As the market tightens, many real estate investors are forced to carve our new profitable niches. Koko Kelejian has evolved from minor rehabs to much heavier projects, including adding square footage and major rebuilds. This is a particularly interesting strategy in markets and neighborhoods where the dollar per square foot for homes is significantly more than the cost to add on new space. Check out this FlipNerd Expert shows to learn more.
Highlights of this show
- Meet Koko Kelejian, veteran real estate investor.
- Learn how to determine if and when adding sqft to homes may make sense, and how, if necessary, it may allow you to pay more for houses than your competitors.
- Learn how Koko has had to evolve over time as the real estate market shifts.
- Also listen to a bonus tip on how to create a frenzy of prospective buyers at your house to get top dollar when selling!
Resources and Links from this show:
Listen to the Audio Version of this Episode
FlipNerd Show Transcript:
Mike: Hey everyone. It’s Mike Hambright with FlipNerd.com. Welcome back for another exciting Expert Interview show, where I interview great guests from across the real estate investing industry to help you learn, grow and to inspire you.
For today’s show I’m joined by a friend of mine, we’re in a Mastermind group together. He has some really interesting things going on, he’s going to share with us today. So I’m joined by Koko Keledjian and he is a Los Angeles based real estate investor that has done well over 300 transactions in LA and a lot of markets around the country right now.
If you’re listening to this you may be a part of this, you’re kind of feeling the pinch of finding more inventory. Nobody can get enough deals and to be honest that can even be said in a good market where you’re really killing it, you just never have enough.
But the pinch is real right now in a lot of markets and what’s happening is investors are having to figure out where to go from here. And what Koko is doing and what some other investors are doing is moving into really, really heavy rehabs, maybe adding on a lot of square footage, sometimes new construction. But really kind of finding ways to add a lot of value with the property that you have instead of just dealing with the four walls of the box that you started with.
So what Koko is doing is adding a lot of square footage to projects, moving into a lot of higher end projects and he’s going to share that with us today. He’s going to share why he’s doing it because of what’s going on in the market right now. Before we get started though, let’s take a moment to recognize our featured sponsors.
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Please note, the views and opinions expressed by the individuals in this program do not necessarily reflect those of FlipNerd.com or any of its partners, advertisers, or affiliates. Please consult professionals before making any investment or tax decisions, as real estate investing can be risky.
Koko my friend, welcome to the show.
Koko: Hey, thanks Mike. Thank you so much for having me.
Mike: Yeah, glad to have you. It’s interesting and I’m excited to talk about this because I’m in Texas where the prices are much lower than on the coast and so we’ve got a lot of listeners in California and certainly on the East Coast and stuff where there’s a real opportunity to exploit kind of build price versus market price per square footage.
We don’t really have a whole lot of that here in Texas, there are some but I think it’s a really fascinating topic and for somebody that loves major rehabs, I love major rehabs I wish I had more of that. So I’m not sure I want to move to California because I’m in the land of milk and honey right now, but I’m excited to talk about it.
Koko: Absolutely, absolutely. Yeah, we definitely do a lot of major rehabs to this point. I think it really make sense for our market to do that because our price per square foot is basically most areas above $300 a square foot. So sometimes we’re getting close to $400. In primaries like Studio City we’re doing new construction and that tops out around between $500 and $550 a square foot.
Mike: Wow, that’s incredible.
Mike: Awesome. Hey, before we get started talking about this stuff why don’t you tell us your background. How you got into real estate investing and maybe even some of the cycles you’ve been through that have got you where you are today.
Koko: Sure, absolutely. You probably don’t even know this but I used to be chiropractor.
Mike: Oh really?
Koko: Yeah, I practiced for eight years.
Mike: I’m going to see you in a couple of weeks so maybe you can adjust me while I’m there.
Koko: For a price. Yeah, for the last I think 11 years right now, since 2004 I’ve been in real estate investing. I got into the field essentially in ’04 jumping to some spec homes basically in Florida and Las Vegas.
So back when the market was crazy hot it went up 48% and 49% in those two states respectively. So we did bunch of houses in Vegas and in Cape Coral and of course those went up and came back down really, really nicely later. But that’s how we got started and then we got into lending as well and we experienced the ’05, ’06 and suddenly the crash of ’07. So bank doors locked and New Century going down, IndyMac going down. We had a website called Lender Implode where you would just essentially see banks shutting down and it was just like a countdown.
