Renting is MY American dream!

February 14 2011 | Guest post by Sara Francis
bailout - it's the homeowners in that are in distress
Photo by wwworks. Used under Creative Commons license.

Many people strive toward home ownership, but I can't say I'm one of them. While my husband and I may one day decide to buy a home, right now we've chosen not to do so — even though our bank tells us we can get a mortgage and that it would be the right choice.

My banker was the first person to tell me that renting wasn't a good financial decision. Renting is "paying someone else's mortgage" and why shouldn't I pay myself instead? I come from a background where home ownership translates into financial stability and the expected Next Step; explaining our decision is a delicate dance.

People ask, "When are you going to settle down and buy a house so you can have kids?" Owning a home isn't a prerequisite to having children, and the houses we could currently afford aren't as child-friendly as what we can afford to rent! So we stay put.

I want my kids living downtown where there is free ice skating in the winter, swimming the summer, art galleries, the biggest library, and the farmer's market all within walking distance… not to mention schools, grocery stores, and public transit at my door!

"Why don't you move to a different area then?" My husband and I have some very strong values regarding urban sprawl — especially in our city. I don't want to live on the (affordable) outskirts of the city because then we would have to buy a vehicle and drive to the grocery store, to work, everywhere! I don't want to live with those values, and I especially want my future minis to be able to avoid them. I want them living downtown where there is free ice skating in the winter, swimming the summer, art galleries, the biggest library, and the farmer's market all within walking distance… not to mention schools, grocery stores, and public transit at my door!

"Owning a home signifies maturity and financial stability, don't you want that?" Sure, that may be the case for some. However, we're cautious about becoming "house-poor" — allotting all our money for utilities, mortgage, and maintenance (plus that car we would have to buy!). It's possible to save a lot of money renting. In my neighborhood, a 2 bedroom plus den will run you $589,000 – $850,000, which comes to about $4,000, monthly. Then there are condo fees, maintenance costs, and property taxes. To rent the same property? Approximately $2,000 plus power.

"Owning a home is a great long-term investment!" Yes, it can be, but that might not be right for everyone. I cringe when I hear this one, as I hate living in one place long-term. The thought of living in one home for ten years sends me into a panic. I like change! With renting, it will be a lot easier to go on my Around the World trip, as I can just put my things in storage and be free!

And the last reason I love renting? This is one I generally don't share, as it is not mature nor responsible: I am lazy! I like being able to call someone to grout my bathtub, fix a leaky faucet, put in a screen. I don't like doing those things! I like to spend my free time reading, playing WoW, walking my dog and hanging out with my husband. I don't want to be mowing the lawn or shoveling the walks!

Renting isn't always the best option, and there are things I hate. I hate earning landlords' trust before being allowed to paint. I hate pet restrictions. I hate it when you live in an apartment with neighbors who don't have the same values as we do. That said, renting doesn't mean you haven't fulfilled the American (or Canadian, in my case) Dream. Renting is a legitimate lifestyle choice, and it works for me.

  1. This is the SECOND article in a week which has made me go, "Did I dupe myself into buying a house?" 😀

    The answer: NO. I LOVE MY HOUSE. But I am highly sensitive to suggestions.

  2. I would think that with all of the angst that so many people are going through with the housing bubble – it just makes sense to be a little skeptical of the benefits of owning vs. buying.

  3. Preach it! While I understand the allure of ownership, and all the implied responsibility and maturity, ultimately renting is more affordable and more flexible.

  4. You know, I'd be totally happy with renting/living in my apartment for the rest of my life IF IF IF I had a yard for the dogs and I could pick and choose my the people who live in this building. 😉

    • This x1000. Oh, and I would add washer/dryer hookup to that. A dishwasher would be nice, too, but I can live without it. Carting laundry home to Mom's and the IL's feels really College.

    • We are super lucky, as we have both an in-suite washer and dryer and a dishwasher… I don't know if I could give that up now!

  5. YES YES YES! I am SO with you on this! I can buy a house in the neighborhood I currently live in for ~$800 a month – yes, that's cheap in comparison to some part of town (and a steal compared to some parts of the country) – but I can rent an apartment for $375. I have NO reason to change my situation!

