Why Your Net Worth May Be Much Higher: Lessons From A $655,000 Loss

Your net worth might be much higher and you don't even know it. This is a realization I came to after receiving some feedback from a reader.

In the post, To Pocket List Or List On MLS, I wanted to help home sellers who value privacy to get the best price possible for their homes.

It is now a national pastime to go online and view homes for sale on Zillow and Redfin. It's like escapism for the millions who are trapped in their dungeons.

However, if you are a Stealth Wealth practitioner, the last thing you want is everybody to know the details of one of your largest assets.

Why Your Net Worth Might Be Dramatically Undervalued

As a result, I'm a proponent of pocket listing first, and then, if necessary going on MLS. By going the pocket list route, you also get to test out the market without growing your Days on Market count. The higher the DOM count, the more your property will take a price hit.

Although the National Association Of Realtors has banned pocket listing for its member agents for now, you can still do a pocket listing by privately sharing the listing within your agent's real estate brokerage house. The larger the real estate brokerage, the more agents and potential buyers will see your listing.

After sharing my experience with both pocket listing and the MLS, I got shot down by a realtor named Igor. He said I was wrong to pocket list. He also said I was wrong to recommend people try pocket listing first.

It's good to disagree so most people considering the two options can come to a better decision for themselves.

Given I did sell via a pocket listing, Igor implied that I left hundreds of thousands of dollars on the table. $655,000 to be exact! Ouch. Let's explore what happened and see if we can learn some lessons if you plan to sell your house today. I'll also discuss some general life lessons as well.

How I Lost $655,000

Below is Igor's comment to me. For those who are considering between pocket listing and listing via the MLS, the message is for you too.

It basically says I don't know what I'm talking about. And despite Igor not being a San Francisco realtor, he said my San Francisco realtor and I didn't do the proper market research to get the best price possible.

Although in my post I attribute market conditions as the primary reason for my two selling experiences, in his words, “I blew it with my home sale.”

Igor writes,

When I’ve read your articles in the past, you’ve struck me as an intelligent, rational person, however, reading this made me cringe a bit.

Let's forget for a second that arguing that doing something is bad/good based on ONE experience. This is silly in and of itself.

I would instead focus on the fact that you drew a conclusion that pocket listings are good because you sold in a hot market while you couldn’t sell on MLS in a terrible market.

Are you not seeing the problem?

The fact that your home was in a less desirable location amplifies the market quite a bit. Buyers stay away from undesirable homes completely in a bad market, as you experienced in 2012. While in hot (borderline crazy) market of 2017-2018, you hear things like “El Camino isn’t THAT busy”, or “I don’t mind the train, I grew up in New York”.

I would also bring up the points of –
Did you truly know the value of your home in 2012?
Did you truly know the value of your home in 2017?

I would submit that you did not. Even if you think you did. If you knew the value in 2012, you wouldn’t have been surprised by your home not selling, so selling over or under your expected price, is not an indicator of success.

Prices in most parts of the bay area doubled from 2012 to 2017, so your initial expectation of 1.7M is equivalent to $3.4M in 2017, not $2.5M. (Assuming prices doubled in your neighborhood). To me, your price expectations both times seem rather arbitrary.

Lastly, implying that if you had done a pocket listing in 2012, you would have sold better is beyond silly. Thinking that you sold better as a pocket listing in 2017 than you would have on MLS is always possible, but extremely unlikely.

I would submit, that perhaps if you sold on MLS in 2017, you would have had 10-20 buyers fighting for your home and you would not have needed to drop the price because of the leaking windows.

The reason for this is that non-contingent offers were (and to an extent still are) the norm. So I would argue that you could have easily saved $45K if you had listed … plus you probably would have gotten a higher price to begin with.

Unfortunately, it sounds like you blew it with your home sale. Luckily, you sold in one of the hottest times/markets, so the market didn’t let you shoot yourself in the foot and sell for $2.5M, even with just the one buyer.

It’s hard to game the system, and to me, it sounds like you’ve fallen for a sales pitch.

Take a step back, and re-think this situation from a new perspective, then delete this post :-)

Phew! I guess it's better to be lucky than good. I strongly believe our wealth is mostly due to luck, not hard work or skill. Igor's comment proves my point.

