TIn this Episode of Actively Passive Investing show, we will talk about when we should not passively invest. We are here Travis as well to share his thoughts as well. They will go through the pros and cons on Passively Investing based on your goals and where you are at. They will discuss the general overview of the differences between active investing and passive investing. And then some of the potential pros and cons for each
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Theo Hicks: Hello Best Ever listeners and welcome back to another episode of the Actively Passive Investing Show. As always, I am your co-host, along with Travis Watts. Travis, how are you doing today?
Travis Watts: Theo, doing great, man. Rocking and rolling.
Theo Hicks: I’m really looking forward to this topic today. As you can tell by the title – why you should not passively invest in real estate. Obviously, this is the Actively Passive Investing Show, and we talk about the benefits of passively investing, different strategies, and things like that. But I thought it’d be interesting to maybe present a contrarian perspective.
Background for me – we’re writing a passively investing book, and a lot of the stuff is obviously talking about how great passive investing is, but Joe Fairless was talking about a book that he read, and how it’s really, really important that you present the contrarian in perspective as well; and whether you address those issues or not is a different story, but that allows you to get your point across better, as opposed to just looking through rose-colored glasses.
I find myself doing this constantly; whenever Travis and I do like a pros and cons episode, I just go on and on about all the pros… So we’re going to get all of our potential cons or potential reasons why someone would decide not to passively invest in this show. Then next week I’ll go back to having my rose-colored glasses on, so to speak. Before we dive into why people maybe don’t want to passively invest or not passively invest, we’ll let Travis also provide his thoughts on the subject as a whole.
Travis Watts: Yeah, I think that’s a good foundation, Theo. I totally agree. In fact, about three months ago, I was a guest on someone’s podcast, and I’m going into what I do and I’m getting all ramped up and passionate about it, and they’re like “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Stop, stop, stop, stop.” They said “It can’t be all good. It can’t be all rose.” I thought, “Oh, thank you. Thank you.” Because I do — it’s like anything else; for someone that has children, you love your children. But it’s like, why should someone not have kids? It’s hard to step back for a second and say, “Oh, well, I hadn’t really thought about that.” So yeah, we speak, to your point, about the benefits of passive investing on and on and on because it’s our life, it’s our world, it’s what we do. I’m a full-time passive investor, obviously. But I love this and I really want to add some value here to folks, because there are so many active investors out there. My perspective seems like there’s way more active than passive, which doesn’t really add up in terms of the numbers. But anyway, flawed perception, I guess.
So the fact is that passive investing is not right for everyone, and that’s something that I really ought to start speaking out to more, so people can understand the contrast of it. Something I love about living in America is you can make money doing so many different things. You can be a successful stock investor, a successful single family investor, doing Airbnbs, doing multifamily, running a business, etc, on and on. And I love that, because I get so wrapped up in my specialty and my niche, and I think it’s the best thing in the world. But then you run into people that are just crushing it in other industries, just killing it. It’s like, “Man, I didn’t even know that was a thing.”
You’ve got 18-year-olds running an e-commerce business and making six figures out of high school. It’s like, “Whoa, where was I at that time?” That was clearly better than whatever I was doing at 18. So this show is about why you should not invest passively. So I’ll get on my little soapbox here in a minute, but Theo, did you have anything else before I dive in?
Theo Hicks: Yeah, I would just elaborate on what you said about how people make money doing anything. It’s not necessarily whether passively investing or actively investing and whatever is objectively the best. As we always go back to in most of our episodes, it’s based off of your situation. A lot of the things we talk about aren’t absolutes cons, or absolute pros, or benefits of passive investing. It’s really going to depend on you, where you’re at, what your goals are, and things like that.
A lot of the things we say today we’re going to, of course, caveat it with “This is not the absolute case.” It’s just we kind of give a general overview of the differences between active investing, passive investing, and then some of the potential pros and cons for each.
Travis Watts: Exactly. As everybody probably knows by now who’s a listener, we’re never giving any kind of financial advice or anything like that. We’re not CPAs, attorneys, etc, so do seek out your own financial advisors, financial planners, etc, people who are licensed to do so. This is for educational purposes, our points of view, a little compare and contrast, things like that.