Koko: So it was crazy, crazy times but through that we changed our business I guess, to the tune of what was essentially happening. We also did a lot of short sales because of that. Obviously a lot of short sales came in and we started the first flips back in ’08, short sale flips. We did the land trust deal, [inaudible 00:05:33] on that front but nonetheless we’ve been rehabbing since that time. So it’s been about another seven years since we did our first one.
We primarily started with some of the carpet, paint, tile stuff. Then we ventured on to a little bit of square footage additions here and there. Now we’re basically doing full blown renovations and our budgets most of the time are well over $100,000 on these homes.
Mike: Yeah, you guys are doing some really high end stuff I know too. Some big projects. Can you maybe share for a couple of minutes, you see where the market is today. It feels like it’s getting a little overheated, you probably felt some of the stuff back in ’05,’06. But the market is really different now than it was then. There’s a lot of international investment, there’s a lot of things that are different but there’s probably some things that are the same too. But you learned a lot during that last cycle right?
Mike: Maybe just share some lessons for what you learned during that cycle, how you feel right now about what’s going on at least in your market and maybe what some people can learn from that like to kind of prepare or think about I guess what they should be thinking about and maybe that they’re not.
Koko: Sure. Back then everyone was banking on appreciations. So they were assuming that the prices were going to go up another 10% in the next six months essentially. But that I think is being capped right now especially in California. So you’re looking at affordability going down pretty low. I think we’re somewhere around 20% right now. And when things start getting shaky is roughly about 17% and we hit that mark before because we had essentially a lot of these wacky mortgages, the option arms and so forth. But we don’t have any of those mortgages right now. A lot of them are essentially FHA mortgages or at least 10 % or 20% down.
So the market is more stable in that regard but what I’m seeing is that there’s less and less REOs and short sale inventory of course, 25% year over year between last year and this year and essentially that translates into higher prices and so what’s happening is rehab prices . . .
Mike: You’re saying REO inventory is down 25%?
Koko: Absolutely yeah. Foreclosure inventory and so on. With that being said you have less rehab properties on the market. So the problem is that when you’re rehabbing your home, you’ve got to have those comps to support it. So when we start going back like 90 days there’s very, very few comps within that one mile radius of our subject property. And because we’re doing really nice homes, you’ve got to substantiate that value.
So to a rehabber or wholesaler in our market what I would say is just buyer beware. Because what’s sold at least in the last 90 days is probably not going to be usable in the next 90 days. So it’s going to be gone. So are there more homes coming on that are rehabbed homes? That’s what you’ve got to come look out for to see, hey where are my comps going to come from? Because if those comps aren’t there your price per square foot average out of let’s say six months could be there. But appraisers don’t use price per square foot as much as they use real value sale price.
Mike: Yeah, what I was going to ask is how appraisers look into these stuff because if you’re having a hard time finding comps they’re going to often assume something is a comp when it’s not or you’re banking on them seeing the value the same way that you saw it right?
Koko: Sure, exactly.
Mike: How are appraisers looking at this stuff especially on a higher end homes? This is a question across the board for higher end homes that if you’re like me and you’re typically buying first time home buyer type houses like cookie-cutter style houses, usually you’re in huge neighborhoods and there’s always comps. Sometimes they’re a little bit harder to find, but on really high end stuff a lot of times it’s hard to find something that’s apples to apples anyway in any market, right?
Koko: Sure, absolutely.
Mike: Yeah, so appraisers, how are they looking at things right now, I guess, in your neck of the woods for high end homes?
Koko: My conversation at least with the appraiser is price per square foot is great and it’s a benchmark that we actually will look at a little bit but the reality is that if this 2000 square foot house, if you’re trying to pit $700,000 for this property, there’s got to be something else that’s remotely close to that that did sell for $700,000 even though let’s say if you drop down to $1800 or $1700 that price per square foot, if you use that price per square foot, you should be valued at $700,000. They’re not looking at it that way.
They’re looking at there has to be another 2000 square feet house that sold for $700,000 to count yours against that. You know what I’m saying? So price per square foot wise I can get to that number because as you obviously drop in square footage, you take a 1700 square foot house is going to have a higher price per square foot than let’s say a 2000 square foot house. But, I still can’t use that number to substantiate mine, even though . . .