Why Your Net Worth Might Be Much Higher Than You Think

According to Igor, I left $655,000 on the table selling for $2,745,000 instead of $3,400,000. It's sometimes hard to hear the truth. However, the truth is what will make us richer, wiser, and free.

I am impressed that Igor, who is not a San Francisco realtor, knows more about my property than I do. Even after owning my property for 13 years and being a SF real estate fanatic, I've still got a lot to learn.

In my defense, my realtor and I did extensive market research on pricing before coming up with my proposed aspirational price of $2,500,000+.

I had tried to sell five years earlier at $1,700,000. Back then, I had gotten only whisper offers at around $1,500,000. The reality is, back in 2012, I wasn't really motivated to sell. I was more curious about testing the market out after I left my day job.

The lack of motivation is why I had set a high aspirational price of $1,700,000. At the time, I knew my home was worth closer to $1,500,000. Therefore, if I were to sell, I had to sell at a price that I couldn't say no to. Luckily, nobody offered me anything.

Igor didn't know this, nor did new readers.

Related: Why I Sold My Rental Property: Had To Live For Today

Research House Pricing Thoroughly

During my 2017 pocket listing, my realtor sent the listing internally to over 100 agents at her real estate brokerage. Then she sent the listing to the Top Agents Network to get their feedback on pricing first.

We did not reveal any price or telegraph that I had an aspirational price of $2,500,000+. We wanted to let the realtors suggest a realistic selling price. The consensus from within my agent's brokerage firm and within the Top Agents Network was somewhere between $2,300,000 – $2,400,000.

Before I decided on my realtor, I had several veteran SF realtors come by to give me their opinions as well. It's important to interview multiple agents before picking one.

They all said if I could get $2,400,000, it would be a home run. But to get $2,400,000, I would first have to paint the front of the house and do some remodeling. The cost would be about $50,000.

Then a couple friends who owned in the neighborhood gave me their assessment. All of them said between $2,300,000 – $2,500,000 if I did some remodeling work.

One person said maybe $3,000,000, but that I would have to spend $300,000 – $500,000 to redo the whole place. Forget it. I was a new father and didn't have a year to deal with a big remodel.

Double The Price Is Huge

From 2012 to 2017, I think real estate prices in San Francisco rose by roughly 65-70%. Some appreciated more, some appreciated less. 65-70% is the median. Price appreciation can be very house specific due to location, condition and features.

If the true value of my home was $1,500,000 in 2012 (not my $1,700,000 moonshot price at the time), then a fair price would be about $2,475,000 – $2,550,000 (+65%-70%).

My house had issues due to its location. It also had old knob and tube wiring which may be a fire hazard. Further, there was a lot of road noise. Therefore, I figured it was on the lower end of the price appreciation spectrum. Anything above $2,500,000 would be considered a great price.

However, Igor believes SF home prices appreciated closer to 100% during this time period. As a result, he thinks I should have gotten around $655,000 more. Sigh. All this time I had thought I had done a great job.

Does The Median $/SQFT Matter?

At $3.4 million, Igor believes my home on a busy street next to the busiest street in SF would have fetched $1,642/sqft. Even at $3 million, my 2,070 sqft home would have traded for $1,449/sqft.

Back in 2017, the average $/sqft for a home on a quiet street in a similar neighborhood was about $1,150/sqft. If we used the median $/sqft, then my home would be worth $2,380,000, or right in line with what every agent told me.

However, once again, I thought my home should trade at a discount given its location. Further, in 2005, I had bought the home at a ~15% discount to the median precisely because of its inferior location.

Ended Up Selling For A Premium

In 2017, I ended up selling my home for $1,327/sqft, or an 8.3% premium to the median $/sqft of $1,150. The initial offer came in at $2,600,000. I countered at $2,800,000, and we settled at $2,745,000.

Yes, there was a couple hundred square feet of unwarranted space due to only 7-foot high ceilings. However, this space does not count in the official square footage. Plenty of SF homes have unwarranted space. The lot was also smaller than the average 2,500 sqft, at 2,200.

I was happy selling at $1,327/sqft because I only had one buyer who wrote an offer in 2017. The buyer almost didn't come through because he was having a hard time getting a loan. We made it seem like we had another interested buyer, but we didn't have a written offer.

We contacted every realtor she and I knew. Nobody else was interested mainly due to the location.

