RE/MAX 440
Patty Jo Anzivine
pattyjovine@gmail.com
Patty Jo Anzivine
4550 W. Tilghman Street
Allentown  PA 18104
PH: 610-390-0415
O: 610-398-8111
F: 267-354-6902 
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Taxpayers Should Act Now to Take Advantage of IRS Changes

October 23, 2013 3:24 am

Unlike last year, tax planning for 2013 is not hampered by uncertainties over a looming fiscal cliff. Unfortunately, there is always some uncertainty and a few expiring provisions to warrant special attention by taxpayers.

Managing income taxes at year end involves techniques designed to address three issues:

• Accelerating or deferring income: If a taxpayer expects to be in the same or a lower tax bracket next year, it's best to defer as much income as possible until after the year-end.
• Accelerating or deferring deductions: If a taxpayer's overall tax rate is the same in both years, accelerating deductions achieves tax savings this year rather than waiting for those tax savings to materialize next year.
• Take advantage of tax provisions scheduled to expire at the end of 2013: There are several temporary tax provisions that can only be used this year.

Tax planning begins by projecting income and deductions for the year to determine your tax bracket and income thresholds that trigger higher and/or additional taxes, or limits the effectiveness of deductions. One of the impacts of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (ATRA12) is the reintroduction of the Pease limitation, which can greatly limit itemized deductions. Once a taxpayer knows what his or her income taxes will look like, it’s time to evaluate which techniques will help the most.

Strategies to accelerate or defer income:
• Adjust your elective deferral plans at work: Taxpayers who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, or in the Thrift Savings Plan can defer up to $17,500 this year. Taxpayers age 50 and older can defer up to $23,000.
• Harvest capital gains or losses: Long-term capital gains are taxed at 0 percent for taxpayers in the 15 percent bracket. Capital losses can be used to offset capital gains and reduce other income up to $3,000.
• Use the IRA: Taxpayers age 59 ½ and older can accelerate IRA distributions in 2013. Contributions may be deductible depending on your income level and whether you’re covered by a retirement plan through work. Taxpayers under age 59½ can convert traditional IRAs to Roth IRAs to accelerate income.
• Health-care assistance: People with health savings accounts – available with some high-deductible health insurance policies -- can save up to $3,250 tax-deferred for an individual and $6,450 for a family. Those who are 55 and older can save an additional $1,000. Flex spending contribution limits are capped at $2,500 this year.

Strategies to accelerate or defer deductions:

• Medical expenses: The Affordable Care Act (ACA) raises the income threshold this year to 10 percent of adjusted gross income for taxpayers under age 65. The threshold remains at 7.5 percent for those 65 and older. Taxpayers may need to prepare or defer medical bills to lump expenses in a single year to get the deduction.
• Gifts to charities: Use a donor advised fund (DAF) to maximize the tax savings from charitable giving. A DAF makes gifting appreciated securities easier. The DAF can be funded in tax years when the deduction will have the most impact. Distribution to charities can be made at any time without tax consideration.
• Qualified Charitable Distribution: This year only, taxpayers age 70½ or older can choose to direct up to $100,000 of their IRA-required minimum distribution to charity. By doing so, the distribution does not show up as taxable income, which can lower taxation of Social Security benefits and help reduce other threshold levels to further minimize taxes.

ATRA12 extended—but did not make permanent—several tax incentives for individuals. Taxpayers should consider whether they can benefit from these incentives this year and plan accordingly. The following provisions are set to expire on Dec. 31 unless extended again:

• State and local sales taxes deduction. Taxpayer can choose between deducting state and local income taxes or the sales taxes they’ve paid through the year.
• Deduction for teacher expenses. Eligible educators can deduct up to $250 of any unreimbursed expenses.
• Deduction of mortgage insurance premiums. Payments of Private Mortgage Insurance premiums can be treated as deductible home mortgage interest in 2013.
• Discharge of principal residence indebtedness. This can be excluded from gross income this year.
• Qualified Charitable Distribution. Taxpayers can make tax-free charitable donations from their required IRA distributions.

