It’s unfortunate, but studies show that burglaries and other property crimes increase around the holidays – for a multitude of reasons. Fortunately, lots of options are available today for protecting your possessions from some of the most common types of holiday crime. Following is a summary of the solutions that have proven the most effective to help keep your home secure at the holidays.
The Best Defense
Studies show that professionally installed security systems with 24-hour monitoring and guard-response are still the best against home burglaries. When an intrusion is registered, these systems send a real person to personally inspect and assess the situation. That’s what makes them so effective. Whole-house alarm systems without the guard-response feature are also very effective. Some, like the model from SimpliSafe, are wireless and easily self-installed. If the cost is holding you back, check with your property insurance company about discounts they may offer for protecting your property with one of these systems.
Doorbell cameras have become one of the most popular alternatives to traditional alarm systems, thanks to their low cost, easy installation and robust smart-phone compatibilities. Any time someone comes within range of the doorbell, you’re alerted via your smart phone, allowing you to easily see and speak to the person.
Sliding Door Security
Many homeowners have a high-security deadbolt installed on their front and rear entry doors, but their sliding doors are secured with nothing more than a standard hook latch. To better guard these entry points, consider placing a thick wooden dowel (custom-cut to the correct size) between the door frame and the slider when it’s not in use to prevent the door from being forced open or easily pulled off it’s tracks.
Secure the Garage Door too
Getting into most garages is as easy for a burglar as sliding a wire through the gap at the top of the door and unlatch the emergency release lever. Once inside an attached garage, they can not only steal what’s stored in there, but also gain entry to the rest of the house (and be protected from view the whole time). To guard against this, secure the garage door emergency release with zip ties, which can be cut or broken in an emergency. Also, carry the remote with you instead of leaving it in your car where it can be stolen and used to gain access to your home. And make sure the entry door between your garage and your home is solid (not hollow-core) and always locked.
Make your Home more Visible
While we all value our privacy, making your yard too private can attract prowlers. Instead, keep your bushes trimmed back and install low fences. The more exposed your home, the harder it is for a burglar to force open a door or window without neighbors or a passerby noticing and calling police.
Encourage Nosy Neighbors
Having a neighbor help watch over your home is another very successful strategy. Let your neighbors know when you’ll be on vacation, when you’ll be having contractors work on your home and when out-of-town visitors will be staying with you. That way, they’ll be much more likely to recognize unusual activity.
Put the Spare Key in a Lock Box
If you want to leave a spare key outside your house, install a lock box (like real estate agents use). Keys left “hidden” in the fake rock, under the doormat, on a ledge, or in a planter are easy to find for even amateur burglars.
Resist the Urge to Post Travel Plans
Wait until you return from your travels to post about them on social media – even if your account is in private mode. Criminals can use those online insights into your personal life to their advantage.
Source: Windermere Home Update
Selling a Home in the Fall
Often, buyers looking for a home at this time of year are relocating because of job change and want to get settled before the holidays. Plus, because there are typically fewer homes for sale in the fall, buyers know they need to make a competitive offer quickly if they want to be successful. All this is good news for home sellers…if you know how best to price, position and market your home.
In most real estate markets around the country, the advantage goes to sellers. With home loan interest rates still historically low, and still far too few homes for sale in many areas, sellers can often command high prices and preferred terms.
However, many sellers have grown too emboldened and are now making the mistake of over-pricing their property. Price your home too high, and you risk alienating your most likely buyers, or not being seen by them altogether. Overpriced homes can also be seen as poor value by agents and buyers qualified for the higher price, and lose valuable time on the market.
Improving your home’s curb appeal can significantly elevate its perceived value. Consider these three changes:
- Focus on the entry – Your front door, and everything surrounding it, makes a big first impression on potential buyers(when they view photos online, and when they arrive in person). Ideas for improvement include: replacing dated railings; repairing loose steps; repainting the steps and porch; buying a new door mat; updating the address numbers; putting out potted flowers; replacing the mail box and/or porch light; even replacing your whole front door with something more modern, attractive and/or secure.
- Give your landscape a makeover – Few landscapes have the right balance of greenery. With many, mature plantings have grown so large that they hide much of the house; other yards have so few trees and shrubs that the property looks stark and staid. Hire a professional landscaper to give your hard true symmetry. And, while they’re at it, ask them to intersperse some colorful plants, as well.
