Foreclosure.com Scholarship Program Winning Essay 2014, Gloria Larravide (Runner-up)

With a “rent-to-buy” situation, the gap in time between setting up the contract and actually buying the house, it appears based on research that lenders fear that their buyer will be locked into a condition that may not suit them in the future.

Interest rates may be low today, but locking into the current rate could keep them from benefiting from an even lower rate in the future … or they could lose the money they set aside if they do not follow through on their contract to buy.

One would think that the buyer could lock into a current market purchase price with this option but to the contrary, it seems that the owner wins on this detail as well, because the two parties “guestimate” as to the potential price the house would have two to three years from the forming of the contract, so I don’t see the purpose of this option as far as making it a win situation for the buyer.

Many “rent-to-buy” deals are between owner and renter, but it is wise to bring in the lender and get advice on the contract so that it includes details such as home repairs, improvements, holding the money, how much the rent is and what the amount extra will be going toward the earnest money deposit, down payment and closing costs.

Locking on price can end up giving one or the other the advantage, depending on the market in two to three years when the sale takes place. This is like a roulette wheel, I think. The owner wins if the tenant rents and then buys because now the owner can move forward on his own plan and has someone paying mortgage on his old place and the landlord is holding money paid on top of the rent towards the purchase of the old place.

This is secure for the owner.

However, the buyer is not secure at all, and this is why the lender does not favor this option for their customer who regardless of the out come, must pay the lender back. If the renter backs out, the owner will have a win as well, because the deposit will be his by default.

The renter/ buyer is paying the mortgage on the house and extra in bits and pieces which makes buying a house easier because few people can come up with $20,000 to $40,000 for a down payment, especially someone who just foreclosed, as their rate of interest will also be higher.

Foreclosure Purchase

A better option is if the buyer sets aside money to buy a home down the road, the buyer would actually have more options about picking a property at the time of purchase, than two years prior when the house may not have suited the buyer at the time of purchase.

Being locked into a purchase, as with the rent with option to buy, that will take place two years into the future may not always turn out the way the parties planned. But the buyer can have the best of both worlds and rent a small apt, save money monthly, keep to a small budget and then buy a foreclosure 2-3 years down the road. This way they get more house for the price, pay most of the mortgage in the down payment and have saved the most money overall.

The buyers can decide to do this by socking away a good 10 to 30 percent of their income toward the hefty down payment. If they meet with an agent early in the process and layout their financials, create a reasonable budget, plan the months it would take to save and reduce any other debt, the buyer can start researching the area they can afford. They could start looking at homes in auction to see price tags, go to auction and see bidders and learn how to present a clean bid through their agent. This would prepare them and help them to understand the process.

Foreclosure.com could certainly take these buyers and prime them for this process.

A rent-to-buy option would not help the buyer to save money, but would only inflate the price of the rent to include the costs of purchase on a regularly priced house and though they could lock into today’s interest and prices, currently very low to stimulate the economy, who is to say these could not come down more in the future.

To spend more than they have now in the hopes of saving little by little for a house that is not a foreclosure is a waste of time and money. The houses are not as reduced as one would have hoped with the economy as low as it is and the houses, most being bank owned, could become reduced in price further since there is a current glut.

Foreclosure or a government-backed program would be the way to go, in my own opinion. Money, these days, is not as easy to earn. To make the money we made in the past much more skill, labor and time is required, because businesses are harder pressed. This in turn makes the consumer more cautious, apt to work harder for a better deal, and apt to do more research when it comes to major purchases.

The less precarious or risky, the better the option.

I think that if the lender, who is going to finance the buyers, could hold the money in escrow with interest, this would make the plan more secure. This would be the same lender that would in the end pass them their hefty down payment when the swift transaction were required by the auctioning bank. No penalties would be incurred if the buyers after two to three years, backed out because of a change in their circumstances.

Government-Backed Program

Another option the boomerang buyer could look into would be the FHA “Back to Work” program or government-backed program referred to earlier. This program is a government-backed program to help these homeowners get back into a home again.

It allows the buyer a low interest rate while being allowed also a low down payment (3.5 percent). This means that all the buyer has to prove is that they lost the house because of having lost 20 percent of their income for at least six months during which time they were unable to pay their mortgage.