2013 is certainly an exciting year for tax planning. Start now in order to minimize your tax bill in April.

Source: Rodgers & Associates

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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One Year after Hurricane Sandy: Data on Home Repair Projects & Installations

October 23, 2013 3:24 am

One year ago, the week of Halloween would be associated with something a bit more frightening, as a storm of epic proportion barreled toward the eastern seaboard. Hurricane Sandy would pummel into New York and New Jersey wreaking havoc and later becoming the second costliest hurricane in United States history.

Porch.com has assembled data to highlight the aftermath's effects on home repairs and insurance payouts a year after Sandy made landfall. With statistics on over 90 million home repair and improvement projects, data was collected on preventative and reactive measures that were enacted after Hurricane Sandy's landfall.

Following the storm, an estimated 651,000 housing units were destroyed or damaged – 340,000 in New Jersey and 305,000 in the greater New York City area - with 22,000 housing units completely uninhabitable.

Insurance claims skyrocketed with 501,447 claims paid out in the greater New York area and 328,946 claims paid out to New Jersey residents. Safety related projects were the most prevalent in the months immediately following Sandy in the New York and New Jersey metro areas with 49.9 percent of home repairs attributed to safety.

Todd Miller of QMA Design+Build LLC confirmed that "A lot of people were concerned about alarm systems – unfortunately the power goes out and the alarm system doesn't function. We have seen a number of people who have requested generators and that sort of thing. The new FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) rules were pretty restrictive about what you can or can't do."

In what can be speculated as a potential fear of theft or looting, residents equipped their homes with emergency devices following the traumatic storm. Porch.com reported an increase of 55.6 percent alarm safety installs and an increase of 27.8 percent smoke detector installs. Following such a devastating event and with roughly 5 million residents without electrical power, Porch.com also studied the decline in home repair projects in the New York/New Jersey metro area between October and December 2012. The biggest declines in Exterior (18.4 percent) and Window repair (20.3 percent) were likely due to the complete devastation caused by the storm and residents anxiously waiting for insurance payouts. Miller said, "Now that FEMA has finalized their maps and certainty as to the direction that things are going in, we are seeing projects popping up now. If you didn't call your insurance company immediately after the storm, people were waiting months for adjusters."

As applications came rolling in for aid and assistance in home repair and recovery, $5.6 billion in aid was paid out to New Jersey storm victims with $415 million coming from FEMA grants designated to individuals with households. FEMA approved over $1 billion to New York City residents whose property was destroyed or damaged by Sandy with $855 million designated to help survivors with home repairs and temporary rental costs.

New governmental requirements have strengthened protection for residents and insurance providers. Flood maps have been updated for the first time since 1983 with 398,000 residents currently living in flood prone areas in the New York City area. By 2030, all buildings in New York with more than 7 stories and over 300,000 square feet are required to undertake flood protection measures. With New York City being the number one metropolitan city in the U.S. at risk from storm surge, the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force launched "Rebuild By Design" to develop actionable projects that will make the Sandy-affected region more resilient.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Painting a Nursery? Tips, Trends and Ideas for Creating the Perfect Room

October 23, 2013 3:24 am

One of the most exciting design and decorating experiences a couple can have is preparing a room for a newborn. There is a wealth of great ideas and inspiration for designing and painting a nursery - for both DIYs and those hiring a professional painting contractor.

The first step is to decide if the nursery will have a theme or simply a mix of colors and details you like, points out Sara McLean, a color expert from a paint manufacturer. "Some current trends in nurseries include modern baby chic, vintage nostalgia, Bohemian, school themes such as science and tech, and fun twists on nature including beach and woodland themes," she says. "Or even opting for a traditional theme, like nautical, carousel or cowboy, you can add your own sense of playfulness, creativity or whimsy."