Mike: I see, so they would just typically start going out further and further, distance wise.
Koko: Then it’s going to be subjective because now you’ve got appraisers that don’t want to step outside their guidelines and go past one mile, even though you can’t find a like-kind of property within that radius. Or they’re going to go into let’s say, a neighboring city. So that tends to be an issue as well.
Mike: Right. Well, so let’s talk about, I guess, how you’ve kind of transitioned lately into doing a lot more heavy construction and really a lot of add-ons, as you’re adding a lot of square footage to create value that way.
Koko: Sure. Exactly.
Mike: So talk about why you’re doing that, and then let’s get into, how you’re doing it. How you’re adding value and why that makes sense.
Koko: Sure. A lot of our homes are essentially 1950s built homes. So that is small three two’s that you see in normal neighborhoods across the country. So what you have in those situations is you have a small master bath, and a small master bedroom. Well I had an open house yesterday, I had about 80 people come through that open house in a rehab. It was nuts.
We do some special marketing techniques, we’ll hopefully fill you in on afterwards. But nonetheless we have a ton of people come in and they’re primarily first time home buyers with small children or pregnant and so on and so forth. Right?
But what are they looking for? They’re looking for a bedroom for the kids or something like that or a nursery. But they’re also looking for something that’s really nice for them. At this intro level price point, it’d be really nice to have a large master bedroom and really nice to have a master bathroom that looks like a spa. That’s what we focus our efforts on, those two areas as well as the kitchen of course just like everybody else does.
So what we tend to do is we do open concepts, put a bunch of beams up and really open up the living room. But by adding those two rooms and making it really nice and big and really nice, ours stands out no matter what against everything else. That’s what the selling point is. So now you’re essentially adding square footage to the property somewhere in the vicinity of 300 square feet, maybe upwards of 500 square feet.
In LA County if you add up to 500 square feet it’s done over the counter. So for permitting sake it’s a lot easier to do. You don’t have to go through plan check and months on end of reviews and so on and so forth. You could essentially do it over the counter within a week to two week time frame. That’s why we do it that way. Or you could do construction in phases and we’ll get one permit and then we’ll get the second permit and so on and that’ll prevent us again from going to full blown review.
Mike: So part of it is you want to stand out because you’re putting out a product that has a lot of the things that new builds have which would be a large master suite, larger kitchen, all those things and part of it is to add square footage to kind of exploit that difference between build price and what the average selling price is in the neighborhood you’re in. Right?
Mike: So instead of when you look at a house, if you’re looking at let’s just say a 2,000 square foot house, your comparing it against other 2,000 square foot houses, you’re limited by that square footage if all you do is make the house nice again. But if you say, hey I can add on 2 to 300 square feet and it’s selling for $300 plus a square foot and what’s your build price typically on adding square footage?
Koko: It depends, if you’re adding a bathroom and so on it could get up to like $100, $120. If it’s something simple let’s just say blowing out like a rec room portion, maybe you’re down to $85. What we’re doing, our prime niche is essentially find something that’s anywhere between 1300 and 1600 square feet and get that thing up to like 1800 or 2000. That’s our niche.
These lot sizes you’re typically looking at somewhere between 6000 to hopefully like 8, 9, 10,000. That’s that niche. You’re looking at a small house on a fairly decent lot where you can exploit that backyard and if we can build at 100, let me just take a round numbers, but if we’re going to build at $100 a square foot and we’re selling at $350 a square foot, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out we just added $250 times 300 square feet, $75,000 in value.
Mike: Yeah, and the difference is, one of the interesting things about that too is if you think about how competitive it is right now with other investors, most investors don’t want to add square footage. They don’t want to make that extra effort. They don’t want to do rehabs that big, they don’t want to deal with the permitting issues.
So you kind of are starting to essentially, I’m not saying that you should pay more, but it would effectively allow you to potentially pay a little bit more and beat somebody out because you’re going to make it up on the square footage add. So your competition is not quite as fierce as it would if you weren’t going to add square footage, right?
Koko: You are broadcasting live to everybody right? Giving up the nuggets, yeah absolutely.
Mike: Well, we’re not going to broadcast this in California.