- Less-obstructive fencing – If there’s a full-height solid fence between your home and the street, consider removing it, removing select sections, or replacing it with one that’s lower.
The open house is your opportunity to make real estate agents and prospective buyers fall in love with your home. To make the best impression, focus on the following:
- A cleaning blitz – A top-to-bottom cleaning of everything should be your priority before an open house because, in the eyes of those who tour it, a clean house is a well-maintained house.
- Swap something old for something new – Installing a modern, digital thermostat is an easy way to give your old heating system a new-and-improved look. Swapping an old toilet seat for one that’s shiny and new can make the who bathroom look better.
- Lots of light – Open all the window coverings and consider installing new light fixtures. But think twice before simply installing a brighter bulb in an existing light fixture as harsh lighting can also be a negative.
- Explanatory notes – You can’t be there to point out all the best features of your house to everyone who tours it, but you can strategically place note cares with messages like “New bathroom fan is very powerful and quiet” or “Built-in entertainment system to remain with the home.”
As an added bonus, we’re also going to touch base on safety around the home before you start handing out those Halloween sweets to trick-or-treaters.
- Lighting is key – The pathways leading to your front door should all be well-lit. Inexpensive, solar-powered walkway lighting kits are available online and at your preferred home-improvement store.
- Electrical matters – Use electrical equipment specifically designed to withstand wet weather; avoid overloading outlets (ask a neighbor if you need more places to connect cords); make sure extension cords don’t pose a tripping hazard.
- Clear the porch – Pumpkins sitting on the porch or front stairs can be a dangerous tripping hazard. Move these and any other decorations away from the walkway before the youngsters start visiting.
- Keep your pets contained – For their safety and that of visitors, keep your pets in a separate room while you’re greeting trick-or-treaters at your front door.
- Make quick work of any shenanigans – If you become the target of a Halloween night prank, clean up the mess as soon as possible to keep visitors safe and minimize work. It’s much easier to clean up things like soda, eggs, toilet paper and graffiti before they’ve been sitting too long.
Source: Windermere October Home Update
You don’t need to live near a body of water to be concerned about flooding in your home. You’ve got hundreds of gallons of water pumping through the pipes in your walls and floors. In fact, the most common form of household water damage is that caused by plumbing leaks and appliance failures (toilet flooding, a leaking refrigerator, burst plumbing pipes, etc).
When flooding occurs, the key to protecting your property is to act quickly and tackle the following ten steps:
1- Stop the flow of water: If the water is coming from an appliance or a plumbing pipe inside your home, use one of the main shutoff valves to cut all water flowing to the house. If the water is coming from outside your home, try to redirect the water elsewhere (if you don’t have sandbags, fill garbage bags full of dirt from your yard).
2- Turn off the electricity: When water comes into contact with electricity, it can electrocute anyone who touches the water.
3- Collect the water: Use any/all towels, sheets, and other linens to get water off the floors. If it’s draining from pipes or through ceilings, use buckets to contain it.
4- Gather valuables: Designate someone to gather all valuables while the others contain the flooding.
5- Wear protective gear: Put on rubber boots and gloves to protect yourself from polluted water.
6- Consider leaving the premises: If sewage or chemicals are in the water, live electrical wires are underwater, or the level of water is above your ankles, it’s best to evacuate the house.
7- Call for assistance: Call 911 if you need immediate medical assistance. Call your landlord if you’re a renter. Call your insurance company if you’re the owner of the home.
8- Document the damage: Once the situation is under control and everyone is out of danger, but before any major clean up or repair work begins, take photos of the damage done to your home, as well as any belongings damaged during the flooding. Your insurance company will want a record of this.
9- Start the restoration: Cleanup from flooding should begin within 24 hours. If the water soaked your sheetrock walls or the sub-flooring (the wood below your flooring), call a professional restoration company that specializes in water cleanups. If the damage is less extensive than that:
- Remove any water-soaked carpeting. Carpet is a breeding ground for mold.
- Quickly dry or discard cardboard and paper that was water-soaked to avoid mold infestation.
- Rent floor fans and use them to help dry the flooded area.
- Rent, borrow or buy a portable dehumidifier and use it in combination with the fans.
- Use a bleach solution to sanitize furniture and hard surfaces.