The color palette is the next step, thinking beyond just pink or blue. McLean says that the tradition of using blue in a boy's nursery has evolved into combinations of blue - particularly turquoise - with other colors such as red, green and orange. Pink for girls has evolved into fuchsia tones with elements of aquamarine, lilac, white and orange. In fact, aqua and orange have become popular choices for both boys and girls. There is a new boldness in the way colors are combined in the nursery - pink and purple with green or blue and yellow with green, for example. Striped ceilings can help stimulate the room and a touch or slight accent of black is trendy right now, to add a little sophistication.

Today's baby rooms include bold and brightly colored carpets, wall decals, maps, figurines and "monster dolls" that are so ugly, they're cute; owls and other woodland critters; and elephants. "Be sure to keep an open mind and eye out for items and styles that can make your nursery unique," adds McLean.

When decorating a nursery, it's important to use non-toxic products - from the paint to the rugs, to the furniture. Opt for biodegradable timber and certified formaldehyde-free furniture, and take special care with any antique baby furniture.

Source: www.dunnedwards.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Tips to Help Homeowners and Buyers Avoid Appraisal Problems

October 21, 2013 3:18 am

The Appraisal Institute recently released some helpful tips for consumers, providing guidance for homeowners and buyers seeking to ensure their sales are completed in a timely manner.

As one of the nation’s largest professional associations of real estate appraisers, the Appraisal Institute created these helpful tips to let consumers know how to protect themselves and how to avoid unnecessary frustration when selling or buying a home.

“Too many consumers in this struggling real estate market face problems with appraisals when attempting to buy or sell a home,” said Appraisal Institute President Joseph C. Magdziarz, MAI, SRA. “But rather than passively endure delays in closing a sale, homeowners and buyers can take proactive steps to avoid pitfalls.”

The Appraisal Institute’s tips encourage homeowners and buyers to:

- Understand the role of appraisals.
- Make sure their lender hires a qualified appraiser (such as a designated SRA, SRPA or MAI member of the Appraisal Institute).
- Accompany the appraiser during the inspection of the property if possible.
- Request a copy of the appraisal report from the lender.
- Examine the appraisal report and ask questions.
- Appeal the appraisal if appropriate.
- Ask the lender to order a second appraisal by a qualified and designated appraiser.
- File legitimate complaints with appropriate state board or professional appraisal organizations.

“Credible opinions of value can help to stabilize the real estate market,” Magdziarz said. “Appraisals are especially important because they are an objective and unbiased source of information. Unlike others involved in real estate transactions, the appraiser is an independent professional who performs a service for a fee rather than for a commission.”

Magdziarz noted that normal declines in the real estate market have led to increased caution by lenders. That caution has led to delays in completing some real estate transactions.

“Appraisers today are doing the same thorough, fact-based research and analysis they have always done,” Magdziarz said. “Nothing has changed in that regard.”

Magdziarz added that appraisers have been wrongly accused of prolonging the nation’s real estate downturn by developing value opinions that are below proposed sale prices. Specifically, he said, they’ve been unfairly criticized for including comparable sales in the valuation process that provide opinions that are below the cost to build.

It serves neither the lender nor the consumer to enter into an upside-down mortgage, he noted. Some real estate agents, mortgage brokers and home builders have used the Home Valuation Code of Conduct and Interagency Appraisal and Evaluation Guidelines as a scapegoat for current declines in the real estate market caused by the weak economy and the general oversupply of homes in the market, Magdziarz said.

For more information, visit www.appraisalinstitute.org.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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The Ripple Effect of Home Buying

October 21, 2013 3:18 am

Using the Consumer Expenditure Survey (CES) data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), NAHB Economics research shows that a home purchase triggers additional spending on appliances, furnishings, and remodeling. Such spending typically exceeds that of non-moving homeowners and persists for two years after moving.

The NAHB analysis compares spending behavior among three groups of single-family detached homeowners: buyers of new homes, buyers of existing homes and non-moving owners. During the first two years after closing on the house, homebuyers tend to spend on appliances, furnishings and property alterations considerably more compared to non-moving owners. However, homebuyers tend to be larger households with children, and on average wealthier, with higher levels of education and concentrated in urban areas. Any of these factors could potentially explain higher spending on appliances, furnishings and remodeling by home buyers. Thus, the NAHB analysis controls for the impact of household characteristics on expenditures, and, nevertheless, finds that a home purchase alters the spending behavior of homeowners and that otherwise similar homeowners spend more across all three categories compared to non-moving owners during the first two years after moving.

