The Commonwealth Blog

Monday, August 12, 2019

Ceiling Fan Upgrades

Update Your Ceiling Fans

If you’re trying to escape from the summer sun, you’ll likely seek refuge in a cool, temperature-controlled room, but you’ll need your ceiling fans to be in tip-top shape to keep the heat from permeating your house. If your ceiling fans aren’t working, or if they just look a bit outdated, follow these instructions for replacing them quickly and safely.

How to Replace a Ceiling Fan

Replacing a ceiling fan isn’t necessarily hard, but it’s best to do some prep work before diving straight into your project.

Removing the Old Fan

Before removing the fan from the ceiling, make sure you follow some basic safety measures. Working with electrical wires can be dangerous, so you’ll want to turn off the power to your ceiling fan. It’s worth being extra cautious—after you flip the switch, use a voltage tester to ensure that no remaining electricity will harm you during the process.

Now you’re ready to remove the old fan from the ceiling. Start by taking off the light fixtures, then the blades, and finally, the base. You’ll need a screwdriver and maybe even a buddy to help with any heavy lifting. Before you attempt to install the new fan, take note of how the wires in the old fan connected to the ceiling (you can take picture to make sure you don’t forget).

Installing the New Fan

Start by attaching the new bracket to the ceiling’s electrical box. Use the new screws to fix the bracket to the electrical box securely, pulling the wires from the ceiling through the bracket’s center hole.

After you put your new fan’s base together (steps will vary depending on the kind of fan), you can raise your fan base to the ceiling, hook it into the bracket, and attach the wires (wire colors and directions may vary by fan).

The Best Ceiling Fans

Whether or not your ceiling fan is broken, you can replace it with a more attractive and powerful fan to improve both your home’s airflow and its atmosphere. We recommend finding a top-quality ceiling fan that complements your décor. Click here for a list of some of the most highly rated ceiling fans of 2019—they’ll get the job done right and help tie the room together. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Here's How to Prepare for Your Summer Staycation

Going on vacation doesn’t have to be stressful or expensive. Instead of dealing with the hassle of catching flights and checking into hotels, plan for a Boston staycation—it can be just as fun as traveling to another city or country, and it’s more affordable. Make the rest of your summer wicked fun with our suggestions for a Boston “vacation.”

Plan Ahead

Your staycation could turn into ordinary lounging if you don’t plan ahead. Decide how many days you want to spend at home and how many you’ll spend out in the city, and schedule fun activities in advance so you don’t end up in front of the television the whole time you’re off.

It’s also a good idea to tackle chores before your vacation commences. By tidying your home before the clock strikes “staycation,” you’ll save yourself from thinking about all the chores you should be doing. Clean the floors, countertops, and windows to clear your mind and give your home that hotel-clean vibe. You can even buy new bedding or set up a relaxation room with pillows and candles to switch things up. Without a to-do list looming over you, you’ll be better prepared to kick back, relax, and enjoy your

Staycation at Home

Vacationing in the comfort of your own home is an easier way to create new memories with the family. Here are some budget-friendly ideas for a fun and active staycation around the house.

Camp Outside or Build a Fort

You don’t have to sleep in your bed just because you’re at home. Pitch a tent in the backyard and gather around a campfire for a taste of the outdoors. When night falls, you and your little ones can stare up at the night sky.

If you don’t want to sleep outside, build a cozy fort in your living room. Add twinkle lights and plenty of pillows to create the ultimate kid-friendly fortress. Make sure you leave a window for watching movies and delivering popcorn.

Play Outside

The warm summer months make outdoor play fun. Jump in the pool, start a water balloon fight, organize a scavenger hunt to keep your kids entertained for hours on end. If arts and crafts are more your style, tie-dye t-shirts, make beaded bracelets, or bust out the finger paint to get your hands dirty in a creative project.

Plan a Party

Host a party to let other families participate in your vacation. Set up kid-friendly games like ring toss, corn hole, and fishing hole, and complete the atmosphere by serving carnival food: corn dogs, fries, and cotton candy will do. After the festivities are through, wind down with a movie screening in your backyard before calling it a night. (Back to the fort!)

Staycation in the City

On days when you want to get out of the house, explore Boston and its many attractions. Museums, libraries, and parks provide plenty of entertainment for your whole family—now’s the perfect time to play tourist in your own city.