The rate at which these boomerang buyers step back into the market is low but experts think they must be credit worthy by now since it has been several years since their foreclosure, lien, or short sale for them to recover.

Because the boomerang buyers are not looking into buying but currently renting, the interest and housing prices still don’t reflect a high demand in the market so to purchase now would be a good thing to do because the market has favorable circumstances for these buyers. Using this program, on top, would put the boomerang buyers back into a house because now they get a lower down payment and even lower interest rates to boot.

But, I think housing prices could still bottom out in the future, because people are more careful about making commitments, due to the crunch in jobs and delay in hiring and reduced salaries. The hourly may be on the rise but schedules are also being trimmed and benefits cut at work.

According to the FHA guidelines, the buyer need only be a year from having had their bankruptcy, foreclosure, deed in lieu of foreclosure or short sale. The government is trying to make the idea of buying a home for these previous owners as simple as possible to put them back into their house and stimulate the housing market as well as get the economy back on track.

Lenders and boomerang buyers are excited about this program. The government and lenders are happy to work with previous homeowners to get them back into their own house.

However, if the buyer waits too long the demand will increase as the wave of buyers becomes more prevalent and this will drive the prices and the interest rates back up and though the government is willing to offer them a sale with as low as 3.5 percent down payment, if the price increases then so will the down payment and if the interest rates are low now, which they are, and the government offers these buyers even less than what is market then the same thing will happen when the rates go up because of demand.

The formerly low government rate will also increase along with the market rates. The buyer should take advantage of this program as quietly and swiftly as they can if they have the income to secure a house and they can prove they qualify for the FHA “Back To Work” program.

Conclusion

It is apparent from the research below that as long as the buyer is aware of the stipulations of any of the above ways to purchase a house in the future, they can secure a house relatively soon. If the desire to live in a house is immediate then the rent to own option is the way to go, however, try to make sure that the contract does not give the current owner of the house all of the benefits and do some shrewd negotiations outlining the current state of the house, the two- to three-year timeline where money will go to the up keep of the house while you rent it and what money on top of the rent is to go where and how much those costs will be when the house is purchased.

If the buyer can wait a little while and try to get more house for their money, they can be trained by a foreclosure company and a plan can be hatched as to what money is required and how the money is going to accumulate and where the money will sit until the buyer gets the bid on the table with the help of the agent from the foreclosure company.

This option would require a lot of discipline from the future buyer to secure a reasonable budget and plan that would secure them the hefty down payment they would need to make a smart purchase in the future and take advantage of the quantity of foreclosures on the market.

If the buyer does not want to wait but has passed their year since their last house ownership and they can qualify with the FHA “Back To Work” program then perhaps this is the best option for them to enter into a house now and enjoy the low down payment and lower interest rate promised to them by the government-backed program. They won’t have to sacrifice their living for several years, and they won’t have to pay someone else’ mortgage as a renter but can walk in to the house and buy it outright with the help of the government.

The buyer may have to pay the current market price but will enjoy the low down payment and lower interest rate.

In the end, the options outlined above that would suit the buyer would depend on the buyer and his/her level of sacrifice and how much the buyer wants to save versus how much quality of life they want now and if they want to spend a lot of time and effort learning how to get more for less.

The buyer would have to weigh their current lifestyle and decide which lifestyle they can see for themselves in the future.

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Foreclosure.com Scholarship Program Winning Essay 2014, Kristina MacLean (Runner-up)

The “American Dream” is something that has been desired by citizens for decades. Owning a home has always been an honorable achievement among family heads, prospering businessmen and immigrants who move to the United States for a positive change.

A home is cherished, children are raised in it, and most important, it provides security to growing, hard-working families.

Sadly, the effects of losing a home can be compared to the devastation experienced through a divorce. No one ever wants to lose their home, and sadly many did between the years of 2006 to 2009, when real estate prices plummeted to an all time low.

Consequently, millions of Americans suffered from a recession. Fortunately, Americans have been bouncing back since then. Although millions lost their homes, slowly, many are recovering financially, and working toward the “American Dream.”