What I’d like to start with is something I’ve been covering more and more in webinars that I do and speaking events that I’ve done. It has a lot to do with investor profiles. The way I break this down is we’ll talk about a passive investor, and again, to Theo’s point, in a general sense, what a lot of passive investors kind of resonate with in terms of characteristics or traits… And then an active investor, and how that’s different, why that’s different.
I’ll just kick it off with being a passive investor. In my experience – again, I’m a full-time LP, I network with thousands of LPs, I’m the director of investor relations, so I talk with tons and tons of passive investors. This generally holds true among the crowd, so to speak… Generally, a limited partner or passive investor lacks the time to frequently monitor investments… Meaning if they have to be involved on a daily basis or even on a weekly basis, quite simply, they don’t have the time to do it. They’re a doctor, a dentist, a lawyer, an attorney, an athlete (we speak about that kind of stuff a lot), a business owner. The reason that they’re choosing to be a passive investor is that they don’t have the time to go do it themselves, so they’re going to partner with somebody else that does have the time to go manage all that themselves, and they’re just going to participate in that kind of offering.
They usually do enjoy though keeping up with financial news. Kind of looking at the macro level. What is the Fed up to? What are interest rates doing? Where are people moving to and moving from? That’s generally on the minds of passive investors. You want to obviously have a foundation and a basis for what you’re investing in, and that stuff’s really important to know.
The other thing is, the way I phrase it, they like to own a little bit of a lot. In other words, more simply put, diversification. You are taking some risk, because you are relinquishing control as a passive investor, but the benefit is you get to participate in a multitude of things. You could live in San Diego, California, you could have investments in Texas, and Florida, and Georgia, Ohio, the Carolinas, you could be in self-storage, in mobile home parks, in multifamily. So it’s kind of cool to be able to diversify. But I think at the end of the day, if people get real, which most are, you’re seeking to match, but not necessarily beat just the overall real estate market. You just want to be involved, you’re just looking to get some cash flow, hopefully some equity upside, and just, in general, a nice, risk-adjusted return. That’s really what you’re after. You’re not trying to hit home runs every time, etc.
I like to draw parallels to the stock market all the time… It’s more like an index fund investor. I’m going to put some money into the S&P 500 index. I’m just going to participate among all these different companies, and hopefully I just get this averaged upward trending return when it’s all said and done. Hopefully, real estate’s perhaps a little better for you, but I don’t know.
In contrast, an active investor – again, lots of conferences, networking, I run into actives all the time, through every outlet. So this is generally the key here – they enjoy being in the business of real estate. It is a business; this is not something that you do passively or on the side, if you’re going to be a general partner in a syndication, or you’re going to be a house flipper or something, it’s very hard to do part-time. I would say it could be done, but you’re just probably not going to be very successful at it… To the point that also diversification, as we talked about with a passive investor, it may not be a top priority to an active investor. The reason would be – say you know a particular market very well, you grew up there, you have a lot of connections there… All of your deals could be in that market; so that’s not very diversified. But at the end of the day, you seek control over your investments, you’re the one finding them, underwriting them, you’re under the impression (and hopefully, it’s true) that you’re doing it best. You’re looking at your peers and the competition, you’re seeing what everyone’s doing, and you’re saying, “You know what? I’ve got a better idea. I think I could do this smarter, I could do it better. I have access to deals these other folks don’t have, etc.” So that’s why you might want to be an active investor and not a passive investor.
And then you also should have, hopefully, a competitive edge in the marketplace, whatever that may be. Your background or skill set, something else you did that maybe transfers over to real estate, or again, deep connections, etc.
Ultimately, the way I see this is in complete contrast… An active investor usually seeks to beat the market; not match and not just passively participate in what’s going on, but say “I can do that better and I’m going to do it better.” That’s most general partners, that’s most house flippers, etc. They’re doing it because they see a potential for a higher return and a higher reward by doing so… And hopefully, they do enjoy being –I’ll say it one more time– BEING in the business of real estate. It’s a business owner versus an investor. That’s a key difference between the two.
So if any of those resonates with you, one side or the other, those are usually some leading indicators to at least consider. That’s the investor profiles, in a nutshell. I go into more detail on things that I do elsewhere… But for sake of this conversation, hopefully, that makes sense and adds some value.
Theo Hicks: That’s a great breakdown of differences between the passive investor and the active investor.