Museums and Parks

The Museum of Fine Arts, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museums, the Children’s Museum, the Museum of Science, and the New England Aquarium all provide opportunities to learn and explore. In downtown Boston, splash in the fountains at Rose Kennedy Greenway and mosey around Boston Public Market to grab some delicious snacks. If you want to avoid the summer crowds at Boston Common and Public Garden, head to Jamaica Plain instead.

Explore the Neighborhood

There are plenty of fun things to do outside of Boston’s city center. The historic waterfront neighborhood, Charlestown, is a good place to start (especially if you’ve already been to the Freedom Trail, Faneuil Hall, Paul Revere House, etc.). You can take a water taxi to the neighborhood’s Navy Yard for a whole new experience. The nearby Menino Park also has play equipment for your little ones to enjoy.

You can also explore Somerville, Cambridge, Boston Harbor Islands, and Castle Island: neighborhoods and attractions offering plenty of kid-friendly activities and that won’t break the bank.

Enjoy Every Moment

No matter where your Boston staycation takes you, try to enjoy it to its fullest. Whether you’re lounging in your kiddos’ fort or exploring one of our museums for the first time, you can spend quality time with your family in one of the best cities in the world.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Selling a Rental Property With Tenants

Home prices in Boston have been on the rise year after year, making Boston a sellers’ market—but if you’re selling a rental property with current tenants, you’ll have to work harder to take advantage of the favorable climate. Take a look at some strategies for a stress-free rental property sale.

Consider Your Options

As a landlord, you have two options for selling a rental property: You can put it on the market while tenants are living there or wait until after the lease expires. There are pros and cons to each option, so think about which one best suits your timeline and budget. 

Sell with Tenants in the Home

There are several advantages to selling your rental property while your tenants still reside there. If they’ve done a nice job of maintaining the property (with attractive furniture placed throughout), it may look more appealing to prospective buyers. Investors will also be relieved to know they don’t have to find new tenants to occupy the space. 

If you can’t rely on your tenants to keep the home in great shape or clean up their messes, however, you’ll likely have trouble showing it off to buyers. 

Wait Until the Lease Expires

Waiting for the lease to expire gives you extra time to clean and make repairs before buyers tour the place. If you’re selling to a party that plans to move into your house themselves instead of using it as an income property, letting your tenants’ lease expire first means you won’t have to worry about negotiating for their exit before the buyer moves in.

Of course, the longer your house is on the market without tenants paying the bills, the more of your own money you’ll shovel into mortgage payments. 

How to Approach Your Tenants

If you’ve decided on canceling your tenants’ lease agreement before the sale, it’s in everyone’s best interest for the relationship to end amicably. First, you should review the lease agreement to make sure you give proper notice and avoid breaking any agreed-upon terms. Month-to-month leases usually require a 30-day notice—a more thorough read-through of Massachusetts rental agreement notice requirements can be found here.

After you’ve studied your lease agreement, respectfully communicate the situation to your tenants to reduce the chances of trouble or hurt feelings. You can offer to lower rent for a month or two to persuade them to keep the house in tip-top shape before a showing, or if they’re really in love with the house, you can even offer to sell to them.

Massachusetts Landlord-Tenant Law

Massachusetts landlord-tenant law is considered landlord-friendly for many reasons: You don’t have to obtain a license to become one, there are no limits on late rent fees, you don’t have to provide notice before entering the property. We recommend brushing up on your rights as a landlord in Boston so you have more power when it comes to negotiating with your tenants.

Whatever path you take, having a plan for selling your home (with or without your tenants in residence) will help you approach the sale more confidently.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Why We Love Older Homes

While there are many benefits of moving into a newly built house, the charm and character of older homes have made them an increasingly popular purchase in today’s housing market. Buying or building a new home allows you to design it however you’d like, but for those with a fondness for the styles of centuries past, historic homes can be a more attractive option. Here are some common features of older homes that modern buyers just can’t pass up.