Looking at spending patterns of new homebuyers and identical households that do not move, the differences are largest on furnishings. A typical new homebuyer that buys a new home is estimated to spend in excess of $3,000 more on furnishings than an identical household that stays put in a house they already own. The elevated level of spending persists into the second year as new home buyers spend additional $2,000 over their typical budget on furnishings.

Similarly, moving into a new home triggers higher levels of spending on appliances. A typical new homebuyer that moves into a new home is estimated to spend $1,005 more on appliances during the first year compared to a non-moving owner. The difference shrinks to $348 during the second year and goes away after that.

In the case of property repairs and alterations the differences are smallest, $740, and last only one year, which is not surprising considering that most households would not want to spend years in a house with ongoing remodeling projects.

Buying an older home also triggers additional spending. The typical buyer of an existing home tends to spend close to $4,000 more on remodeling, furnishings, and appliances compared to otherwise identical homeowners that do not move. However, in case of buying an older home, most of this extra spending goes to remodeling projects, more than $2,000, and occurs during the first year after closing on the house. Only the additional spending on furnishings tends to persist beyond the first year.

The statistical analysis further shows that this higher level of spending on furnishings, appliances and property alterations is not paid by cutting spending on other items, such as entertainment, transportations, travel, food at home, restaurants meals, etc. This confirms that home buying indeed generates a wave of additional spending and activity not accounted for in the purchase price of the home alone.

In summary, the NAHB analysis shows that during the first two years after closing on the house, a typical buyer of a new single-family detached home tends to spend on average $7,400 more than a similar homeowner who does not move, including $4,900 in the first year after purchase. Likewise, a buyer of an existing single-family detached home tends to spend about $4,000 more than a similar non-moving home owner, including $3,600 during the first year. The overall ripple effect of home buying does not stop here, as producers of appliances, furnishings and remodelers spend their additional income paid by homebuyers and trigger further waves of economic activity.

Source: NAHB’s Eye on Housing Blog, http://eyeonhousing.wordpress.com/2013/10/09/the-ripple-effect-of-home-buying/

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Four Handy Tools to Ease Your Autumn Clean-Ups

October 21, 2013 3:18 am

With autumn approaching, I have begun rummaging around the basement for gear that will be required to take care of the annual pre-winter property cleanup. While poking around on the web later, a few new fall cleanup tools popped up that looked pretty interesting.

The right knife. Gardeners.com started off with something very simple, but apparently with high utility. They recommend anyone heading out for yardwork carry the Hori Hori Knife (available everywhere - around $25).

It can be used to cut back perennial foliage, plant bulbs, divide plants, cut open bags, pop dandelions out of the ground, set out transplants, cut twine, even pry the lid off a paint can. The sharp, serrated steel blade easily divides plants, severs weed roots and cuts through twine and packaging.

It's sharp enough to cut back perennials during fall cleanup, according to its makers. Just grab the tops in one hand and slice off the dying foliage near the ground with the knife.

WORX Electric Leaf Shredder. If you're raking up mountains of fall foliage, you can reduce them to a manageable size with an electric leaf shredder, and do good things for your landscape and the planet. Instead of bagging the leaves and having them hauled away, shred them and use them! This shredder can reduce 11 bags of leaves into just one. (available everywhere - around $125)

GreenWorks Electric Chipper. For heavier chopping jobs, the electric chipper fills the bill. The Electric Chipper chops twigs and branches up to 1-3/8" in diameter. It's quieter and cleaner than gas-powered chippers, but effectively turns hedge trimmings, storm and pruning debris into landscape mulch. Just plug it in, put on your safety glasses, press start and you're ready to go. (available at dozens of DIY and gardening sites and stores - around $150).