Koko: Oh perfect.
Mike: [inaudible 00:14:59] everything but California.
Koko: Okay. No man, you hit the nail on the head. This is exactly what it is. We’re able to pay a little bit more for a property and we’ll be able to get in because some of them are just going to do a lipstick job on the home, they’re not going to get as much value as what we’re doing obviously. So we’re looking at essentially if we get up to $400 a square foot, $450 a square foot, that’s a sweet spot right there. Because you’re just making money on every single square foot that you add on that property.
Mike: Sure, yeah. Are you doing some new build stuff as well?
Koko: Yeah, we’re doing some new construction. Some high end new construction.
Mike: Okay. Talk about the areas you invest in and there’s probably not a lot of kind of virgin land to build on, right? So if you’re building you’re going to scrap something probably right?
Koko: Yeah, most definitely. Most time we’re scraping in, 9 times out of 10 we’ll leave one wall up and so that one wall up business essentially it saves us on a lot of taxes. So the difference could be essentially $10,000 to $20,000 in additional taxes just by leaving that wall up versus new construction.
So for new construction you’re going to get hit on taxes on the whole new square footage. So if you knocked everything down and you build 3000 square feet, you’ve got 3000 square feet of taxes. But if you already had 1500 square feet and you’re adding 1500, you only get taxed on the 1500 square foot addition.
Koko: So it’s a huge difference.
Mike: I think different states have, for those who are listening, that’s probably a California thing, every state is probably a little bit different. I’m not sure if it’s even at the county level potentially. But yeah California is a little different anyway, as is Texas where I’m at. Here it’s different in a good way. There it’s kind of . . . no I won’t say anything else but.
Mike: That’s great. So talk about, this is kind of a tool you’re using to weather the storm, but to kind of deal with this market. And we’ve had some guests on lately and we’re talking about dealing with this market, dealing with market cycles and maybe talk about when you see that changing, I’m not saying time-wise, but this is a tool you’re using right now but you may do something different in a year from now if the market is different, right?
Koko: Yeah, absolutely. Because again you’re going to look at the comparables that are going to pop up within these next six months or so and it’s going to determine exactly what we’re able to do. In the higher price point areas we’re still able to renovate a property and that have somewhat of a barrier. We have bread and butter homes that are first time home buyers. Those are going to get beaten pretty quickly.
But the people that have more cash to spend, we’re looking at a million plus, that price point usually won’t get beat up as bad as the price point is concerned. Then of course in that price point you could put in gold toilets and someone will pay specifically because there are gold toilets in that property.
Mike: You’re probably less likely to have appraisal issues, or less likely to be using FHA at those levels at least.
Koko: Yeah, exactly.
Mike: So you’re probably less probably to have appraisal issues. I think you and I know what I just asked you but can you kind of explain that a little bit like how you consider the appraisal or the type of financing that a user is using as to how much you can push the envelope on your price.
Koko: Sure, absolutely. Right now you’ve got predominantly FHA buyers, so they’re three and a half percent down. So the bread and butter homes that we’re selling are somewhere between high 5s and 600,000, 700,000 somewhere in that ball park. So for that client they’re essentially putting down somewhere in the vicinity of $20,000. Where the closing costs are also about $20,000 depending on the loan they get. So that’s a lot of money to bring down to a property 40,000 bucks. So they can usually wrap their closing costs in the loan. So that’ll get rid of the half of those funds, which is great. So they’re able to get into this property for basically 20,000.
Now with that said though when you start venturing into the bigger price points, now you’re looking at 20% down all day. So now it’s on 700 plus to 800 plus. You’re looking at $140,000, $160,000 down without the closing cost. So it’s a really big swing. So everybody we see is getting FHA loans. Now with FHA loans of course you’ve got some issues.
So you’ve got to make sure that the property is spick and span and that means that you can’t have the peeling paint, a crack in the window. There’s an FHA appraiser as well as an inspection done at the same time. So those are the issues that we come across. But they’re not really too big of a problem for us because 9 times out of 10 we’re replacing all the windows, the roof, that kind of stuff.
Mike: Yeah, and the appraisals with the FHA though, they’re, I don’t want to say it’s impossible to change them but if you have to get two appraisals which you often do as a real estate investor turning it around. Whichever the lowest is what they go with, but usually not FHA loans, the lender typically doesn’t care as long as an appraisal is for the amount that they’re ending on.