Classic Archways and Entryways

Grand entryways make a statement. While today’s homes tend to have simple, square doorframes, older homes were typically constructed with exaggerated, spacious entryways to create a luxurious atmosphere. Historic architects didn’t save all the fun for the front door, however—they used archways throughout the home’s interior to create visual intrigue when entering each new room, separating spaces in the home with carefully crafted corners and unique design elements. The classic archways and entryways found in many antique homes give homeowners and their guests a regal welcome.

Antique Doors

Door knockers aren’t common these days, and wooden door cutouts with metallic fastenings have been replaced by tiny glass and metal peepholes, but you can still find old-fashioned door fixtures on homes throughout the Boston area. Your visitors will get a kick out of using the knocker and seeing your face through a full opening before you let them in.

Charming Character

Buyers are drawn to older homes because they offer a sense of style and character that’s hard to find elsewhere, with intriguing and original design elements you can’t simply recreate. Antique light fixtures, wood-burning fireplaces, colorful tile, charming crown molding, and custom-built shelving and windows are just a few of the most sought-after design features.

Other alluring features include carefully constructed custom-fit and stained glass windows, built-in shelving and bookshelves, and colorful mosaic bathroom tiles, all of which add a pop of era-defining character. In colder months, you can gather family and friends around an old-world fireplace and share in the tradition of keeping warm by the fire. Every room in an old-fashioned home is an opportunity to take a break from the 21st century.

Keep History Alive

Older homes’ captivating design elements give us a glimpse into America’s past and remain historically significant. Many buyers in the Boston area appreciate historic homes with heirloom details and intrinsic colonial charm, and so do we!

Monday, July 22, 2019

Outdoor Summer Trends

Bringing the indoors outside is all the rage these days, as more homeowners create cozy outdoor spaces with bohemian and minimalist design elements. Learn how to design a vibrant outdoor space that provides comfort for you and your friends this summer.

Go for Boho

The bold bohemian style inspires colorful, welcoming outdoor spaces. Here are some tips for creating a tasteful bohemian patio or porch.

Mix Your Materials

Bring indoor elements like brass, rope, and textured upholstery outdoors to mix things ups. Use rugs, couches, and chandeliers outside to create an alluring space that offers the same comforts as your living room.

Be Bold with Color

Use bold colors over neutral upholstered fabrics. Citrus-bright oranges, reds, yellows, and pinks placed over tan or gray couch cushions make your lounging area cheerful, so don’t be afraid to go big with color when you shop for new pillows, throw rugs, and blankets. Boho design doesn’t require everything to match, so you have the freedom to throw differently sized and patterned accessories together for a colorful effect.

Roll Out the Rug

One easy way to bring the inside outside is to add a colorful rug to the ground near your mix of furniture, pillows, and accessories. Moroccan-styled or Mexican-inspired rugs instantly change your patio’s vibe with bursts of color and intricate patterns. For a subtler look, use a solid color that complements your landscaping.

Turn on the Lights

Lanterns, hanging lights, and outdoor fireplaces create that “indoor cozy” feel—placing hanging lights above your seating area also adds length and dimension to the space. Peruse second-hand stores or your favorite department store for old colored glass lanterns and outdoor chandeliers. Soft, mellow light will set the mood for relaxing with family and friends on a warm summer evening.

Aim for Minimalism

Alongside bohemian décor, Scandinavian minimalist elements are at the forefront of summer trends. Scandinavian design emphasizes simplicity and function, with a focus on natural materials, pale colors, and basic shapes. Lounge chairs, love seats, and bistro tables made of neutral woods and powder-coated aluminum are showing up in more stores and backyards across the country.

Combining the Two Styles

How do you combine bohemian and minimalist design elements in a sophisticated way? It’s easier than you think. Start with a minimalist base, using simple and natural furnishings, then add colorful pillows and hanging lanterns on top. By starting with a simple base, you have room to incorporate vibrant accent without dizzying your guests.

With these tips and tricks under your belt, you can design a trendy space that’s cozy and maybe even a bit magical. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Build Equity Like A Pro

If you’re a Bostonian homeowner who’s interested in building home equity, focus on these two things: paying down your principal faster and making the right renovations. With a little bit of planning and hard work, you’ll increase your home’s value and grow your net worth.

Pay Down Your Principal Faster

Your principal is the amount of money you borrowed to purchase your home, which you have to pay back with interest charged by a lender. The faster you pay off your principal, the less interest you’ll accrue and the more your home equity increases. The following strategies will help you reduce your principal more quickly.