10- Watch for mold: Monitor walls, ceilings, floors, and belongings for the appearance of black spots. A musty smell is another sign of mold. Signs of mold exposure include itchy, watery eyes, runny/blocked nose, sore throat, sneezing, headaches and respiratory issues.
To respond promptly, you’ll need to know ahead of time where the main water and electricity shut-offs are located. This is something everyone who lives in your home should be shown as soon as possible. The main electrical panel is usually housed in a gray metal box attached to the wall in your basement, or in a utility closet. Typically, there’s one switch inside the box that cuts all power to all other switches. Most homes have two main water shutoffs. One is in a box in the ground in front of your home. And the other, typically, has a handle attached to a thick plumbing pipe inside your basement or utility closet.
Source: Windermere Home Update
Four Fall To-Dos
For many people, fall is the best season of all – not too hot, not too cold; lots of color in the leaves; and a little less hectic at home with the kids back in school. What a great time to tackle a few important fair-weather home-maintenance tasks at home. In just a matter of weeks, fall will be upon us. If you want your home to be well prepared for the coming rain and cold, focus your attention on these four tasks:
DISCOVER WHERE YOU’RE WASTING ENERGY
An energy audit is a step-by-step analysis of your major appliances, your heating and cooling system, your lighting, the major air leaks in your home, the amount of insulation in your walls and ceilings, plus more. The U.S. Department of Energy website (energy.gov) offers referrals to local energy auditors who can perform this task, as well as instructions for a preliminary do-it-yourself energy audit.
GET AN EXPERT OPINION ON OLDER TREES
Winter is when older trees are prone to falling, which can be very dangerous for any people in the area, as well as any surrounding structures. Now is the time to ask a professional arborist to assess the significant trees on your lot and let you know if any are weak, diseased or otherwise prone to toppling anytime soon.
CONSIDER GUTTER AND DOWNSPOUT GUARDS
This is a great time to consider installing leaf guards to prevent your rain gutters and downspouts from clogging once the rain and leaves start falling. Downspout guards are inexpensive metal spheres about the size of a baseball that fit into the openings of your downspout and prevent leaves from washing down the downspout and creating a blockage. Gutter leaf guards are a bigger investment. They fit over the top of your gutters and keep leaves from ever even entering the gutter (or downspout). While often advertised as a solution that can eliminate gutter-cleaning for good, the truth is, if you live under large deciduous trees, you should check to make sure the guards are working correctly about once a season.
CHECKING FOR CRACKED BRICK MORTAR
If you have brick walls or a brick chimney, you’re going to want to check the condition of the mortar (the filler between the bricks). If that concrete filler is cracked, falling out or already missing in spots, get a bid from a brick mason for its repair. Because, once rain starts oozing inside a brick structure for an extended period of time, the metal supports inside can rust, and the entire structure can start leaning and sinking.
A FOOTNOTE FOR THOSE CONSIDERING SELLING
These are important tasks that are well timed for fall. But if you’re considering selling your home anytime soon, you may not want to commit to such long-term maintenance projects. I would be happy to way the pros and cons with you as well as provide references to get you going in the right direction.
Source: Windermere Real Estate Home Update September 2017
Fun Ideas for the Yard
If your yard is not living up to its full potential as a place for family and friends to relax, enjoy the weather, and gather for fun, then it’s time to get out there and make some improvements before winter sends everyone scurrying indoors again. Because the yards around most homes account for such a large part of the property, any updates to outdoor spaces can make a dramatic difference for the better – for your own enjoyment, as well as the future resale value. Here are seven yard improvements to consider:
A garden fountain can make your whole yard seem more sophisticated. The moving water is a great attraction for birds, plus, the sound effects are perfect for making the noise from surrounding streets, commercial districts, and noisy neighbors.
These water-less landscape features use carefully arranged stones to create the feel of flowing water in a nearly maintenance-free setting.
With the right lights staged throughout your yard, you can bring your whole garden into view, make outdoor paths and walkways safer, and highlight the best architectural aspects of your home’s exterior.
Family and guests love to gather in the kitchen (and cooks enjoy the company), so why not create an outdoor kitchen in your backyard? High-end versions often feature running water and natural gas. But less-expensive layouts can be created using bottled water and propane gas tanks.