  6. Renting can be nice, but I'm a bit sick of a few things, such as: having to wait on someone else to fix problems, having to use a shared laundry room (and stock up on quarters), being limited in how many pets I can have, dealing with noisy neighbors, not having enough storage space…the list goes on. I think I'd be ready to commit to buying a house, if only I wasn't living on a graduate student's stipend.

    • Very late reply but I especially agree with the first one. Having someone else to fix your problems sounds great but the downside is you can't fix it yourself, even if you want or need to.

      When we noticed water dripping through the ceiling on Sunday morning the only thing we could do was put a bucket under it. No one from the building managers office was avaliable until Monday and because the leak was actually in the next flat up we couldn't do anything to stop it. Then it took them 6 hours to actually get someone out…

      Sure I got to spend that time doing whatever I wanted, but it's a little hard to enjoy yourself when you're worried it's just a matter of time before the ceiling caves in.

  7. I was curious about this article since I saw the title on Facebook. I completely get it now. I'll still kick myself about buying our house, (especially when I see houses in our neighborhood go up for sale that would suit our needs better) but financially in our area it makes more sense. We're paying about $100 more a month on a 15 year mortgage than we were renting, and we have twice the space. If we were in a different area I'm sure we'd have made different choices. Your decision seems like a very sound, well thought out one, that was the best option for where you are.

    • cupritte, You are very smart to buy your home, in 15 years you won't have to pay payments or rent ever again,and you can leave your kids something, if fact if you buy several houses and let the renters pay for them, you can retire rich, I own and am selling several now that are paid for with owner financing, so I get free houses and now money and interest, nice, I am the type that could never rent or work for someone else. I like being my own boss, painting my home any color without asking someone.

  8. Renting is fantastic especially if you are not financially solvent enough for a house of your own. My dude and I are still working on consolidating our houses: he owns his, I rent mine. We're moving into mine and selling his, partially because mine is bigger and in a better area, but also because if something goes wrong at his place we can't afford to fix it. We are both students and, although we make decent enough money, we also have enough expenses that saving up enough to be safe if the furnace dies or we need to fix a plumbing disaster just isn't in the cards right now. It makes more sense to rent, especially since like the OP, we don't know how long we'll be here.

  9. I wish I had thought longer before rushing into buying my house as I think I overpaid and now I'll have to stay here until the market 'recovers' :/
    I do like the freedom from landlords though!

  10. Buying a house was one of the best things my husband and I have ever done. We lived in three rental nightmares (two houses and one duplex) that pretty much turned me off renting. Plus, we have two cats and a giant dog, so that really limited the places we could rent. We have a home warranty, which takes care of most of the things that could go wrong with our house. We've only had to use it once, but it's nice to know we've got it if we need it. Also, I've loved the freedom to paint/tear down/renovate whatever I want. It makes the house feel so much more like our home than any of our rentals did. That said, it's great that the author has found what works for her!

  11. I so agree with this. If I could paint, garden, and have pets in a rental I would rent forever. But I've been realizing recently that those things are more important to me than before, so my husband and I are starting to consider where we can live to satisfy our urban-living values and our nesting urges, without ruining our lives financially. We may need to move to a different city in a different state to do this (we're currently in California).

    • For what it's worth, my parter and I are in California – Berkeley to be specific. We rent a small house in the back of a larger one. One bathroom, dogs allowed, and we have a yard. We've been planting and painting since we moved in, and we can still get into SF for work by BART, so no worries about the car. If you're in the Bay Area you may want to check it out.

      Though my partner would love to buy, we're just not in a great position for that right now, and Berkeley seems to have all of the urban living/nesting needs covered, at least for us.

      Just a thought!

    • It IS possible to rent and have all that too. My wife and I rent the downstairs floor of a huge old Craftsman house, which I generally repaint every 8 months or so when my restlessness kicks in. We have a huge fenced backyard which we built a raised-bed vegetable garden in, and we built our own back patio area for about $60 with supplies from home depot. If our landlord wants us to rip it all out when we go, it would only take a few hours. We also have pets (2 cats and a dog), AND we live right near the lite-rail and the city bus routes, about 5 minutes from downtown. Granted, we live in Dallas, not California, but when we were in LA we found an apartment building that had a shared garden space on the lawn, a private balcony for container gardening and was pet-and-paint friendly! I promise, you can rent and still have it all! hehe 🙂

  12. I grew up in a 2 bedroom apt in a 3 family home my grandma owned and mom managed. I lived in 2 basement apts with The Hubs before we ended up owning his mom's house when she passed away. We could have moved. We could have downsized. We could have invested the money from insurance and the house into interest building accounts, but we didn't. We fell into the home ownership with too much gusto and reinvested into this major thing which owns us more than we own it. I work to support my home more than my lifestyle now. It kinda stinks, but there are parts I love totally. Bravo for "owning" the renting mindset. It makes sense and know some of us long for the rental lifestyle (and may move that way in the future).