Prioritize Larger Payments

When possible, add more money to your monthly mortgage payments to decrease the lifetime of your loan. If you can’t afford to increase your payments every month, do so when you receive extra cash from tax refunds, bonuses, or an inheritance.

Pay Biweekly

Instead of making payments once a month, make them biweekly to pay down your mortgage fast. First, make sure your lender accepts biweekly payments and won’t charge you a fee for changing your payment plan. Also, confirm that your lender will immediately apply each payment to the principal instead of waiting to submit multiple payments at once.

Refinance Your Home

Refinancing with a shorter loan option gets you a lower rate—just make sure you can drop your interest rate by at least 1.5%. You’ll also want to consider closing costs and double-check that you won’t be penalized for making prepayments on your mortgage.

Increase Market Value Through Renovations

Part of being a smart homeowner is knowing what kinds of renovations will get you more bang for your buck. Whether you’re remodeling a Cape Cod vacation cottage or redesigning a colonial home in traditional fashion, it’s a good idea to consult reputable architects and designers and focus on making improvements that are currently in demand.

Curb Appeal

If your home’s interior looks great but your front yard is in shambles, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a willing buyer. Invest in landscaping to make the front of your home more attractive and welcoming. After all, the front yard is the first thing prospective buyers will see before entering your home—make sure they’ll actually want to step inside!

Energy Efficiency

Energy-efficient windows not only look nice and clean, but they decrease monthly utility bills too. Installing energy-efficient windows and appliances will save you in the long run.

Kitchen Remodel

Kitchen remodels are usually a must for buyers with families—or those who just love to cook. While lavish renovations can cost upwards of $100,000, more modest ones can still produce great results for about half the cost. Visit local department stores for help remodeling your kitchen without breaking the bank.

Invest Wisely

With some research and planning, you’ll be well on your way to building equity like a pro. By paying down your principal more aggressively and investing in your home’s infrastructure, you’ll set yourself up for increased profits at the time of sale.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Outdoor Lighting Ideas

Boston’s warm summers are perfect for enjoying relaxing evenings out on the patio, porch, or deck. Use these lighting ideas to design a cozy outdoor space for lounging outside long after the sun goes down.

Romance Is in the Air

Create a romantic atmosphere with decorative lanterns that cover your yard with a subtle glow. Place lanterns on the center of your patio table, group them around the edges of your yard, or line them up on a wall. No matter their placement, their delicate light will create a comfortable place for you to relax.

You can also use pillar candles to create a soft outdoor glow. Decorative candles like these provide enough light to enjoy the scenery without drawing attention away from it. We recommend battery-operated candles—they’re safer and easier to use.

For a more extravagant look, hang an outdoor chandelier from the beam of your pergola or covered patio (this makes installing wiring less tricky). Simple wooden chandeliers will better complement the surrounding foliage without being over the top.

Creative and Cute

Consider using cute and unusual fixtures to illuminate your space. Electric table lamps, for example, emit concentrated light for reading or writing when it’s dark outside and are a great addition to your outdoor seating area. You may also get a kick out of paper lanterns of various sizes hung above your seating area, oil lamps and solar illuminated planters (pots that light up!).

Practical Fixtures

Sometimes you just need a light to show you the way. Install solar deck accent lights on railings, posts, and stairs to provide extra visibility for you and your guests. These lights can be mounted to any flat surface with screws, making installation easy. They also charge during the day when the sun is out and light up at dusk. String lights are another good option—they can be placed over pools, dining tables, or wherever you need more light.

Get More Out of Your Evening

With the right outdoor lighting, you can enjoy more time outside. Whether you’re playing catch, finishing a novel, or hosting a dinner, these lighting fixtures will provide the light you need to get the most out of your long summer days.

 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Welcome to the Neighborhood: Tips for Getting Acclimated in Boston

If you’re new to Boston, many exciting things await you. As a newbie, though, you may not know how to go about making new friends. Don’t fret—we’ve put together some tips for getting to know your neighbors and putting down roots in Beantown.

Basic Etiquette

When you were young, you and your family may have gone across the street to introduce yourselves to the neighbors with a plate of cookies or brownies in hand. The same concept applies to your most recent move: Be friendly and forward. 