While everyone loves the sun, your family and friends may not want to sit directly in it for hours at a time. Freestanding yard awnings (also called sun shade sails) offer an inexpensive way to create some respite. Made of colorful, fade-resistant outdoor fabric, they can be relatively easily stretched overhead across areas of your yard using cables, turnbuckles, and other inexpensive mounting hardware.
Connect a projector to your existing laptop, erect a temporary screen, and before you know it, you can be watching mainstream movies in your backyard.
WEATER-PROOFING PING PONG
That 1970’s favorite, Ping Pong, is more popular today than ever – and weather-resistant tables made specifically for the outdoors make it easy to bring the excitement of this paddle sport to your backyard.
Another favorite is the Fire Pit. Once dusk descends and the temperature drops, everyone loves to gather around a toasty fire pit – which is why you need to make sure it’s safe for all involved.
Choose Gas – A wood-burning fire pit is less expensive than a gas-powered model, but also much more dangerous. IF you do opt for a wood-burner, always keep it covered to contain sparks.
Place it in Open Yard Space – Fire pits do not belong on decks or balconies, nor under low-hanging branches. Place it on the ground, at least 10 feet from any structures, and surround the unit with stone or other non-flammable material.
Turn it off when there’s too much commotion – if children are playing near the fire pit, or there’s a lot of activity, simply turn the flame off or let the fire die down until things are calm again.
Source: Windermere Real Estate Home Update
The vast majority of Americans (about 70%) will go on at least one vacation this year – leaving their homes vulnerable to thieves for days at a time. There are lots of ways to secure your property against burglars, but the best ideas are usually centered on facts. Following are the latest home-burglary statistics complied by the FBI and the insurance industry, as well as specific suggestions to prevent your home from becoming the next vacation victim.
VACATION TIME IS ALSO PRIME BURGLARY TIME
July and August are the most popular months for Americans to vacation. But for thieves, it’s a time to get to work burglarizing homes. According to the FBI, residential burglaries spike 10% during those two months, marking that 62-day period as the most active of all for home break-ins. To play it safe, carefully consider who you tell about your vacation plans. And wait until you’re safely home to post accounts of the trip on social media.
MOST THIEVES ARE NON-PROFESSIONAL OPPORTUNISTS
The idea that professional thieves are monitoring your home, waiting for you to go on vacation, is seldom true. In reality, the typical burglar tends to act quickly when a good opportunity presents itself. To keep thieves at bay, make it always appear that someone is inside:
- Don’t let the mail, packages or newspapers pile up on the porch
- Use timers to make the interior lights turn on and off
- Arrange for someone to cut the grass if you’ll be gone for longer than a week during the growing season
- Ask a neighbor to care for your garbage and recycling containers when you’re traveling
MOST BURGLARIES HAPPEN DURING THE DAY
The majority of burglaries happen between 9am and 3pm, when you and most of your neighbors are at work. Installing an alarm system is one very good way to protect your home during the day. But another, often overlooked, option is to ask the retirees in your neighborhood to keep an eye on the place.
UNLOCKED DOORS & WINDOWS ARE A BIG PROBLEM
Many people think they won’t be burglarized, so they don’t make an extra effort to keep all the doors and windows locked. The result: nearly 30% of all “unlawful entries” are made through an unlocked door or window. The solution is simple: lock everything (including the garage door and any upper-floor windows) every time you leave.
ALARM SYSTEMS SCARE BURGLARS
Homes without an alarm system are two to three times more likely to be burglarized. Fortunately, there are many types of systems available today, with a wide variety of affordable price tags.
PROTECT YOUR PIECE OF MIND
It’s tough to transition into a vacation state of mind if you’re worrying about your home’s security. Take time now to implement the ideas above, and you’ll be able to leave those concerns behind on your next vacation getaway.
Source: Windermere Real Estate Home Update May 2017
Spring Maintenance Matters
The best way to avoid expensive, disruptive home repairs is to regularly inspect and address the areas prone to major problems. Giving the house a deep cleaning has become a springtime ritual. But if you really want to make a difference – and save yourself big money on future home repairs – take some time over the next couple of weeks to also assess these potential maintenance problems:
WATER LEAKS – Freezing winter weather can cause water pipe fittings to fracture. Turn off all the water on your property, then look at the main water meter (typically located under a metal or concrete lid near the street in front of your house). If the meter dial is moving – even a tiny bit – when all the water is turned off, it may mean a water pipe buried on your property, or hidden inside an interior wall, is leaking.