  13. This is beautiful and I wish I felt this way. I am insanely scared of becoming house poor. But renting makes no sense to me. I do want a "forever home" and I'd rent it if I knew I could live there forever. But landlords can do what they want which means upping rent or selling the property and kicking me out. Yikes! Too scary. I'M SO JEALOUS OF YOU.

    • I think this is one of those situations where it really depends on where you live. We would have at least three months notice if our landlord decided to sell (and a lot of options in terms of places to move to), and we sign leases, so a ton of notice for rental increases too. The most our rent has ever gone up has been $25.00 per year.

      Not all states and provinces have rules like this though, and not all landlords are very respectable.

      • And there is always the risk of foreclosure. I had friends who were unaware of any problems until one day there was a foreclosure and eviction notice on their door and they had two weeks to vacate the premises. Sure, they could have sued the landlord, but what would they have gotten out of a guy who couldn't even pay his mortgage even with their rent money coming in?

  14. Amen! I'm lucky to be living in a big place with a great landlady who lets us decorate how we want and loves our cats. It took some searching and a bidding war, but we love our rented place. I also love knowing we can pick up at a moment's notice and move somewhere else if we need to.

  15. YES! I wrote about this last year on my blog, with many of the same reasons and a few different ones. Here's the link if anyone is interested: "Busting out of the Mortgage Myth" http://bramberbuilding.blogspot.com/2010/04/irresponsible-home-owning-and.html (My conclusion was/is this: Sometimes I feel I am making a terrible affront to a lot of responsible, respectable people in our society. However, I refuse to give into ye old Puritanical guilt complex, and I hope to shake others out of it before they trap themselves in mortgages (and jobs they don't love). I am trying to intentionally create a life that makes sense, that I can be happy in, and not one I will be emotionally and financially paying for…indefinitely. Wish me luck."

  16. My latest dream?
    To continue renting in the city and purchase a vacation home.
    It would satisfy all my "get out of the city!" weekends and I still get my "live next door to coffee and rock show" weekdays.

  17. Yes! I totally look forward to the joys and perils of homeownership in the future, but I was pestered by my mother for years to take that step when I wasn't ready. I did stay in my current rental much longer than expected, but now have the freedom to do our big RV adventure before settling into a home! And every time our friends complain of high repair costs, we are grateful for where we are right now.

    Home ownership is a great dream for some people and I support that, but there's benefits and drawbacks to all the options out there – nothing is going to be the right choice for every person.

  18. My husband and I would love to own an old fixer upper, but the funds aren't there. With our first wee one on the way, we've been keeping an eye out for a place bigger than 1 bedroom, but the funds just aren't there with our jobs. Buying a home at this point in time is just out of the question. Plus there are so many fun options for renting out there. I love the flexibility of if something happened to the apartment, we could find a new place to live easily and not lose such an investment. I like the freedom to move and not have all our eggs in one basket. 🙂

  19. This is very much how I feel right now! I have too much wanderlust left in my itchy feet to put down serious roots like that somewhere. When other little girls were planning their dream weddings, I was planning my dream house. I have a dream house that I very much want to own someday, but right now I cannot imagine owning it. I can't even figure out where I'd put it, let alone how I'd pay for it! 😉 It's strange seeing all of my friends slowly plunk down their down payments as I continue hunting for 2 bedroom flats in new cities, but it's nice to know I'm not the only one unwilling to commit to a mortgage (at least for now- talk to me in 10 years).

  20. There are a lot of reasons my husband I want to buy*, such as wanting space for a guest room and/or office, space for a workout room (basement would be fine), extra storage space (for bikes, a kayak, etc.), washer/dryer hookup, back porch/patio (for entertaining), and a fenced in yard (so we can get another dog). We don't need anything big – a small brick colonial in the city, at 1200-1500 sf would be ideal.