It’s smart to make the first move because, let’s face it, the neighbors probably won’t knock on your door. Be bold and introduce yourself first. You can stroll over to their place after work or on the weekend, invite everyone on the block over for a housewarming party, sit on your porch in the evening and wave to passersby, or small talk with dog owners on their morning walk. 

Bostonians are a kind, smart, sports-loving bunch of people, and you’re sure to meet a warm neighbor soon. Just be friendly and make yourself available.

Explore the Local Hubs

Exploring the town is one of the best ways to make new Bostonian friends. Check out some of these local hotspots to make a new pal at the market, coffeehouse, library, or baseball game. 

Boston Public Market 

This is an indoor, year-round market with seasonal food from 40 New England farmers, fishers, and food entrepreneurs. You can dine in, shop for produce, or both! The market is a kid-friendly atmosphere that hosts fun activities like cooking classes and guided tours. Find more info here.

Dunkin’ Donuts (Or Not)

Bostonians love Dunkin’ Donuts. You may hear this iconic coffeehouse, founded in Quincy, MA, in 1950, referred to as “Dunkies” or “Dunks.” If you’re in the mood for coffee and donuts, this is a good place to run into friendly faces.

If you’re a true coffee connoisseur and wish to explore the city’s many other coffee shops, there are hip coffee spots scattered throughout the city. You’re sure to get acquainted with new friends and baristas at one of these many trendy spots

Boston Public Library 

If you’re a reader, check out the Boston Public Library. Here, you can chat with fellow bookworms (in whispered tones) while searching for your favorite authors in the first free municipal library in the United States. 

Fenway Park 

Baseball season is in full swing, which means you’ll soon be a Red Sox fan (if you aren’t already). The people of Boston are true sports fans, and we’re quite spoiled. Our beloved teams include the Red Sox, Celtics, New England Patriots, and the Bruins—not to mention college teams. Catch a game at Fenway Park this baseball season and you’ll probably run into everyone you’ve met in Boston. This park, established in 1912, has a lot to offer in terms of history and camaraderie.

Volunteer

Helping others is a great way to connect, and Boston provides plenty of volunteering opportunities so you can always assist someone in need. This extensive list of volunteer opportunities will have you and the family sharing new experiences with others in no time. 

Enjoy All that Boston Has to Offer 

After you’ve unpacked your things and settled into your new place, you can finally get to know your city. With a bit of openness and curiosity, you’ll be well on your way to making great new friends in our charming Boston community.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Green Renovations

Green home improvement projects are all the rage. By adding eco-friendly updates to your home, you’ll increase its value, reduce your carbon footprint,  and lower your monthly energy bills. Consider making green renovations this summer to cut down on long-term costs while taking better care of the environment.

Where to Begin

There are many ways to design a green home, from installing green flooring to upgrading your HVAC system. Here are a few others:

Check Your Home’s Insulation

Replacing defective insulation is one of the most cost-effective home improvement projects—it’s even eligible for a tax credit. Loose-fill fiberglass insulation is one eco-friendly option that can lower your energy bill by 10 percent. 

ENERGY STAR Appliances

Use ENERGY STAR appliances to cut costs and reduce emissions. ENERGY STAR estimates that homeowners will save 10 to 50 percent more when using their eco-friendly products compared to traditional ones. LED light bulbs, for example, last 25 times longer than regular bulbs, are mercury-free, and cost 44 cents annually (traditional bulbs cost $19.70). 

Install a Smart Thermostat

Smart thermostats adjust your home’s temperature in relation to your behavior and daily routine. By monitoring your habits, this handy thermostat creates personalized cooling and heating schedules. Smart thermostats also save energy by using motion sensors to detect when the home is empty.

Use the Sun to Your Advantage

Solar panels reduce dependency on fossil fuels by harnessing energy from the sun instead. If your home is connected to your region’s electric grid, you can receive credit from your utility by transferring extra energy from your panels back to the communal power source. You can also add a solar water heater, which converts sunlight into heat for water—this renovation also comes with a 30 percent tax credit.