The WORX JawSaw.
This electric chainsaw is concealed within the jaw-like housing, allowing an operator to safely and easily cut branches up to 4" thick. Between cuts, the blade retracts back into the housing. Steel teeth hold branches in place while cutting. Cut fallen branches where they lay, without lifting.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Being Frugal Doesn't Have to Stop the Fun

October 18, 2013 3:09 am

Saving money isn't always easy, but putting aside a few dollars here and there can add up. Fall is the perfect time to begin the habit of making small adjustments so you can have a frugal fun night and put the savings toward something even bigger later.

Being financially responsible doesn't have to mean boring. It does include setting priorities on how to spend and how to save. With a little creativity, it's possible to have fun with family and friends and still stick to your budget, which should include saving toward specific goals.
Here are some suggestions on how to be frugal, but still have fun.

Rent a movie. Before spending a small fortune to see a recent release, rent a movie you forgot to see before it left theaters. Spend $15 on the rented movie and snacks from the grocery store and put the remaining money in your savings account. What would have been a $45 date night is now a frugal movie night.

Take a picnic to a public park. Instead of spending your play money to go out to eat all the time, pack up a picnic basket and head to a nearby park with your loved ones. Enjoy the outdoors by bringing a ball, kite or frisbee so you can play after lunch. Many state parks require a small fee, but most local public parks are completely free. A day in the sun is the perfect time to save for a rainy day, so deposit the money you would have spent eating out straight to your savings account.

Visit the museum and zoo on free days. Many entertaining destinations like these have a designated day each month for the public to enter at a free or reduced rate. Instead of paying around $30 for two adults to be admitted, with a little planning you can check out American Indian relics, paintings and animals for little or nothing.

Take a bike ride. Who decided exercise had to be boring? Take a new bike path or explore a neighborhood you've always wanted to see. You'll find out more about the area in which you live and make yourself more fit in the process.

Participate in a seasonal tradition, visit a pumpkin patch. Fall, food and fun—you can't go wrong. Take some friends to pick pumpkins, and later, spend the evening baking pumpkin pie. If you pull the money for pumpkins out of your grocery budget, you will have spent no money on entertainment at all.

By participating in a little frugal fun, you can work toward your savings goal without radically changing your lifestyle; if you do one of the ideas mentioned each weekend, you can save your way to something even more fun, like an island getaway.

Source: BMO Harris

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Fall Allergy Sufferers Advised to Reduce Indoor Allergens

October 18, 2013 3:09 am

So far, fall 2013 is proving to be a miserable time for people suffering from allergies and asthma. High levels of ragweed pollen, combined with outdoor mold and other triggers has created a problem nationwide, especially in those cities listed in the 2013 Fall Allergy Capitals report, issued this month by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).

For individuals dealing with allergy issues this year, Mike Tringale, senior vice president at AAFA, offers a few tips:

1. Consult a board-certified allergy specialist in your area. The AAFA website includes a list of local and regional clinics that specialize in allergy and asthma treatment and education.

2. Understand your diagnosis and reduce exposure to those specific triggers. While it is very difficult to completely remove household allergens, with the proper measures, allergens can be reduced to manageable level.

3. Place Certified allergen-barrier bedding on your mattresses and pillows. Wash your bedding at least once a week in 130+ degree hot water to kill mites and their eggs.

4. Frequently dust hard surfaces with moist cloths or dry dusters that trap allergens.

5. Use high-filtration bags in the vacuum and clean the carpet frequently.

According to Tringale, Americans spend more than $10 billion each year on non-medical products that they hope will help reduce their exposure to asthma and allergy triggers at home.

Source: Protect-A-Bed

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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How to Supplement the Water Supply in Your Home

October 18, 2013 3:09 am

Despite our abundant supply of clean water, it remains, by its very nature a valuable resource that should be conserved and protected. As a result, more and more people are paying attention to the amount of water they use and are cutting back by using water wisely and purchasing water efficient fixtures and appliances.

Another way to conserve water is by using auxiliary water sources, if permitted, to supplement and conserve the local public water supply. Auxiliary water includes everything from rainwater collected from your downspouts, to "greywater" that's collected from the laundry or shower, treated and reused for non-drinking purposes around your house.