Theo Hicks: What I want to do now is I want to go through, not necessarily what Travis just said again, but what things that maybe will make you not want to be a passive investor. If I were to ask someone who was an active investor – maybe they’re a GP, they’re a fix and flipper – like “Hey, why don’t you passively invest in apartments syndications or whatever, either full-time or just a period?” here are some of the things that they might actually say.
The main one would probably be control, which Travis kind of already talked about. When you’re the passive investor, you have some control. Going back to what I said earlier, there are caveats in all this. It’s not like you have no control, but most of the control is on that front end. So you control who you invest with. We’ve talked about before how to evaluate GPs, evaluate their market, evaluate their deals. But once you make that decision to invest in that deal, then all the control is in the hands of the GP or whoever you’re passively investing with. They have a business plan they’re going to do, they have a hold period, they have their pro forma, but you have no control over how quickly that business plan is implemented, you have no control over when that property is sold, when distributions are sent out… A lot of this stuff is up to the GPs.
Of course with that lack of control comes the benefits of less risk and less time. The point is that if control is kind of your main priority, and you want to be very hands-on and involved, and you want to make the decisions in the business plan, then you’re not going to do that when you’re a passive investor. That’s probably one of the biggest differences between active and passive. The reason why maybe active investors don’t passively invest is that they don’t want to give up control of their capital.
Another one would be liquidity. Again, this one really depends on what you’re actively investing in. When you passively invest in a deal and you put your money in there, they’ll have a projected hold period, and you’ll get your returns. But depending on the way it’s set up, you can’t just instantaneously hit up the GP and say “Hey, I want my money back,” and then they say “Okay, yeah, I’ll give it to you tomorrow or next week.” That’s not necessarily how it works. Again, depending on what you’re passively investing in – there are things you can passively invest in that are more liquid than not… But as an active investor, if I want to sell, I can sell the property, get my money back, and if I wanna refinance, I can refinance and pull capital out; I get to make those decisions.
Another one would be fulfillment. The fulfillment of running a business, scaling a business, maintaining a business, all of that self-fulfillment that comes with growing and realizing your potential through active investing is there, more so than passive investing, which is more of a hands-off, I invest, I make my money… Which I’m sure is fulfilling to a degree, but maybe not as fulfilling as putting your effort into the business and then seeing it continuously grow and grow and grow.
Something else that Travis hit on too would be the returns. This is a potential return, so every single active investment is not going to return more money than every single passive investment. But in general, you’re likely not going to, say, double your money in a year passively investing in a deal. Sure, it’s possible, but it’s a lot more possible to do that when you’re actively investing. I know Travis has an example that he will give in a second about that.
Also, when it comes to higher returns, you’ve got to keep in mind that the return is not just an absolute dollar amount, but also based off of how much money you have invested. When we’re talking about maybe on the small-time level active investing with house hacks, where you can do these really low downpayment loans, after a year you move out and make a 50% return on your money. A lot of creative financing, where you do seller financing, or lease to owns where you can put lower to no down payments, BRRRR methods where you can pull your capital out and kind of make an infinite return… Even [unintelligible [00:16:37].11] a GP, who usually will invest their own money in the deals, but don’t have to do that. Technically, they could have 30% ownership of a massive apartment community with little money down, which again, has a high return.
Then the last one, which maybe kind of relates to control as well, but that would be the competitive edge. Again, I’m sure it’s possible to have a competitive edge when you’re passively investing, but it’s really all frontend. It’s finding that GP, finding that market, that deal, and then investing the money, and then waiting. Whereas when you’re actively investing, you can have some unique creative strategy when you’re actually implementing the business plan that allows you to collect more rent or sell faster. Something as small as implementing some technology tweak to increase your NOI by 15%. There’s a lot more you can do when you’re in control of the business plan.
So that’s some of the reasons why people might not passively invest. Again, not all of these are absolute. It’s not like every single passive investment is illiquid and every single active investment is completely liquid. But if you ask someone why they aren’t passive investing, those are the things that they might say.