The economy has improved and so has the real estate market. Those affected by the real estate crisis need to devise a plan to become prepared for the time when they can purchase a home again. Considering the benefits of rent-to-own leases may be the best route, because it allows consumers to gauge if owning a home is still right for them, it provides a financial routine to try, and gives them time to determine if the house meets their needs.

Personally, I have seen my parents lose their home because of the effects from the recession, and loss of employment by my father. My parents are hard-working middle class citizens, who have devoted their lives in raising two responsible women.

Fortunately, before my parents lost their home to foreclosure, their nest was empty. They no longer needed to supply a comfortable home for two other people. Even though, the loss of their home was heartbreaking, they reasoned with the loss by considering the burdens of their home.

My father became exhausted over the lawn maintenance and my mother’s osteoporosis no longer allowed her to clean such a large home. Thus, they both looked forward to living in a home with lighter responsibilities. The circumstance of my parents is a good example of why renting to own would benefit those recovering from a foreclosure.

Currently, they are renting a condominium that my mother absolutely loves. Eventually she would like to purchase a home, but is undecided if she would prefer a house or condo like where she currently resides. If her lease had the option of renting to own, then her decision would be made.

My parents are up in age and do not enjoy the physical exertion needed to move a household. If their lease had the rent-to-own option, then they would be more inclined to stay where they are living. Reflecting over the all of the responsibilities included when owning a home can help someone determine if purchasing a home is still right for them, but most importantly is considering the cost of a home.

Many Americans abandoned their mortgages to foreclosure because they simply could not afford a home anymore. In addition to a paying a mortgage, owning a house involves other expenses such as utilities, landscaping, sewage, homeowner association fees, etc.

Consumers benefit by weighing the options if a house is still right for them, not only because of the household obligation, but the financial burden. Renting a house to own enables consumers to test if their economic situation can shoulder the monthly cost of a home and the expenses involved.

After living in a home that is rent-to-own, consumers can decide if their monthly income can support their current house or get them into a bigger one. Similar to trying on clothes at a store before purchasing, it allows them to experiment with a home before committing to it. Consumers may be surprised at how much they can get for their dollar these days, and may prefer a home in a better location that they can afford. This option allows them to gauge if the house fits their economic situation, and helps them make a confident choice to a lasting home.

My husband always desired owning a home single-handedly without having to get married or rely on his mother’s financial assistance. His mission was accomplished in Jan. 2008. The following year the home he purchased for $210,000 was valued at $119,000. Shortly after, to make ends meet he took on a second job.

Juggling two jobs was not healthy for a young marriage, as we were married in Oct. 2009, and so he had to make a decision. We evaluated our circumstances and the home we lived in. Once my husband was laid off, our decision was made. We had no other choice but to let his house go into foreclosure.

Reflecting on our experience, I wish my husband could have rented his house rather than purchase it out right. If we had the option of renting to own, as a couple we could have evaluated if the house was right for us. Before the financial turmoil began with his home, I simply did not love it. He soon after living in the house realized its location was upscale, but too far from his family.

Unlike my husband and I, consumers who rent-to-own can physically taste if the house they live in is where they want to be in 10 years. After living in rent-to-own home, consumers can try out the neighbors, determine if they like the stores nearby, evaluate if the commute from work is too far, and simply feel out the house.

Will it be a home they can cherish? Will it be a perfect fit?

Almost 100 years ago, immigrants risked their lives, left their countries, and journeyed to the United States in hopes of achieving the “American Dream.” Many today are graduating college or recovering from the real estate crisis from years back, and still desire to own a home.

Nothing has changed.

Man feels accomplished owning their own habitation. A home is not simply a place to live and cook dinner every night, but rather a blanket of security to clothe a family and build memories. Americans suffered a severe blow from the real estate crisis which occurred between the years of 2006 to 2009.

Although not all Americans have recovered, most are bouncing back, and are ready to join the elite known as homeowners. The economy is slowly improving and so has the real estate market. Consumers are learning from their mistakes and trying not to let history repeat itself.

That is why consumers should consider the benefits of rent-to-own homes, because it allows consumers to gauge if owning a home is still right, it gives them a chance to try out a financial routine, and it helps them make a confident decision for a lasting home by testing out all of their needs.