Always Nice To Dream Big

It's hard for me to believe my house could have gotten $1,642/sqft, or a 37% premium to comparables we saw at the time. At $3 million or $1,449/sqft, the house would still be at a 17.4% premium despite its inferior location. I'm not sure why Igor believes my home is worth such a huge premium. Maybe he secretly thinks highly of my sales skills.

Whatever the case may be, as you can see from the 2Q2020 chart below, the median $/sqft for my old home's neighborhood is $1,229 $/sqft. The market peaked in the Spring of 2018, then faded until about the fall of 2019 when prices started picking back up. The market was really strong in 2020 before the pandemic hit. Now it's kind of hit or miss.

Although I only sold my home for $1,327/sqft, a 19% discount to where I should have sold according to Igor, at least the price was 8% higher than the median price in the neighborhood back then and today, actually.

Key Net Worth Realization

Despite leaving $655,000 on the table for not selling at $1,647/sqft, I must look on the bright side of things. If I didn't, I'd probably roll up in a ball and cry after eating a pint of rocky road ice cream.

If what Igor says is true, I realize I may be currently underestimating my net worth by several million dollars! After all, I'm long several other properties in San Francisco.

All of the properties are conservatively valued in my Personal Capital account. I essentially use a mixture of online valuations and my own valuations and then take a 15% discount.

By being more conservative with my net worth, I create this buffer in case bad things happen. Having a conservative net worth estimate also helps boost motivation to keep building.

Lessons For Selling Property & More

Based on this exchange with Igor, here are some important lessons we can all learn if you plan to sell your home:

1) Get at least 10 professional pricing opinions before you sell. Then get some more.

I thought I had done a good job getting pricing estimates from many top agents. I also did a lot of research as well. But that's not good enough. Once you get at least 10 professional pricing opinions, get another 10 more pricing estimates for a total of 20.

You've got to be accurate about pricing before coming to market. If you're wrong, your listing will sit and vultures will swirl. You'll not only lose money, but time.

2) Find your own Igor!

Although I still have my doubts that my house could have sold for a 17% – 37% premium to the median price of my neighborhood, there's always a chance with the right agent.

It's just like the famous line in Dumb and Dumber, “So you're telling me there's a chance!” If you don't really need to sell your home, it may be good to find yourself a realtor like Igor who expects only a record price for your home.

You might waste a lot of time and some money going with a realtor who believes in a moonshot price. However, you just never know. If the realtor truly believes in the price, then he will do everything possible to get it. If he fails, he will have mostly wasted his time. Further, if you go the pocket listing route, you won't get hit as bad.

3) Swallow your pride.

One of the main reasons why doing a pocket listing is nice is because it helps protect your pride if your house doesn't sell for the price you want. My ego was bruised in 2012, which is part of the reason why I didn't want to try again in 2017.

However, if you really want to sell your home, you probably should list it on the MLS eventually. I still believe trying the pocket listing route first is the right move for sellers who value their privacy. However, the MLS provides maximum exposure. The greater the exposure, the greater your chances of finding a buyer.

4) Beware of realtors who promise you the moon.

If I just recommended everyone find their own Igor, then point #4 is inconsistent. However, everything is relative. Getting an Igor to try and sell your house for a 15% – 40% premium is a long shot, but possible. Then there are realtors who might promise you a 50% higher-than-median sales price because they are really delusional or really desperate.

Given volume is down, business is also down. Thus, to get your business, there may be more agents who will overpromise your home will get a record high price.

After a couple of weeks on the market with no offers, these realtors will encourage the seller to lower the price. They will skillfully blame the market, poor staging, or some bad feature for why the home hasn't sold. At this point, most sellers won't try and find a new realtor because of sunk costs.

To sniff this realtor strategy out, sellers must diligently do their market research beforehand. It's not hard to look at all the similar homes that sold within the past 12 months to get an idea of price. When open houses come back, it's not hard to visit these comparable open houses to get a true sense of your property's valuation. You must do the same.

5) Listen to critical feedback and make adjustments.

Unless you're perfect, you're likely going to make a lot of suboptimal financial moves. Keep an open mind and listen to critical feedback from others who are more experienced than you.

Being coachable is a a critical skill for improvement. As a high school tennis coach myself, my students who are most willing to absorb instruction have higher winning percentages.