    But, we can't afford to buy where we want to live right now. I'm not going to buy something we can afford just to say we own a house – where I live is more important to me than whether or not I own it. Actually, if I could find a rental situation where I had a lot of the things I mention above that was affordable, it would put off me wanting to buy for a lot longer. So far, though, I haven't. 🙁

  21. My FH and I rent a 2br 1ba condo for $990/month here in Chicago. I did move farther NW than I used to live (admittedly, I was in a VERY popular [read: expensive] area – Lakeview), but I still live w/in walking distance to grocery stores, bakeries, shops, restaurant and relatively easy transit rides to work.

    I think in some ways I would love to have my own house, but I have too much debt from student loans from grad school, being unemployed for 10 months and general stupidity from when I was in my 20s.. but on the other hand I have a great landlady who completely rehabbed this unit before we moved in (new kitchen, appliances, bathroom retiled.. and laundry in the unit). She lets us paint the rooms and decorate how we want, and we are allowed to have our cat.. so I can't complain too much. So for now I'm content to live in my super awesome condo with all the perks of a house but no mortgage. Plus, my half of the rent is almost half of what I was paying in my tiny Lakeview studio, so I'm saving money!

  22. I love this article and I agree with pretty much everything.
    We would be happy renting forever if only rented accommodation in Ireland wasn't so hit and miss.
    At the moment we're lucky to be living in an apartment that suits us perfectly in size and location but in the future we would like to live in a house with a garden for little 'uns near to my parents in law.
    Rental properties here are often grotty and badly maintained and include very poor quality furniture, you'll often see ads for second hand furniture saying "not in good condition, suitable for rental property" and landlords just want you to pay your money and be quiet, there's very little regard for tenants in general.
    The opposite side of the spectrum there are properties that are very well maintained and newly furnished but with prices that would break the bank and still the landlords don't want to hear that something is wrong, ever.
    Also it was very common for the months deposit to never be refunded up until a board was set up to help tenants (PRTB), before then they had to go to court which would have been very expensive. We were miles behind in tenants rights, it all goes back to everyone wanting to own and seeing renting as a short term and temporary solution that they just have to put up with, which they do until they go on and buy.
    I dream of having the freedom to decorate or maintain like I hear you can in Germany.

  23. I loved this post. I'm 28, getting married this summer and we're planning on starting a family in the next year or so… We started thinking that we "should" buy… I'm getting the nesting urge, and after moving 9 times in as many years, I would love to be able to stay put. But neither of us want that financial commitment right now, and we wouldn't be able to live where we want… I think finding a fantastic apartment or house that is a little bigger than what we have right now, where we want will serve us better than something out in the boonies. I'm afraid if I'm stuck out in the suburbs, I'll get depressed and start drinking. I need to be able to walk and be vibrant exciting places, and I think that will get more important with a baby, not less.

    • I so, so agree! Oddly enough, I work in the suburbs and live centrally, but the bonus for that is that I am always on an empty train going to and coming from work!

  24. I love this post!!! Personally, I am torn with the decision. My husband and I want to save up for a house so bad. However; I much prefer the community feeling of an apartment and the fact that it will make traveling much easier. I also like making the landlord to everything around here because it's his job to (hahaha). If we were to buy, I'd prefer to buy a condo, but then there's all the random fees to pay 0.o

    Honestly, I think the only reason I want to buy a place is so I can have tiled countertops and…oh wow actually that's all I really envision doing if we get our own place.

    Hmmm…

  25. I bought my house because i'd been renting it for 4 years and my landlord decided to sell it, i couldn't be bothered to pack everything and move so i bought it instead!

  26. validation! thank you! i feel like i could have written this piece myself. =)

    we've been pre-approved for a mortgage and looking at houses for a month or two, but are more and more finding our quality of life would probably be better in our cozy, charming, urban berkeley apartment than in any house we'd be realistically able to afford.

    (plus, i'm in med school, and in three or four years could match to a residency anywhere in the country, so who knows how long we'll be here?)

  27. I completely agree! My husband is in the military and we move around a lot! Now we are in my hometown and all of our friends and family are telling us to buy a house (especially because my mom owns her own escrow company). I am not comfortable with buying a house until we are out of the military, which is about 8 years or so. So thank you for saying everything that I want to say to my family!