Reflective roofs also help homeowners save energy and money. By reflecting sunlight away from your roof, they help your home stay cool during the hot summer months, decreasing your dependency on cooling systems. With this upgrade, you’ll be more comfortable indoors and cut back energy bills, and you’ll increase your roof’s longevity in the process.

Source Responsibly

When you source household materials like flooring and countertops, look for opportunities to eliminate indoor pollutants and reuse recycled material. Poly fiber and bamboo, for example, are renewable materials that can be used to design beautiful and sustainable flooring throughout your home. Eco countertops are also made of sustainable building materials, including recycled glass, salvaged wood, bamboo, recycled paper, bio glass, stainless steel, and concrete.

Consult the Right People

No matter the size of your next green remodeling project, there are people who can point you in the right direction. Local utility companies provide energy saving information and offer incentives and rebates, and building supply stores can educate you on energy-saving appliances and household items. If you’re building your home from the ground up or making structural changes, find a builder or architect who’s accredited in Leadership and Environmental Design through the U.S. Green Building Council.

Incentives for Homeowners

Green renovations reduce your carbon footprint, decrease your monthly energy expenses, and save you money through tax incentives. Adding energy-efficient appliances to your home also increases its value. The sooner you start making green renovations, the sooner you can take advantage of your hard work.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Selling Your Home This Summer

Contrary to popular belief, summer isn’t the best time to put your house on the market. Kids are out of school, families are on vacation, and summertime activities keep homeowners from tending to the house.

As it turns out, summer is one of the busiest times of the year for homeowners. Selling your home may be trickier than you originally thought, but sometimes you simply can’t wait to put your house on the market due to life changes or unforeseen events. Here are some tips for selling your home this summer—hopefully before the next season.

Home Care

While you may not have time to make expensive renovations, you can certainly make smaller repairs around the house that drastically improve its appearance, functionality, and safety.

Kitchen and Bathrooms

Kitchens and bathrooms have the most plumbing and electrical systems, so make sure everything’s running smoothly to avoid flooding and other damages. Check all sinks for leaks and make sure drains are free of clogs. You can also replace the coolant in your fridge if the temperature’s too warm. Lastly, examine all cabinets for water damage or rot, and make sure drawers and cabinets open smoothly without getting stuck.

Interior

Pay close attention to the state of your walls, ceilings, and flooring. Paint over nail holes or areas where discoloration exists to give your home a fresh new look. You should also replace or repair chipped tile, dented wood, and torn carpeting. Steam-clean your floors for good measure, especially if you have pets.

In addition, make sure your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system (HVAC), water heater, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and electrical panel and circuit breakers are in working order.

These repairs ensure the future homeowner’s safety and will help maintain your property’s current value. We recommend investing in a home inspection before making any repairs to know which ones demand your immediate attention.

Smart Selling Strategies

In addition to the aforementioned home repairs, consider adopting these smart selling strategies.

Summer Curb Appeal

Create curb appeal to attract summer buyers—sometimes a good look at your front yard is all it takes for prospective buyers to decide whether they want to go inside. Design an attractive front yard and mow your lawn twice a week (it grows faster in the summer), trim back foliage, plant pretty flowers, fill in naked spots with mulch, and paint prominent outdoor features like your street address or mailbox.

Staging

Move some (if not all) of your furniture to your new home or a storage unit to free up space, and consider hiring a professional stager or staging the place yourself to make buyers feel comfortable and welcome. Move what’s left of your furniture to areas of the room that open the space, and use pretty rugs, pillows, and decorations to cozy it up. You should also tie back curtains and open blinds to let more natural light inside.

Climate Control

Now that everything’s in great shape, it’s time to welcome potential buyers into your temperature-controlled house. Make sure your home isn’t stuffy by placing fans in different rooms to help circulate air. You can also turn down your air conditioning a couple degrees below your normal temperature to keep visitors inside longer. They won’t be as keen on leaving quickly if your home lets them cool off.

Find an Agent

If you’re feeling overwhelmed while selling your home, call several real estate agents and ask for recommendations in your neighborhood. Listing agents can help you market your home effectively and determine a price based on local home values.

Make a Summer Move Happen

Selling a house in summer is difficult, but not impossible. These home improvement projects and strategies will help speed up the process. With a little bit of grunt work, planning, and networking, you’ll be well on your way to closing a summertime sale.

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