It didn't feel good to be told that I was basically dumb and left $655,000 on the table. But I've decided to learn from my mistakes, write this post to help others avoid the same mistakes, and do better for my family next time.

Accept your blind spots. We all have them.

6) Stop thinking so lowly of yourself and your assets.

You don't want to have delusions of grandeur. At the same time, you also don't want to think so lowly of your assets and yourself. If you do, you will undervalue all that's around you.

I thought my home should trade at a discount because I bought the home at a discount. Instead of thinking being next to the busiest and noisiest street in SF was a negative, I could have turned it around as positive.

Easy access to the highway! A constant white noise with the occassional honking to help you sleep at night!

We must develop a strong money mindset to get rich. In addition, we must have self-confidence. One of the ways to do so is to tell yourself: Why not me too?

7) Everybody has an opinion. Just keep on going.

On your path to financial freedom you will face many agonizing decisions. It's great to get the counsel of others. After doing your research, you must choose. Once you choose, you must be at peace with your choice and move forward.

You'll only know several years down the road whether you made the optimal choice or not. Getting down on yourself if you made a suboptimal choice is a waste of time. Learn from your mistakes and keep moving forward.

I could have used the $655,000 in gross profits to help pay for my children's college education if I had made a wiser choice. However, I've learned my lesson and now will simply try harder and be more strategic to provide for them.

You Only Need To Find One Buyer

Even if my sale price was right, there may have been someone who was willing to pay way above market price. Maybe that person won the lottery or worked at a company that just went public. Maybe the person has the Bank of Mom & Dad paying, so she doesn't really care.

For shits and giggles, I might try to list one of my homes on the MLS at a 20% – 40% premium to the market and see what happens. I will find my Igor to help get the sale done.

I'll also only do a little bit of preparation work, like mop the floors, to protect my downside. If nothing happens, I'll just keep the property because I don't really want to sell. I've got semi-passive income to generate and kids to care for.

Time To Feel Rich Again

For those of you who own real estate, you may be significantly undervaluing your net worth. In fact, anybody who owns any illiquid assets may be significantly undervaluing their net worth.

Inflation has a sneaky way of catching up with us. The longer we hold our real estate holdings, the more likely we are to undervalue our real estate holdings, no matter what the online estimates and real estate agents tell us.

We naturally anchor to a cheaper price point that is so far in the past that we are often incredulous about the true market value today. The phenomena is like our parents still viewing us as children, even though we are grown adults.

Rocking A Higher Net Worth

Thanks to Igor, I've created another net worth estimate to aggressively value all my real estate holdings. With a net worth several million dollars higher, I feel less anxiety during this global pandemic.

If you're looking to reduce anxiety and improve your mood, you might want to create an aggressive net worth estimate as well.

Once you've finished your calculations, you can walk around your living room with your chest out, feeling like the big man or woman you really are!

It feels nice to feel so much richer, at least on paper. Milk shakes on me once the pandemic is over folks!

Undervalued net worth that could be much higher

Conversely, you can still follow my general recommendation of conservatively valuing your net worth. But where's the fun in that? Dream big or don't dream at all.

Invest In Real Estate

Once you've purchased your primary residence you are considered neutral real estate. Since you have to live somewhere, you will simply ride the real estate cycle. To be long real estate you must own investment property in addition to your primary resident.

If you're interested in a hands off approach to real estate investing, consider investing in a publicly traded REIT or in real estate crowdfunding. My favorite two real estate crowdfunding platforms are:

Fundrise: A way for accredited and non-accredited investors to diversify into real estate through private eFunds. Fundrise has been around since 2012 and has consistently generated steady returns, no matter what the stock market is doing.

CrowdStreet: A way for accredited investors to invest in individual real estate opportunities mostly in 18-hour cities. 18-hour cities are secondary cities with lower valuations, higher rental yields, and potentially higher growth due to job growth and demographic trends.

Both platforms are free to sign up and explore. 

It's amazing how strong the demand is for real estate during the pandemic. However, with low mortgage rates, the value of rental income has gone way up because it takes a lot more capital to generate the same amount of risk-adjusted income. Further, given we're all spending more time at home, real estate's intrinsic value is also going up.