  28. I absolutely, 100%, totally agree with this post. We have rented houses for the last several years. It is wonderful. When we moved to our current city we weren't sure which area we wanted to live in so we tried one, and now we are trying another. The one we are in now is in an awesome area, has a fenced in yard for our dog, a workshop in the basement, 3 bedrooms and two skylights. It is a little run down, but that is even better for us because the landlord has no problem with us DIYing. I love the idea that I can up and move to a new neighborhood or different style house at the end of each lease term.

  29. I agree wholeheartedly! We've decided that the next 10 years or so are NOT going to include owning a home. Another point: in a lot of industries today, you HAVE to be flexible on where you live. I can up and leave an apartment with a couple of months notice, then never think about it again. With a home, you have to list it, show it, deal with legalities. BOO! That is such a nightmare! — Also, yay for other people fixing my stuff and if its broken.. I DONT HAVE TO PAY FOR A NEW ONE. I've had a major appliance go out in almost everywhere I've lived; I haven't paid for a cent to replace anything.

  30. Agreed!! My partner and I are expecting our first baby, but holding off on buying a house. Too many friends are upside down on mortgages or stuck with repairs they can't afford. In our city, renting is affordable and easy. We have a great little duplex that we've been able to fill with pets and decorate as we please. It feels like the most sensible option for us right now.

  31. Right on! I was a firm believer that I would rather rent forever than buy in the suburbs (no offense to those who do live in the burbs, but I spent my first 18 years there, and that was more than enough!!!). We did buy this past fall, because the stars aligned and something perfect for us came up in my dream neighbourhood, but I don't think that house ownership should be a given, and I wouldn't have dreamed of doing it if both my parter and I didn't love our jobs as well.

  32. I LOVE this post! I could have written this myself, it's so full of everything I've been telling my friends and family for the last few years. Thank you thank you thank you!

    PS I totally have to echo your point about not having to fix anything… I LOVE not fixing my own heat, changing my own lightbulbs, picking aquarium rocks out of my disposal… I could go on. 🙂

  33. I have been having this conversation for the past 3 years with relatives/friends/workmates etc! I could kiss you right now! Renting in the UK is becoming a lot better maintained, with deposit protection schemes and the like, and if you look hard enough you can get a rental where you can keep pets and decorate, and if you really don't like your neighbours that much you can up and move! I (also) LOVE LOVE LOVE the fact that I don't have to pay for a broken boiler, or a plumbing emergency (Like we did when we had burst pipes on boxing day evening!) Just in the same way that I love not having a car, and not being surprised with an expensive MOT bill. Especially when a lot of the Buses in my city (Manchester, UK) are being converted to electric power, making me feel better about CO2 emissions, and I like off one of the most well run, busiest and reliable bus routes in the whole of Europe.

  34. My husband and I have architecture backgrounds, so renting was an exercise in frustration for us ('this place would be so great if they just did x!')

    We own two homes in two very different markets (Sydney, Australia and the suburbs of Kansas City) and our approach to buying both homes was of course very different. In Sydney we bought based on likely medium to long term appreciation (Sydney's housing market is very strong). In KC we bought based on future rental return and redevelopment potential. But we have always bought way below our max, in areas that are easily rentable, which allows us the flexibility to quit our jobs and move countries when we want to. I think the key if you do buy, is to buy as small as you can comfortably go.

    Right now, in most of the US, rental demand is high, driving rents up a bit, while purchasing demand is low with lots of stock on hand. This is due to the housing market bust that led to an oversupply of stock and banks tightening up their lending policies. I know in Kansas City, if you are renting, you are generally paying on a month-to-month more than it would cost to buy (including mortgage, repairs, etc.) On the flip side, in strong housing markets (like Sydney), the month-to-month costs are generally lower for the renter. But the renter doesn't get to take advantage of leveraging appreciation. At face value, we are putting a lot of money into our condo over there, even though we are renting it out. But because it is appreciating across the entire value of the property (including the part the mortgage still covers), we actually are getting a pretty good return on the investment. (Watch the market turn now that I said that! Fickle housing market- renting definitely can be less stressful!)