Travis Watts: Exactly. I couldn’t agree more. And on that last point that you made about having a competitive edge, I think there’s kind of two ways to look at that… Just a quick little side note. If you’re an LP, like I’m a full-time limited partner, I would say if I have any competitive edge at all, it’s that I have a network with a lot of different people and a lot of different operators. So I get to look at a ton of deals, look at a lot of underwriting, and I’ve got some mentors in my network that are decades ahead of where I’m at, doing exactly what I do. That would be my competitive edge, is having resources to connect with to say, “Hey, it’s not a good deal or a bad deal? What are your thoughts? This is my kind of analysis of it. What do you think?” That’s a competitive edge.
But more importantly, when you’re an LP… Because again, most aren’t like me, a full-time LP; they’re doctors, dentists, etc. So they’re looking for a team that has the competitive edge, whatever that may be in their sector. Usually, each general partnership has something that’s kind of unique to what they do specifically. That’s really what you’re trying to distinguish and find out. So great points.
What I wanted to do is elaborate on my investor profiles, but in story format. I thought it might be useful that I share a couple active success stories, because I was active for six years in real estate, and I’ve been passive for six years. So I’m exactly at that halfway point. So I get to [unintelligible [00:19:14].23] on both sides of the pros and cons. I certainly had some successes in the active space, so I want to share those with you.
The first was a house hack that I did. By the way, the term house hack did not exist in 2009, at least not that I had ever heard of. It was called renting a spare bedroom then, which is what I did. But man, that was such an eye-opener, and I’m going to put that in the active category, because you still have to creatively think about your strategy, you still have to advertise. I took a room, I fully furnished it, I did professional photos… It was active, at the end of the day. Of course, depending on your roommate, it could be very active or it could be passive. It depends on how much work that person has to deal with. I chose a pretty laid-back college student, that mainly just kind of hung out in their rooms, so it was actually pretty passive.
Anyway, from an active perspective, I had this house, the first house I ever bought, I was living in it; mortgage about $650. A furnished room that I did very cheaply – just Craigslist, garage sale stuff I already had, things that were donated to me, whatever. I made it look as good as I could on a budget, and I rented that thing out for $600 per month. So the mortgage is 650, the income coming in at 600 a month… And to your point, Theo, there’s a very low basis; I put very little down to buy the house in the first place. The government was handing out money for first-time homebuyers, I got a benefit from that… And then here I’m getting basically my mortgage paid for right out of the gate, post-college. I thought that was a really sweet gig.
So certainly, one way to start or just something to think about if you have like a guest house or a basement that could be rented, or whatever – everybody’s situation is different… But to me, that was a huge success. I was very young and that was my first eye-opener to real estate and passive and active investing, just kind of a hybrid.
The second story is I bought this house several years later, out in Colorado, for $97,500. I remember the exact amount. I was so happy about it, because it was a foreclosure. I had been begging my realtor to send me these types of deals, and unfortunately, that didn’t come through… So I actually found this deal, and bought it for $97,500. It needed virtually nothing. I did not do the carpets, I did not do the paint, I did not do caulking, I did not do blinds… It was in great shape.
So I bought this thing, and I rented it out… So I had about an $800 a month payment approximately – I think that may have included the HOA. I can’t remember exactly. But I was renting it at $1,200 per month, so I had a nice little margin of cash flow. I was lucky in my tenant selection; I was doing all that myself, kind of on a whim, in an inexperienced way. But I got lucky. I rented that out for about two years, and then I asked my realtor, “What do you think this house is worth?” You’ve got to remember the time in this market cycle, especially out in Colorado. It was 2012 to 2013, somewhere in there. It’s when the market started turning around and going back up. So we did an analysis, I got a comp, and $215,000 were the comps; and I was like “Oh my god, I only paid $97,500.” So I said, “Do you really think we can get that?” And she’s like, “Yeah, I really do.”
And that thing was on the market a week, and 215k we’re under contract. It was just incredible; exactly what the comps were. And I sold it. So there’s double your money in two years. It was incredible. I was very, very fortunate on that deal. Probably the best single-family deal I ever had.
So yes, there are pros and cons. Those are two obvious and huge pros to potentially being an active investor, things that are possible. It’s really hard, especially in 2021, to go find a 400-unit apartment building and go double your money in two years; that’s not easy. Good luck doing that. So just some thoughts there.