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Foreclosure.com Scholarship Program Winning Essay 2014, Rosalee Bernabe (Runner-up)

Inextricably bound to the premise of the “American Dream” is the ability to own one’s land — an aspiration that has withstood the test of time and is widely understood as a cornerstone of middle-class life.

Despite the threatening economic climate of recent years, homeownership continues to permeate the national dialogue from policy to pop culture. In Aug. 2014, President Obama spoke of its symbolic importance: “A home is the ultimate evidence that here in America, hard work pays off, that responsibility is rewarded.”

During the great recession of 2007-2009, the sub-prime mortgage crisis claimed the homes of 4.8 million individuals who lost their residence to foreclosure while an additional 2.2 million borrowers surrendered to short sale. These victims suffered substantial blows to their credit, with foreclosures and short sales costing them anywhere from 85-160 credit points, according to Jon Maddux, president of Drop Mortgage Inc.

It took years for people to rebuild their lives and finances, but real estate agents, mortgage brokers and homebuilders are noticing some rather surprising trends. With the country’s economic recovery slowly yet steadily underway, many former victims of foreclosure — repelled by a rise in rental rates and enticed by affordable home prices — have found themselves back in the market.

They have come to be known as “boomerang buyers.”

According to data collected by John Burns Real Estate Consulting (JBREC), foreclosure and short sale victims who lost their home between 2007-2013 are expected to form 10 percent of all U.S. home buyers this year. In the Washington area alone, JBREC anticipates these boomerang buyers to make up 17.5 percent of all new and existing home purchases in 2014.

Reclaiming homeownership broadly entails a large down payment and good credit, but government-insured loans offered by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) are facilitating the process. Though mortgage insurance is required, the FHA allows buyers who defaulted on their mortgage to become eligible after a three-year waiting period, while those who were never late on their payment can qualify instantly.

In contrast with the typical 20-25 percent down payment of a conventional loan, FHA-backed loans require a mere 3.5 percent. VA loans obtained through the Department of Veterans Affairs provide even greater leniency — they stipulate only a two-year waiting period to qualify and no down payment is required.

Since 2013, the climate for homeownership has only improved.

Last year, the FHA created the “Back to Work” loan program to further meet the needs of individuals impacted by the recession and housing crash. Through this program, buyers may reapply for a new loan in just 12 months, provided they enroll in housing counseling and submit proof of job loss or a pay reduction of at least 20 percent.

Other potential buyers might look into mortgages backed by Fannie Mae, which requires a down payment of 20 percent and a credit score upwards of 620, while those unafraid of a bit of work can apply for a fixer-upper loan through banks such as HSBC, Wells Fargo and North American Mortgage.

These loans cover both the cost to purchase the home and the cost to renovate. Though interest rates on this type of loan may be slightly higher because of the added risk for the lender, the interest on renovation costs can be tax-deductible. Boomerang buyers should still expect to keep an eye on their savings, pay bills on time, and maintain good credit scores in order to qualify, mortgage brokers advise.

Aspiring buyers who are not quite ready to commit to another mortgage have options as well.

Rent-to-own homes provide a very viable alternative for those looking to rebuild their finances after a debilitating foreclosure. In the rent-to-own market, payments are made directly to the landlord, not to a lender. A percentage of the lessee’s weekly or monthly rent is applied toward eventual ownership of the property, allowing individuals with lower credit scores to avoid the rejection and pitfalls of conventional financing as the landlord bears the risk of holding the mortgage.

This contract typically lasts two to five years, allowing buyers to build credit, test-drive the house and neighborhood, and potentially secure the sales price upfront, ultimately landing a below-market deal. Though rare, owners who are motivated to sell quickly may even provide owner financing for potential buyers with substantial reserve funds, an option for those who have already bounced back from their foreclosure and have a greater financial pool to draw from.

After the harrowing experiences brought on by the recession, most borrowers are now poised to be more conscientious about their purchases so as not to bite off more than they can chew.

Steve Cohen, senior mortgage banker at Talmer Bank and Trust, says buyers by and large are focused on building equity and making the biggest down payment they can shoulder. They buy homes they plan to live in for at least five years and are more invested in what they can realistically afford.

The biggest takeaway from these past losses, says George Beylouny of Silverton Mortgage Vinings, is that despite the ups and downs, it is possible to recover. For many Americans — even those hit hardest by the crisis — owning land continues to represent a pathway to freedom.