Koko: Exactly and of course you have a 90 day hold. So if you’re buying a property and flipping it as an investor you’ve got to hold that property for at least 90 days before the resell is done. Now in a major construction that’s not really an issue for us because we’re definitely past that point. But the other part is that if it’s below 90 days it’s got to be 20%. So it’s can’t be 20% above the previous value or then they’re requiring two appraisals or it’s the lender overlay and they’ll always want two appraisals.
So we’re typically getting properties that are essentially like 300 to 320 and our flip out is 550. It’s a significant jump. It’s a major, major remodel with additional square footage. So a lot of times the lender will understand that and see it, but it’s definitely a problem with the lower price points.
Mike: Sure, sure. Yeah. So this what you’re doing in this market and having been through some cycles, I know that from talking to you before that you’re a little concerned that things might take a downturn in California at some point and the rest of the country is watching what happens in California obviously.
But in terms of riding cycles, how would your strategies change? How do you anticipate that they would change? Would you do less major remodels? What would happen when the market goes down? I don’t want to say if it goes down but when? Because it’s the market shift. In terms of kind of planning out cycles, where would you go from here.
Koko: One of the things that we’re looking to do is instead of picking up the properties ourselves there’s a model that we’re looking to and actually have practiced it a bunch of times where we actually just come in and renovate the property for the seller. And that essentially it’s not major construction but we still do like lipstick jobs essentially.
But we’re blowing out the house and doing all the cabinets, all the floors, all new everything, LED lights and all that good stuff. Something that a normal seller doesn’t want to do or can’t even do, or doesn’t have the funds to do. So we’ll bring in all of those funds and do it for them.
Then my wife is a real estate broker, Gina Michelle Project. She’ll go ahead and list and design the property and sell it. So we end up getting both ends of that transaction and it’s a win-win because we don’t have to actually purchase the property ourselves. There are no hard money costs, there are no carrying costs and there’s no risk factor in that. And the property will sell for higher than the current state that it’s in and the seller will still make out better than what they were at before.
So that’s a win-win that we’re looking at during this plateau and maybe the downturn a little bit. So to bridge the gap until we can buy property again.
Mike: Yeah, awesome. Hey Koko we have a little bit of extra time, do you want to go ahead and talk about what we were talking about beforehand which was how you get so many people to an open house. You guys are doing some pretty amazing stuff, really creating a frenzy. Do you want to maybe talk about that a little bit?
Koko: Absolutely, absolutely yeah. One thing I can tell to any rehabbers, just don’t make a cookie-cutter house. Don’t buy tile at Home Depot right. Go out and buy from a tile store and there’s great designs out there like houses are really good site to look at different designs and what not. But just have a little bit more design element in your property itself.
Here’s a cool tidbit. There is a Bluetooth fan/speaker. It’s 150 bucks. Stick that in, in the master bathroom. They can play music through the Bluetooth speaker in their master bathroom. Really cool feature, only costs 150 bucks, but it’s a wow factor.
Mike: Yeah, that’s awesome.
Koko: So what we do is we always list our properties low. Typically about 5% lower than everything else that’s selling in the area. Okay. So A, our properties come in lower so when everyone looks at it they’re like, what’s going on there. And B, we get a bunch of people that are coming to the property that may not even be able to qualify for that house. It’s probably out of their price point, so they’ll still come in and take a look at it. But what we’re trying to do is get as many people in that house as possible. We’ll also drop about 500 mailers like every door delivery U.S Postal, to everybody around that area. And since the neighbors have been seeing and watching us do the renovations, they’re all very eager to show up. So today . . .
Mike: Right, always got those nosy neighbors.
Koko: Oh, we’ve got all those nosy neighbors in there. They love to come by and you know what, let they come. Because the reality is nobody knows who the buyer is and who the neighbor is and so on and so forth. So all I want to make sure that happens that day is that the buyer is in the same room with 20 other people. As long as I can get that done, then that buyer thinks, man, I’ve got to put my best foot forward day one on this thing. And that’s what we do is we just stir up a lot of activity on the property and we’re usually not on the market for more than 10 days.