    I think what it all comes down to, is that there are different markets and priorities to lead one to chose rental or buying over the other.

    and as a side note how the suburbs can seriously skew your sense of reality- I grew up in the suburbs, and it wasn't until I was at least in high school, maybe college, when I found out you could BUY an apartment (condo technically)! All of the apartments I ever saw were big complexes that were for people starting out/transitioning between things/down on their luck. That seams so crazy to me now!

  35. Word to all of this!

    I get the "you are throwing away money" argument constantly. Whatevs.

    I am invested in the moment (and for me, renting is better access to living in the moment, not for "someday") and I'm invested in the ability to move on when I'm done being in this place.

    Love this post. Thank you.

  36. Good thing I'm not the only one who thinks this way!
    I read some articles on renting that go with this idea that renting might be better than owning. I posted them on my blog recently. (And seriously, with a mortgage you don't own your house, the bank does! SERIOUSLY!)

  37. Mr. Bear is in the military, so renting is the most logical option for us since we don't anticipate being anywhere for more than a few years at a time. We're about to move into a new rental house with 5 bedrooms, a garage, and a huge yard where I can garden, and we can have our rabbit and dog. It's pretty much perfect and it's only about $1100/month. It's also within walking distance to a bunch of awesome neighborhood bistros, including a new gourmet pizza place/brewery, an herbal apothecary and health food store, a farmers market, and little corner shop where in the summers people camp out with blankets in the parking lot and watch movies projected on the side of the building. Talk about a dream, I feel like I'm in heaven!
    Our new landlord is awesome, too. He's retired military, has the same birthday as my mister, builds computers like my mister, is a magician(!), and knows people I know from my ren faire days. He's pretty much made of win.

  38. Buying Bargain homes, look hard they are there, all kind of homes and owner financing from little down to no down and pay a little extra each month towards the down payment, you just have to keep at it and above all ask if something can be worked out. all the seller can do is say no. some will say yes. I own several houses, some (one ) I got with no down, some (3) with very little down, fixed them up myself and they went way up in value. made me more money than anything else. just get started looking and asking. make sure the house is solid.

  39. you nailed it. This is what I have spent at least the last decade "explaining" to my extended family. I just wanted to reinforce your sentiments. My boyfriend of 12 years and I enjoy the freedom of renting. It works for us, and in its own way, it's green—we're not using up resources to build another albatross of an indulgent "family dream" home. We're cohabitating in the home of a couple that needed to move to accomodate their growing family.

    I like and NEED change of scenery every now and then, as you said. I would have to buy and sell homes every 5-7 years to be truly happy.

    thanks for this article!

  40. I had this conversation with my husband a few days ago. Its just not really a goal of mine to own a house. Renting one sometime would be great just so I can have a yard for the kids to run around. I just don't want to deal with the home repairs and all the money that has to be invested. Im uncomfortable about laying down that much money on anything.

    I think there are alot of pluses living here, I like the landlady and theres a security guard whose on call. They will evict anyone caught doing something illegal within 24hours. Its quiet and all of the staff live here, even the property owner. If the neighbors are too loud I have someone to complain to who'll actually be able to deal with it.

  41. We bought when renting in our area was no longer cheaper. We pay $300 less a month for a four bedroom house, than we did for a 3 bedroom town home, with no yard for our dog, and not enough room for a dining table. We also had a series of landlords with issues, and lying property managers, do we're happy to be somewhere that we can make our own without permission and can't be kicked of.

  42. Thank you for this article! It's similar to the whole thing of choosing not to have children: we're relatively comfortable with that decision, and with renting, at least for now, but the overwhelming societal message is that we're making a mistake.

  43. I love this article!

    I am so sick and tired of people all up in my shit because I love to rent nice apartments.

    "Kay.. I say. like Malcom McDowell would call from that Sprint commercial.

    I'm afraid of getting the neighbors from hell or becoming house poor. No one in Austin keeps up on their houses. There are a ton of cracked foundations.

    Maybe one day we will consider but for now where my life is. I am chilling in my awesomely fab apartment.

  44. Wow..that downtown sure sounds like my city…saskatoon?? And you watch dr who AND play wow? We should be friends!! Haha

    Anyways..great article. I am also not AGAINST buying eventually..when I know where I want to live for a good chunk of time (it's sure not here..) but I am so so SO tired of the many people – friends included – who seem to act like my life isnt "together" until I buy a house.. my reasons are my own! But glad to know im not alone!

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