If you're thinking about using auxiliary water sources in your home, the following tips can help you supplement your water supply while keeping your family safe and healthy:

• If you're building or renovating a house, find out from your local building department what's allowed, what is not and what may be required to get municipal approvals.

• Auxiliary water sources must use a separate plumbing system so it is not mixed with your potable water. Talk to your builder, architect, renovator or plumber as early in the process as possible about including auxiliary water-ready components in your home. This may include dedicated piping for auxiliary water as well as any related storage and treatment systems. Planning for those components now could save you a great deal of time and money in renovations later whether or not you include the auxiliary supply today or at some point in the future.

• Work with your contractor to determine how much water and what level of water quality is needed for different uses in your home. This will help ensure the system is designed properly and will be able to supply all the water your family needs, at whatever level of quality you require.

• Make sure you know where the water you're collecting comes from, and what you will be using it for. Not all of the water you collect from different fixtures can be used for the same purposes. For example, water that's collected from your shower might be safely treated and reused to flush your toilet. But only fully potable (or "drinkable") water should ever be used in the shower itself. Again, make sure you check with your municipality.

• Depending on what you are using the auxiliary water for you may also need to think about storing the water before it is used. For instance, rainwater collected from your downspouts to water your lawn is often used immediately, without any further treatment. But if you're collecting greywater for use in toilet flushing you may need to treat and store that water so it is available when you need it.

• Lastly, find out what programs or regulations are in effect in your area when it comes to auxiliary water. Some communities offer rebates for homeowners who use auxiliary water. Other cities may have rules in place that limit which kind of water you can reuse. Always check with your local municipality or water authority before you install an auxiliary water system in your home.

Source: CMHC

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Tips for Responsible Winter Driving

October 17, 2013 3:09 am

As the weather turns cold, are you prepared to face the hazards of winter driving? Bridgestone Americas, Inc. encourages travelers to prepare their cars for winter weather and brush up on their winter driving skills.

"Winter driving can be intimidating and hazardous, and is something that you really do need to prepare for," said Anant Gandhi, product manager for winter tires at Bridgestone Americas. "It's not just about having the right equipment; it's also important that drivers understand how to respond correctly to various winter hazards. We all have a responsibility to make sure we prepare not just our vehicles, but also ourselves."

Some key tips for winter driving include:

If you can see your breath, it's time to switch. When the temperature approaches freezing, switch your all-season or high-performance tires to winter tires. With unique polymers and tread pattern elements, winter tires are optimized for more grip and the control you need in winter weather conditions.

Periodically check traction, or available grip, when driving in challenging conditions. Road conditions can change drastically in a short period of time/distance in winter. Apply the brakes with moderate pressure to determine the available grip and modify your driving, if needed, to respond to ever-changing road conditions.

Maximize available grip by separating driving maneuvers when negotiating a curve. Brake to an appropriate speed while traveling in a straight line prior to a curve. This allows you to use all of the available grip for negotiating the curve. Accelerate gradually when you are able to straighten the steering wheel at the exit of the turn.

Avoid cruise control in wet, icy or snowy conditions. Maintain control of acceleration and deceleration at all times.

Forgo driving if the weather looks too treacherous. Safety comes first.

Winter tires are designed to provide maximum performance during low winter temperatures and on ice, snow and slush. They perform better due to the combination of specialized winter tread patterns, deeper tread depth and unique tread compounds that remain softer in winter temperatures.

Retailers offer a wide range of tires sold as winter tires with an M+S (mud and snow) rating, but they are not always equal when it comes to performance.

The Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) in the U.S. and the Rubber Association of Canada (RAC) developed the mountain/snowflake symbol, which can be found on a tire's sidewall, to designate winter tires that meet the newest severe snow standards. Tires that have earned this symbol can be expected to provide 20 to 40 percent more traction in winter conditions than conventional all-season tires, which may be the difference between driving safely and losing control.

Source: Bridgestone Americas. Inc.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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