I also want to share two other things, too. These are my not-so-successful stories, I guess. Just to compare and contrast here. I was doing a flip in Brighton, Colorado; it was kind of like a little oil town about 45 minutes outside Denver. A lot of the oil companies and service companies were parked along this road that I bought this house in, an attached neighborhood to the highway… I put an oilfield worker in there — actually, I’m jumping ahead; this was supposed to be a flip. What I was going to do is it had an unfinished basement, and I had kind of “amateurly” –if that’s a word– put together my budget… I said, “Okay, it’s going to cost this much to finish the basement, this much to repair the outside”, this house actually did need quite a bit of work… But I bought it on the MLS; that was probably a pretty big mistake, because I wasn’t leaving myself a whole lot of margin in this deal. And as I really crunched numbers and sales proceeds, etc., when I thought about selling this property when I was done, the numbers quit making sense, and unfortunately, too late. I had already bought this property and I’m thinking “Oh no, the basement’s going to cost twice what I thought it was going to cost.” All these different things were popping up as red flags and I’m like “Oh, man, I am screwed.” The only thing I could really do – because I wasn’t going to live in this house myself; it was way too far from what I was doing – I decided to rent it out.
So I put an oilfield worker in it, and they worked for the same oil company I worked for. So I thought, “Oh, we’re best buds, right? We work together.” Well, I failed to screen the tenant, I failed to do the background check, all this kind of stuff. So long story short, they paid the first month’s rent, they didn’t pay the second, then they were delayed on third and fourth, and it got really, really ugly. I put a brand new carpet and paint in this place, brand new curtain… I made this place look great, because I was going to flip it… And they only stayed one year. And I was doing that for tax reasons, so I wanted to have a long-term capital gain, hopefully, associated… And man, they snuck a cat in there, and that cat destroyed by carpets, they put holes in my walls upstairs, down, and throughout the staircase, they stole all my curtains and my curtain rods, they destroyed my patio, my deck… They just trashed the place and they left some bugs that I had to deal with.
Theo Hicks: Bedbugs?
Travis Watts: No. I can’t even think of the name right now. I don’t know why I’m blanking on it. But anyway, it was a mess. These people were dirty, they were nasty, they didn’t pay, and then they destroyed my whole house. So then I have those rehab costs again, all over again, a year later. It was a disaster.
I barely got out of that deal with a profit, only because the market saved me and it was going up, that I was able to get a tiny squeak out, a tiny margin. That’s when I stopped doing flips, actually; that was the last flip.
So it has a lot to do with your experience. I’m sure some people have the opposite story, like my other single-family home – I double the money or whatever, and that’s great. I had that too, but it all kind of comes out in the wash. So that really did me in.
The last one is I had an Airbnb – kind of a hybrid between a house hack and an Airbnb. My wife and I bought a house, a 1930s home out in Colorado, very, very cool, old school Tudor home; it had a separate outdoor entrance to the basement, so it was like a complete split level with privacy and all of that, so we put it on Airbnb. It’s kind of a hybrid; it’s our own house, but it was a short-term rental, whatever.
And these folks rent it, and they request a late checkout. We always accommodate that; we didn’t charge anybody for late checkouts. But the problem is, we only have this few hour window between the next people coming in the following day. So I was like sitting there ready to go and clean this place as soon as I saw him leave… And of course, they were late on top of the late checkout.
So we go down there and the whole place is filled with pot smoke; dense, heavy, thick, nasty, nasty marijuana smell. It was bad, it was so bad. We had an older couple in a couple of hours, so we were running all over, throwing all our fans downstairs, opening all the windows… I’m like running to Ace Hardware, trying to get some sprays and stuff, and we’re trying to mask all this stuff… It was very dicey and very, very sketchy. Oh man, the Airbnb stories in general, I could go on and on.
The point is, it was not a pleasant experience. All of this stuff added up over six years, all these different pros and cons, for me anyway, resulted in “I ought to leave all this stuff to the experts and just be a passive investor.”
More important than that – I know the shows about why you wouldn’t passively invest. Here’s the thing – love what you do… Because of something you said earlier, Theo – man, it’s so important. Happiness and fulfillment –I think fulfillment is the word that you used– is so important. You don’t get fulfillment by forcing yourself to do things you hate doing. For me, it became something I hated doing, this active real estate stuff.
So whether you’re active or passive, just love what you do, enjoy being in the business of real estate if you want to be in the business of real estate… And maybe before becoming a big general partner in a syndication, do some smaller active stuff, perhaps, and just make sure that that process is something that really resonates with you.