Related posts:

What Your Net Worth Should Be Based On Income

Perpetual Failure: The Reason Why I Continue To Save So Much

Readers, any luck on selling a property in an inferior location for a major premium? If so, how did you do it? Have you ever hired a realtor who promised you a premium price, but the property didn't sell? What did you guys do next? Do you think your net worth might be actually much higher due to overly conservative estimations?

About The Author

25 thoughts on “Why Your Net Worth May Be Much Higher: Lessons From A $655,000 Loss”

  1. If you had listed between April and June of 2018, I think Igor would have been right – you would have gotten more money that you would with a pocket listing. The buyers were just nuts. I had started shopping for a unicorn – an upgrade to our existing home that could be financed via the equity as a bridge. We saw a lot of properties go for 30 and 40% over list. And for what it’s worth with Redfin and Zillows random number generators, they were underwater up till the Covid craze of 2021.

    By late summer, the market was getting selectively soft and I managed to find a unicorn for more than 200k less than I had budgeted as the high end. (Though ended up selling the existing house for 100k less, and 7 months later).

    Price per square foot as an average can be misleading, but it usually takes a creampuff to grossly exceed the norm for sales at the same time. Sometimes I do wonder if money laundering is going on for the outliers.

    1. Which market are you looking at? Second half 2018 really slowed, especially after the S&P 500 corrected by almost 20%.

      Maybe I could have really set an all-time record for my house on a busy street next to the busiest street in SF. But I’ll never know. I’m thankful my reinvested proceeds have done well and I didn’t have to manage the property any more.

      Picked up a forever house that went on market in April 2020, a week after open houses were canceled. That was a good deal.

  2. I still prefer to be conservative when estimating the value of property assets. I’d rather be pleasantly surprised when I sell them than the opposite. You do you though.

  3. FrugalBazooka

    You were goofing on Igor (real name probably Roger) the whole time and tip toeing thru the tulips of mild sarcasm. Does everyone realize that or do they really think you give a hoot what “Igor” says???

  4. I just reached my 50 year old year. I immigrated to here from Africa 30 years ago I went to college in Boston . I saved enough invested enough and owns enough real estate cash because of my belief I won’t borrow money . Now I just want to simplify everything and relax and spend time with family and friends . I moved everything to index . I am done chasing deals . I want to enjoy my life and do some meaningful volunteer work.

  5. Hey you never know! My neighbor just put his house on the market for $3.8M and I thought it was/absolutely crazy to even bother at that price as I think it is more in the low 2’s. Hope he gets it because our place it significantly nicer, larger, and 20 years newer. But maybe I’m way off base because when considering my net worth I’ve been using $1.9 as an out the door net of fees and cap gains taxes. Could easily be off by a million.

  6. Great insight!
    I’m confused a bit. Can we get $500K as a couple, deduction on the profit of the sale for a rental? I thought that deduction was only for your own personal home.

  7. TheEngineer

    Law of average – if you can average 10% ROI and HAPPY with your life … DO NOT let anyone second guess your capability.

    1. That’s a good philosophy. I just want to use my big loss as a warning and a teachable moment for the community.

      Never let a tragedy go to waste. I’m not too proud to share my losses to help other people.

      1. Loss? An unrealized gain is not a loss. Igor is used to transalvania real estate prices which have always outperformed. America is a bit different with more volume which equals more market insight. I love what you do and have lurked for years but never posted. Your tongue-in-cheek jabs are priceless.

  8. I live in San Francisco and sold 7 homes in 2012. Real estate prices were not up 100% in that five-year period. They were strong but not that strong.

    Maybe in places like Palo alto, or much lower priced median homes. But not for your price point in SF for sure.

    Not sure why Igor believes he knows so much when he isn’t a SF realtor. I am.

    You can hire a know-it-all realtor, but you’re probably just going to waste your time.

  9. I’ve been able to get very wealthy selling things to the Igors of the world. They are overconfident and think they know more than they really do. That is when you need to pounce and sell them dirt for gold prices.

    Overconfidence in a buyer is a seller’s best friend.

  10. Oh wow. That guy Igor is an idiot. There’s no way you left that much money on the table. I laughed when I saw that Dumb and Dumber clip too, so fitting.

    I think you’re exactly right that you have to be wary of agents who promise moon prices. San Francisco is a unique market and each neighborhood is different. Not only that you clearly did your due diligence when you sold your house and I think you got a phenomenal price.