OLDER TREES – Large trees that have been growing in your yard for 35 years or more should be assessed every spring to ensure they aren’t prone to falling in a windstorm. Those with dead branches, soft spots and other unhealthy attributes should be professionally inspected by an arborist.
RODENTS – During winter, rats and mice look for warm places in and around your home to take shelter. Now is the time to take a close look at the places they like to hide (the attic, closed-off areas of the basement, behind the furnace and other appliances, in storage sheds and garages, etc). If you see any droppings, it’s time to take action.
GUTTERS AND DOWNSPOUTS – Venture out on a rainy day and look at the top and bottom of each downspout (the pipes attached to the side of your house that run vertically from your roof gutters to the ground below). Is rain water overflowing at the top? Is water pooling at the bottom? Are puddles forming next to your foundation? If so, don’t delay making any necessary repairs.
ROOF MOSS – When moss is allowed to grow on your roof, the burrowing roots can damage shingles and cause leaks. To check for these build-ups, keep your feet safely planted on the ground, and use binoculars to scan the room for clumps of green. Also look for signs of problematic wear: chipped or missing roof shingles.
WORN PAINT – If you wait until your house paint is peeling to put on a fresh coat, the labor costs will be far higher. Instead, compare a sunny side of your house to a side in near constant shade. If the difference in paint condition is dramatic, it’s time to get bids from painters.
Use the tips and suggestions above as a checklist, and you’ll be motivated to tackle these tasks before all the distracting sun and fun of summer arrives.
Source: Windermere Real Estate Home Update April 2017.
Moving Made Easy
The average American will pack up all their belongings and move to a new house or apartment 11.4 times during their lifetime. Many of us – especially those of us with young children and a multitude of possessions – have come to dread the moving process. Yet, there are people who have a knack for making it all look…dare we say…easy. On the day that the moving trucks arrive, everything just seems to fall into place. Everyone knows the plan. Things happen quickly.
Truth be told, those are the people who planning and organized for weeks beforehand, which is the key to a smooth move. To become one of those people, here are six suggestions:
- Get Started Six Weeks Beforehand – Organizing for a whole-house move takes time. This is not something that can be rushed. Give yourself at least six weeks to prepare.
- Hire a Pro to Help You Purge – If you’re like most people, you love the idea of streamlining your possessions before a big move, but you find it one of the most challenging of tasks. The solution: Hire a professional organizer. Typically, the organizer will provide coaching, support and recommendations, as well as physical help.
- Develop Plans for the New Spaces – Move-in day will go much smoother if you determine ahead of time exactly where you want your furnishings to be place in the new property. Take measurements. Create a schematic. Put notes on each piece of furniture. You should even designate a space in each room where boxes can be safely stacked out of the way.
- Include the Kids – If you have children, give them plenty of advance notice so they can get used to the idea of a new home. Take time to answer their questions. Visit the new home and neighborhood as a family. And finally, arrange for someone to care for your children off-site on moving day.
- Arrange a Smooth Exit – While you’re surely excited about your new home, you’ll want to focus some of that energy on your current residence too.
- Renters: Plan to meet on-site with your landlord at least two weeks before your move-out date to review all the move-out processes and expectations. Ask if any of the required steps or paperwork can be completed before your final day.
- Sellers: Confer with your real estate agent about what items should/should not be left behind, how much cleaning needs to be done and more.
- Set Aside the Essentials – Moving is an all-day affair – which means you won’t have time to do much unpacking before the next day dawns. Red-tag the items you’ll want to access the first day in your new space (phone charger, essential kitchen items, etc) so they can be packed in a specially marked box.
Taking the time to plan in advance can save you a lot of stress on moving day and help you start enjoying your new home as quickly as possible.
Source: Windermere Home Update March 2017.
How Home Staging Sells
If you’re planning to sell your home anytime soon, give some serious thought to hiring a professional stager for an interior makeover.
After assessing your home, neighborhood and the most likely buyer, a home stager will physically arrange furnishings throughout your house and recommend other changes – which often include inventive ways to tackle clutter, high-impact painting suggestions, quick fixes for long-overdue repair issues, plus much more.