Works Cited

  • Christie, Les. “Boomerang Buyers Return to Market after Foreclosure.” CNNMoney. Cable News Network, 11 Mar. 2013. Web. 07 Nov. 2014.
  • Dougherty, Conor and Dawn Wotapka. “Buyers Back After Foreclosure.” The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, 15 Oct. 2012. Web. 09 Nov. 2014.
  • Lerner, Michele. “After Losing Their Homes in the Foreclosure Crisis, Boomerang Buyers Are Back.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 21 Aug. 2014. Web. 09 Nov. 2014.

 

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Foreclosure.com Scholarship Program Winning Essay 2014, Denise Dantzler (Runner-up)

With home prices still at an attractive level, a way for buyers working to repair their credit is to leverage a “rent-to-own” agreement.

A rent-to-own agreement is a contract that allows a potential homebuyer to pay an agreed upon monthly rental amount to live in a given house. But, beyond simple home rental privileges, the agreement also applies a predetermined amount of the rent toward a down payment to ultimately purchase the home at a later date, usually in around three years.

So while a buyer recovering from a recent foreclosure may have blemished credit that prevents them from buying another home immediately through traditional means, renting to own allows that same home buyer to actively work their way toward home ownership right now.

A rent-to-own agreement is not without its costs.

The monthly rental amount will be slightly inflated to set aside credits each month toward the buyer’s down payment. In addition, there is an option fee the buyer must pay to the seller, which is used toward the down payment if the buyer chooses to buy the home at the end of the rent-to-own agreement.

If the buyer chooses to not purchase the home, the option fee is forfeited by the buyer. So with a $100,000 home, the monthly rent might normally be $500/month. With a rent-to-own agreement, $600/month might be charged for rent, with the additional $100/month going toward the buyer’s down payment credit.

The option fee may be around $2,500, and is based on a percentage of the home’s selling price. At the end of a three-year rent-to-own agreement, the buyer would have $6,100 accumulated toward a down payment, which is considerable purchasing power.

A three-year term for a rent-to-own agreement is perfect for a buyer repairing their credit history because of a foreclosure.

The three years of the agreement term allows the buyer to take steps toward repairing their credit, so they are in a better position to qualify for a mortgage loan at the end of the rent-to-own period. Three years is also the time a buyer who defaults on a mortgage must wait to qualify for a Federal Housing Administration (FHA) mortgage loan.

It should be made clear that eligibility for an FHA loan does not mean qualification. The buyer must still have a fairly strong credit score and have been paying their other bills on time to actually qualify for an FHA mortgage loan. Because of these reasons, rent-to-own agreements fit the bill on many fronts for a so called “boomerang buyer.”

In addition to rent-own agreements, foreclosure victims have many other options and steps they can take to get back into home ownership.

Land Contracts

Land contracts provide an option to foreclosure victims, where they can immediately pursue homeownership as well. In their basic form, land contracts allow a buyer and a seller to agree to a contract to purchase/sell a home. The seller finances the home, while the buyer makes regular monthly payments according to the terms of the contract.

Once payment is completed in full, the seller turns the deed to the property over to the buyer. Land contracts can be complex and there are different types, so due diligence is required. Land contracts can be beneficial to foreclosure victims because they don’t require a mortgage qualification process, there is flexibility with the down payment, closing costs are relatively low and the closing process is streamlined.

Affordable Housing

If the foreclosure was associated with a decline in family income, foreclosure victims may enter into city subsidized or public housing. While not a direct avenue to homeownership, affordable housing offers a foreclosure victim the opportunity to reduce and manage expenses while working to rebuild their credit.

There may also be city based grants or local organizations that offer funding to families transitioning to another home after a foreclosure. A “2-1-1” referral line is staffed with support personnel who put foreclosure victims in contact with organizations that provide resources, assistance and social services to those in need.

Strengthening Credit Score to Work Toward Traditional Homeownership

A foreclosure victim or “boomerang buyer” must work to rebuild their credit because a foreclosure serves as a derogatory blemish on their credit report. A foreclosure not only affects a person’s ability to purchase another home, but it also affects that person’s ability to secure a job because employers look at credit history.