    I’m also all for being conservative and realistic with my net worth calculation as you suggest. It keeps me going and is better for the long run.

  11. I don’t see the point of any sort of investing retrospection, especially if you believe it’s mostly luck. If there’s a lesson to be learned, it’s learned at the time the transaction is complete. Examine why you do or don’t feel good about the price you paid/received and move on.

    1. Key is to always learn from your mistakes and see other points of view to not make the same mistake next time.

      Experience is what happens when folks go through this exercise.

  12. I’m not sure why Igor believes you could have gotten $1,600/sqft in 2017. He doesn’t even know your property.

    If your home was fully remodeled with water views or had a larger than average lot, maybe.

    The key is to sell to people like Igor, not listen to people like Igor.

  13. Canadian Reader

    When I’m ready to get rid of a property I price it to go. Obviously leaving money on the table is something no one wants, but each time a house is emotionally over for me- I just want it off the books. Each time I have listed with MLS- the property sold within a week. I realize I could Have sold at more financially opportune times, but but each sell has been motivated by a desire to move/upgrade and not necessarily to make as much money as possible with market timing. If I would have sold my last house 3 years ago instead of last summer, I probably would be 100k richer. Sometimes I get annoyed at my own lack of patience, but I’ve been so fortunate in other ways that I have to settle on the win-some lose-some mindset. Life is short and nobody will be eating Shreddies next week when we are talking about million dollar properties.
    I say congratulations on the sale of your property and you should be happy with the gain! When you have been as successful as you are, you shouldn’t waste too much time looking in the rear-view mirror.

      1. Canadian Reader

        I don’t want to be too direct, but I’m not sure Igor is accurate. Different views are great to hear and consider, but it’s unlikely you left major money undiscovered. And if you did… our favourite sayings are Pigs get Slaughtered and That’s ok- leave some for the next guy ;)

  14. Great post, good lesson in the complexity of setting real estate prices too. I’m curious what you do with the taxable proceeds or how you generally try (if you do) to minimize the capital gains taxes that result from selling a high value asset like this. Do you try to use 1031 exchanges or something else? Use opportunity zones? Just pay the tax and move on? I just heard of something that sounded interesting called a deferred sales trust, supposedly giving more flexibility than 1031. Any advice?

    1. A 1031 exchange is smart if you have identified another attractively priced property. The only problem is the deadline for getting the 1031 exchange done. Here are some reasons not to do a 1031 Exchange as well.

      I like Opportunity Zone funds if you have a 10-year time horizon. Fundrise came out with one and I know other real estate crowdfunding platforms are as well.

      It is great to get $500,000 in tax-free profits if you are a married couple. Then you can add up all the costs to sell and the remodeling cost you’ve done over the years to increase the cost basis and decrease the profits.

      Related: Reinvestment Ideas After Selling Your House

  15. Sam,

    Not sure how serious you are about listing one of your properties for over 20-40%(for s and g), but you should definitely try it because it happened around my area. Lol I know. One anecdotal evidence!

    However there’s this popular condo around my area that’s situated in an ideal location (close to buses, trains, shopping centers, DMV, etc). Once a unit is listed on market, it took no more than a week to sell when the market was normal. Nowadays? It’s pretty much gone as soon as it’s listed. Anyway, the price range was always between 300-360k in the last five years or so. Just this past week however, one sold for $430k. I saw another listed for $390, which was a smaller unit, but it’s no longer showing on Redfin (I’m guessing it’s under contract).

    Obviously the premium may scale less or more depending on the price (300-400 range, 1mm+ range, etc), but you know how they say there’s a first for everything? Well, the $420k was the highest price a unit in that condo has fetched.

    I look at the units there frequently to hopefully get an investment property since it rents very well there, but now I’m a bit sad that I may have missed the boat on getting a good deal.

    1. Good stuff! That’s what I’m saying. You just never know. If you have the time, why not try for a massive premium?

      It’s so easy to list and sell now due to technology and Docusign.

      Going for glory is a key takeaway from this post. I’ve always felt bad wasting peoples time. But if there’s an agent who believes in the moon, why not give him or her a try?

      You could even still have your tenants be in your place if it’s a rental. No downside, except if you fail, there may be a price history record of such a failure. Not sure how that will affect the future sale price. But I’ve seen past listing price records scrubbed too.

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