The process and underlying principles involved are akin to interior decorating, but are also very focused on the ever-changing desires of today’s home buyers and how best to appeal to them.
Here are some reasons why home staging can be well worth the investment:
Your Home Will Feel Bigger
Over the years, many homes fill with furnishings that make rooms feel awkward, cramped and crowded. A professional stage knows what to remove and how to rearrange what’s left to make these areas feel more spacious and useful.
Problem Areas Can Ben Downplayed
Some homes have rooms that are too small, too big or oddly shaped; interior payouts that make it difficult to get from room to room; fireplace mantels that overwhelm the living room; closetless bedrooms; misplaced windows; and other problems. Home staging can make those weaknesses seem insignificant, even unnoticeable; at the very least, it will demonstrate for prospective buyers how they can overcome the challenges.
Marketing Photos Look Better
Today, buyers begin their search for a new home online, where photos of the property will largely determine how many people will take the time to tour your home in person. When the walls are hung with neutral artwork, the interior decor is balanced, and the lighting is uplifting, it’s far easier for the photographer to make your house a standout.
Buyers Will Feel At Home
It’s difficult for many prospective buyers to see someone else’s home and envision living there themselves – especially if the current owner has outgrown the space, is using rooms in unusual ways, has out-of-date design ideas, or just hasn’t maintained the property well. The goal of home staging is to make every space in the house appeal to either the largest pool of prospective buyers or a very specific type of targeted buyers.
You’ll Sell Faster
A recent study performed by a team of real estate professors showed that most prospective buyers are not willing to pay significantly more for a house simply because it’s expertly furnished. However, another marquee study has demonstrated that staged homes sell far more quickly – which also has a direct impact on the seller’s bottom-lined profit:
- Homes that sell quickly usually garner the highest asking price
- Sought-after homes often attract multiple bidders
- A fast sale means the homeowner can cut their expenses and move on more quickly
According to the most recent RECA study, professionally staged properties valued between 4300,000 and $499,000 sell in 22 days on average, while comparable unstaged homes were found to typically languish on the market for an average of 125 days.
For more information about staging, as well as referrals to professional stagers, contact me anytime.
Source: Windermere Home Update February 2017.
HOME MAINTENANCE ON A BUDGET
There’s no escaping the need for a home maintenance and repair, so you may as well budget for it. Assume some aspects of your house will need work and put money aside each year to cover the costs. When you’re a homeowner, there’s no landlord. It’s up to you to fix or otherwise address whatever breaks and needs maintaining. It’s one of the responsibilities that many new homeowners tend to under-estimate. Even those who have owned a home for decades are often guilty of putting off necessary maintenance projects until the proverbial “next year”.
The daily- lift disruption these projects can cause is one reason why homeowners tend to delay or ignore the work. However, the money involved is often the major hurdle. The best solution, say experts, is to create a budget – plan ahead by putting money aside each year.
How much should you budget? That depends on your home, its size, age and condition. However, as a general rule, experts recommend you set aside between 1% and 4% of your home’s purchase price. For a house that cost $350,000 to buy, that means the maintenance/repair budget should be between $3500 and $14,000 per year. The lower amount would be appropriate for a new home or condominium; owners of homes 50+ years old should target the high end of the scale.
To develop a custom budget based on the cost of specific projects, see the “cost guides” provided for free on the ImpoveNet.com website. But remember, your budget must also include funds for unexpected repairs (e.g., broken appliance, broken window, leaking toilet), not just the known maintenance projects.
DO IT YOURSELF
Because labor makes up most of the cost of many home repairs and maintenance projects, you can save significant money by doing some of the work yourself. YouTube has become famous for its how-to videos. And the big-box home-improvement stores (Home Depot, Lowes, etc) offer all of the necessary tools and supplies.
REGULAR CONTRIBUTIONS ARE KEY
The best way to manage your maintenance/repair money is via a separate savings account. Try funding it by making regular contributions: for example, contributing $300 per paycheck until you reach your budget amount for the year. If you don’t make the contributions a common practice, it’s too easy to spend the money elsewhere.
Not only is a well-maintained house less expensive to operate, it will also sell for more money. When it comes time to list it, you’ll be glad you saved, budgeted and quickly tackled maintenance problems. For more suggestions that could increase your home’s value, contact me directly.
Source: Windermere Home Update December 2016.
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