In addition, a person’s credit history and credit score will affect the interest rate they get other credit at, like car loans, student loans and credit card rates. If the credit score is low or credit history is flawed, the cost of credit may be much higher or the person may be disqualified altogether for the credit, the loan or the job.

A foreclosure victim can take any or all of the following steps to position them toward homeownership:

  1. Get a copy of their credit report, so they know exactly what is on it, and what derogatory items to remedy. Everyone is eligible for one free copy of their credit report from each of the three main credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. The key is to not request a copy of your credit report from all three credit bureaus at the same time; stagger the requests so you can actively see how the steps you are taking to resolve issues on your credit report are progressing.
  2. Take advantage of products offered by banks and credit unions that help to build a consumer’s credit. Products such as secured credit cards, credit builder loans and secured loans can be used to establish credit, demonstrate fiscal responsibility, and build a track record of credit worthiness. These products offer an opportunity for the borrower to make timely payments and establish a positive payment history.
  3. Foreclosure victims can seek the help of a credit counseling service that can provide formal guidance and technical support to re-establish a good credit history. Some credit counseling agencies offer debt restructuring services that may be beneficial to a foreclosure victim as well.
  4. Local not-for-profit organizations offer financial training and education sessions to recent foreclosure victims to help prepare them for responsible home ownership in the future. I visited a local homeownership service organization in my home town, and looked through their training class handouts and course schedule. The financial training sessions this organization offers includes topics such as financial goal setting, the importance of good credit, setting up a spending plan, budget counseling, money management, re-establishing credit, repairing/restoring credit, working with your available income, dissecting personal spending habits, the psychology of spending and motivations behind spending, avoiding credit traps, wise saving techniques, prioritizing spending, controlling impulsive buying, telling a want from a need, why a rainy day reserve fund is important, establishing spending guidelines, tracking daily expenses, and behavior changes needed for wise money management. All of these classes and training sessions were free. I presume that other like agencies provide similar training and education services across the country. The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta also cites this list of free financial education resources www.federalreserveeducation.org, which appears to be very comprehensive.
  5. The same local not-for-profit agency I visited also offered a home pre-purchase workshop to educate buyers on how to go about the home buying process correctly. This workshop seems ideal for a boomerang buyer rebounding from a foreclosure. This workshop included topics regarding home affordability, education on the key roles and partnerships to establish during the home buying process, credit score education, the importance of establishing a strong payment history and how this track record affects the credit score, the effect of increasing levels of debt on a credit score, and the common mistakes that affect a credit score. Again, I suspect similar agencies provide similar services within communities across the country.
  6. Foreclosure victims that experience a job or income loss could take advantage of job training programs that help build new skills and position them to strengthen their home buying power in the future. Programs from the Department of Labor include One-Stop Career Center and workforce development programs offered at the state level. The Small Business Development Center and FastTrac programs offer assistance, support and guidance services to potential small business owners and entrepreneurs. This may be a perfect opportunity for a foreclosure victim that is trying to rebound from a job loss to position themselves financially to afford a home in the future.
  7. I was also able to find a local mortgage lending agency that provides services to individuals that are in circumstances similar to those of foreclosure victims who may also be facing a loss of income. This agency partners with a consortium of lenders, non-profit housing developers, and the city government to offer competitive services tailored to those most in need of support to become home owners. The services provided by this agency include offering creative financing options, offering financing at “below market rates,” providing rehabilitation mortgage loans and funding, and offering financial assistance with down payments and closing costs. I don’t believe my city is unique in this regard; similar organizations should be available across the country.

Other Assistance and Programs Offered to Foreclosure Victims

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, the Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives (HAFA) program provides eligible homeowners who lost their home with $3,000 in relocation assistance. In addition, Fannie Mae offers a Deed for Lease program where homeowners can stay in their homes for a monthly rental fee for up to one year following home loss. Additionally, the Federal Housing Administration and the Veterans Administration offer an incentive program called “cash for keys.”

As you can see, there are many steps a recent foreclosure victim or “boomerang buyer” can take to re-enter the home ownership market. With interest rates still relatively low and home prices so affordable, it is a tremendous time for these buyers to make their move … literally!

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