There’s a quote, and I forget who said it, but it’s something to the effect of “One of the biggest tragedies is when you get really good at the wrong thing.” So many people do that in the corporate world. It’s called the golden handcuffs. You just start working, promoting, making more and more money, and all sudden, one day, you’re making 200K a year but the fact is you hate your job. That’s just such a tragedy, it really is.
So if you’re not really loving what you’re doing or being fulfilled, then maybe switch gears. That’s what I did in 2015, to become a passive investor. Those are just some experiences and stories I thought I would share with the listeners. But my story doesn’t mean it’s right or wrong, or good or bad. That’s just been my experience, and hopefully, that was helpful. I think that’s all I really have on this topic.
Theo Hicks: Wow, it’s some crazy story, and I’m glad you shared those. While you were saying that, going back to one of the reasons why someone might not necessarily passively invest, kind of how you ended that, would be that fulfillment aspect. Maybe some people get fulfillment out of having these crazy situations where the underwriting seems to not work anymore, or they have these crazy tenant situations; maybe they enjoy overcoming those challenges. And once they overcome those challenges, maybe they also realized that in the future they won’t have to deal with that anymore. They’re getting started, and once they’ve scaled, they can pass it off to a team member.
I really liked that we brought up fulfillment, because maybe — I don’t know if we’ve talked about this on the show yet, or maybe it’s been a while… But if you like being an active investor, then that’s a pretty big reason to actually invest. If you like being a passive investor and you don’t like those stories Travis just talked about, then passively investing is fine. Just because you get more control, more of a competitive edge, or the potential for higher returns – none of that doesn’t really means anything if you don’t like it. So I’m sure you’d much rather get that lower, more stable return and enjoy what you do, as opposed to, as Travis mentioned, get really good at something that you don’t like or at the wrong thing. So I’m glad you brought that up. I don’t have anything else to add. Travis, anything else you want to mention about why people shouldn’t passively invest before we sign off?
Travis Watts: No, I do think that’s the most important key – like what you do. I know sometimes you have to maybe experiment with stuff, I totally get it. A lot of what you decide to do ultimately long term is going to be based off that experience.
A lot of folks who are passive investors, limited partners in syndication, for example – they’re also active investors, too. I’ve shared the story, my dad’s in that boat, too. He owns several single-family homes that he enjoys working with his tenants. They’re really good people in a local community kind of sense, and he gets fulfillment out of that.
At the same time, he knows that if he were to have three or 4X that amount of property, that becomes a job now, and the risk of things going sideways, or bad, or not being able to take a vacation anymore because this is your job – he doesn’t want that. So he kind of is in between the two, and that’s totally cool too. I guarantee if he had had a bad experience in those single families, he would be 0% active. But he’s had a very positive experience, so it really depends. But yeah, if you’re new, experiment. And you can be a passive investor, in a sense, in different ways. We’ve talked about buying a publicly-traded REIT, a real estate investment trust, for as little as $10. You can try this stuff out on a small scale, or maybe you could buy a home with an FHA loan or a VA loan for 3% down or something like that… If those programs still exist; I don’t know. But just experiment, I think, but don’t track too far in the wrong direction, I guess is the best advice I could give.
Theo Hicks: Great. Well, Travis, thank you again, as always, for joining us and sharing those stories. Hopefully, you don’t have PTSD from talking about those crazy experiences. I can see you getting riled up talking about it, and I can totally relate to that.
Best Ever listeners, thank you for tuning in. If you have any questions for us, we do the Actively Passive Show that you’re listening to right now, so we might answer on that. We also do a 60-second segment show that we post to YouTube and our other social media sites where we answer questions a little bit faster. So any questions, submit those to me, firstname.lastname@example.org and we will add that to our list.
We’re building up quite the library of the shows now, so if you go to our YouTube channel and go to Joe Fairless, The Best Real Estate Investing Advice Ever, we have a playlist of all the Actively Passive Investing Shows we’ve done so far. So make sure you check that out as well. Travis, thanks for joining me. Best Ever listeners, as always, thank you for listening. Have a Best Ever day and we’ll talk to you tomorrow.
Travis Watts: Thanks, Theo. Thanks, everybody.
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