Mike: So you’re putting the property out and you’re just kind of creating this frenzy of almost like an auction. Everybody comes in and somebody is afraid that they won’t get it and so they’re willing to . . . and you’re artificially pushing the price down knowing that people will probably start to bid more than price rather than pricing it higher than what you’re willing to accept and working it down, you’re just going the other way.
Koko: Yeah, I think it’s definitely the wrong play. If you’re trying to get $700,000 on your property, you don’t want to list it at $725,000 and then get down to $700000. It doesn’t make any sense. We’ve sold a ton of properties and every time we list a property when that property ages on the MLS, it’s death for that property. Every week that goes by its death for that property, because they can see it, they smell blood and they’re like oh, I can come in lower than the asking price. And that’s what you’re doing, you’re inviting that.
When you list it low, you’re simply saying look I’m not deciding what the price of this property is. I can list that property for $1. It’s like eBay. Come in and make an offer. All that says is I’m for sale, what do you want to offer? Then people ask us at the open house and we say, “Look, pull the comparables, but we’ve seen XY and Z.” So they’ll go back and they’ll do their own due diligence. So it really helps out the situation when people . . . because what happens is somebody has probably lost out on three or four houses and . . .
Mike: And they’re not going to lose out on this one.
Koko: Not going to lose out on that one. [inaudible 00:26:13] that person is. Some other couple may have come in and this is their first week shopping for a house and they’re going to lose that one. But the other one, as soon as they see a bunch of people in that room they’re going to be like, “We need to go above asking on this deal.”
Mike: Yeah. So talk about what you do. You have a very limited time I assume kind of a one or two hour slot where everybody is pretty much at the same time. Two hours.
Koko: That’s it.
Mike: Yeah. And then what are people doing while they’re there? They’re just looking at each other and worried about losing the deal. How do you get that many people in a house.
Koko: I’ve got to give credit up to my good boy Jordan Fisher, he’s got a great system . . .
Mike: Yeah, Jordan has been on the show before.
Koko: Yeah, yeah. What we’ll do is we’ll put on the market and we won’t let anybody see the property for at least one week before the showing. So people will call in, they want to get in, “My client is out of town etcetera. Sorry, can’t see it until that day.” So we stir up the crowd for basically one week. And we put it on Zillow and so on and so forth and then when they finally get there, it’s only open for two hours instead of the normal four hour window. So everyone gets crammed in whether they want to or not to come at that time.
And when people call and ask, “We can’t make it that day. Can we come in next week? Are you going to put a lock box on it?” To be honest with you, I think it’ll probably go that day. So we may not even need a showing after that. Now they’re just like, “Okay, we’ve got to make it.” So we just want to shove everybody into that door that day, we want to get out of the way of the market and let the market decide what the value is. And that’s what we do and people will come with offers in hand that day.
Mike: So you list it but you just don’t make it available for showing. So they can see pictures and stuff online?
Mike: That’s awesome.
Koko: They can see pictures, they start drooling and they’re like “I’ve got to go see this.” Because in our price point we’re typically listing roughly 30,000 maybe sometimes 50,000 below the sale, the actual [inaudible 00:28:11]. So that’s a lot. So they’ll come in and they’ll see it listed for 525,000, but our target is really 575,000. And we’ll hit it, but what it does is bring up everybody that’s looking up to 525 or up to 550, they can’t even afford to buy that house.
Mike: Right. Yeah, awesome. Koko hey thanks for spending time with us today. Any kind of final words of wisdom? We talked about how you evolved in this market by doing some things differently. Any kind of wrap up or final comments you want to make on this?
Koko: Yeah, don’t bank on appreciation, don’t bank on appreciation. Know your comparables and know the product that you’re putting out. Know that your products are going to have to be superior to the other comparables that you’re seeing out there if you want to hit that mark, especially now.
Mike: Hey Koko how do folks learn more about you? Where do they go if they want to see what you’re working on?
Koko: We’ve got the Gina Michelle Project on Facebook, a lot of our projects are on there. Renovation to new construction, high end, low end. We’ve got everything on there. So check out the ginamichelleproject.com
Mike: I’ve got a link for that. Awesome. Koko thanks for being with us today and I’ll be seeing you sometime here in a few weeks.
Koko: Absolutely. Thanks so much Mike for having me.
Mike: All right buddy. Have a great day.
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