tax if they paid cash directly to the seller.

The property on Burnett Road in Victoria was being sold in 2016 by the real estate agent’s father. That relationship was disclosed and isn’t among the reasons she has been disciplined.

According to the disciplinary consent order, Garside told the buyer — whose name is redacted — that by paying $42,000 cash on the side, the value of the property could be reduced to avoid paying the property transfer tax.

That cash arrangement was not shared with Garside’s brokerage, Re/Max Camosun, a failure that contravened the Real Estate Services Act.

The council also ruled that she “failed to act honestly and with reasonable care and skill” when she advised the buyer the property transfer tax could be avoided by paying cash directly to the seller. 

The council’s discipline committee also found that Garside committed professional misconduct when she failed to recommend the seller and buyer seek independent legal advice, specifically regarding the property transfer tax and the cash agreement.

Another issue the council considered professional misconduct involved the size of the property in question.

The council ruled that Garside published false and misleading advertising and failed to act with reasonable care and skill when the property was advertised as 8,712 square feet, when in fact a portion of the lot belonged to the Ministry of Transportation, and the actual size was just 4,711 square feet.

The discipline committee ordered Garside’s licence be suspended for 60 days, which will be completed Jan. 3, 2021.

She has also been ordered to complete real estate ethics and remedial classes at her own expense.

Garside was also fined $7,500 as a disciplinary penalty and $1,500 in enforcement expenses.

She agreed to waive her right to appeal the council’s discipline committee’s decision in September.

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Frisco apartment community sells to Canadian investor

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A Canada-based investor has purchased a Frisco apartment community as part of a larger Texas deal.

The 330-unit Satori Frisco apartments opened last year on Research Road in Frisco.

BSR Real Estate Investment Trust bought the four-story rental community that was built by Atlanta-based Davis Development.

Satori Frisco was more than 90% leased at the time of sale. The property includes a two-story fitness center, a car care center, a dog park and a resort-style swimming pool.

The Frisco property sold along with Houston’s Vale luxury apartments in a deal valued at $129 million.

“BSR recently exited the smaller Beaumont and Longview, Texas, markets and also sold noncore properties in other markets,” John Bailey, BSR’s chief executive officer, said in a statement. “We are now using our strong liquidity position to invest in Vale and Satori Frisco, modern communities in core growth markets with the amenities our residents desire.”

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House prices on Prince Edward Island continue steady climb

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Residential real estate prices on Prince Edward Island continue to climb at a rate higher than the national average, according to the latest report from a national organization. 

The Canadian Real Estate Association released monthly figures for November 2020 on Tuesday.

They show that the average price for a resale home on P.E.I. is about 21 per cent higher than it was a year earlier. 

Only Quebec had a bigger year-over-year increase, at about 23 per cent. Overall across Canada, prices were up 13.8 per cent year over year in the ninth month of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For the fifth straight month, year-over-year sales activity was up in almost all Canadian housing markets compared to the same month in 2019,” the report noted.

“Meanwhile, an ongoing shortage of supply of homes available for purchase across most of Ontario, Quebec and the Maritime provinces means sellers there hold the upper hand in sales negotiations.”

That lack of houses coming onto the market compared to the demand means that in those provinces, there is “increased competition among buyers for listings and … fertile ground for price gains.”

There have been anecdotal reports for months that Prince Edward Island’s low rate of COVID-19 infection and looser rules around social activities have been encouraging people to buy homes on the Island. 

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