The Death of Spanish Property
News Article Date: Friday 04th of May 2007
Did I grab your attention with that headline? Probably. That means I really should work for one of our famous British newspapers as it seems they are very good these days at instilling fear into Spanish property buyers, owners and investors.
You may have found it hard to miss all the negative press that the Spanish property market received last week in the British media. There were reports in the Telegraph, the FT and even The Sun joined in to cast a shadow over sunny Spain.
If you missed any of it then I’ll just summarise it here for you. It was started when Valencia builder Astroc’s shares on the Spanish stock market fell by an alarming 62% after the regional junta changed planning laws. Other property groups and developers then also started seeing drops in their share prices and the markets went into panic mode. Was this the start of a Spanish property market crash? Well, some newspapers would actually have you believe that.
The fact is that the two are actually unrelated. Developers and property companies losing market value does not represent a market crash. As the Spanish government have suggested, what we are seeing is purely an “adjustment”. I have to agree. Why were Astroc’s shares so high to begin with? They are probably at a much more realistic figure now.
So, has all this “doom and gloom” publicity brought on by the movements in the Spanish stock exchange and the media, signalled the death of the Spanish property market as we know it?
Instead of pushing my own opinion down your throats I felt it would be a good idea to get opinions from experts involved in the Spanish property market to comment on the goings on of the past week. Here are some of their comments:
Mike Knivett – Sunseeker Homes (www.sunseekerhomes.com):
In my opinion the comments are quite valid depending on whereabouts in Spain you are talking about, as we have seen over the last two years the market in the Costa del Sol and Northern Costa Blanca where prices had reached extremely high levels has slowed very dramatically and the focus of buyers has shifted to areas such as the Costa Calida, Costa de la Luz and Almeria.
These largely unknown areas a few years ago are now seeing much more activity as prices are significantly lower and you get far more property for your money.
As an example an apartment frontline golf in Murcia may cost 137,000 euros whereas in Marbella could be 350-400,000 for a similar property.
I have just reserved a property in the Costa Calida myself and am totally happy that I am getting value for money, especially as I want to use the property myself over the coming years.
In the UK we had similar predictions of doom and gloom and certainly in the south east of England the market has slowed as prices reached very high levels but in other areas such as the North West and Scotland the housing market is still racing ahead as the properties started from a much lower price level.
The thing to remember is that you have to seek out good properties in the best locations and at early release prices if you are buying off plan and do your homework before signing on the dotted line.
Campbell Ferguson – Survey Spain (www.surveyspain.com):
‘In the mid-1990’s, Spain’s property market was ‘Oh so slowly’ recovering from the worldwide recession, with the Costa’s having been very hard hit as the market had depended upon 2nd home purchases. However, the inherent natural assets were still there – sun, natural beauty, lifestyle and being the closest in a direct line south to most of colder Northern Europe and the inland mountain towns of Spain. The next decade, as world economies recovered, saw an exceptional list of circumstances boost the Costa’s property market to great heights –
Cheap scheduled flights permitting ‘commuting’ from ‘home’ to ‘holiday’ location; o Computers, the internet and mobile phones enabling business management and other office work to be carried out from any location without loss of efficiency
Exceptional culture changes in Northern European countries encouraging emigration from them. Due to the above two points, permanent living on the Costas became possible whilst being able to still keep in touch with ‘home’ based family, business and social contacts.
Increasing prosperity creating substantial amounts of wealth ‘surplus’ to normal living requirements and available to be invested in property.
Poor performance of stock markets, pension funds, etc. resulting in loss of confidence in them as a place to save, with investment in property being a common alternative chosen.
A low value base providing examples of exceptional capital growth, with that then being projected on straight-line graphs to encourage substantial speculative short-term investment.
All the same to a greater or lesser extent as the External Demand. o Spanish banks offering mortgages for the first time on increasingly easy terms with regard to length, loan-to-value and loan–to-income.
Very low interest rates reducing the monthly payments.
Substantial equity being available in Spain in existing property due to few prior mortgages and a tradition of home ownership.
Cultural changes encouraging women to work and thus two incomes being available. Also ‘relaxation’ of traditional moral censure on unmarried couples living together and women living on their own.
Releasing of pent-up demand due to younger generations being able to leave the parental home and own a house.
Huge amounts of EU investment in modernising Spain.
Substantially improved internal road, rail and flight infrastructure enabling Spaniards to realistically have a weekend property on the coast.
The coming of the Euro and increasingly strong fiscal and money-laundering pressures ‘encouraging’ the legitimisation of substantial undeclared wealth through property development and ownership.
The Spanish bank’s having substantial ownership and/or control of development and construction companies, estate agencies and valuation companies, thus enabling them to ‘seamlessly’ transfer lending for the initial land purchase and construction on to the wider risk of the debtor base of mortgages to individual house buyers.
The ‘weight’ of money and resultant pressures on bank employees to lend it out, creating circumstances where pressure on tasadores to over-value ensures the loans go through, but creating immediate negative equity for the borrower. However, the bank is secure as they effectively have security over all the borrower’s assets and if these should fail it will be seen to be the tasador’s fault for over-valuing.
The borrower’s confidence that property prices will rise to redress any imbalance.
The construction sector being so dominant in the jobs market that there is no alternative for many employees. Thus they have to keep the development ‘bandwagon’ rolling to the next and the next developments, even if they ‘know’ that it doesn’t make financial sense as there aren’t buyers out there and the appraisals are overly optimistic.
Over the last two years, there has been an increasing awareness of the flaws in many of the above parameters and the weight of buying money has slowed back down to only those who want to own and occupy a property. That demand has been the steady core that will always be present. However, it’s not nearly enough to take up all the properties currently available and under construction. Thus, in order to make their property comparatively attractive, sellers have to reduce their price below that of the others that are also being sold on the urbanisation by other failed speculators!
So the market value falls and, once the financiers react to the lower values in their appraisals, the new developments will stop. Those owners and developers unable to sell and without capital to support holding the property for a longer term will ‘collapse’, with more property being offered at ‘forced-sale’ prices, which again will reduce the market value and so the spiral down will continue until all the property is bought by long-term owner/occupiers or ‘recovery’ investors. Those properties that are exceptional due to the popularity of location and/or attractiveness of specification will always be the least affected as their attraction to purchasers does not depend only on price.
In the long-term, property on the Costas will prove to be a steady investment as the natural assets will always be here, but like all other markets it depends upon timing of buying and selling. If selling, now is a time to face up to the fact that you’ve missed the high point, with a need to price realistically and sell quickly if you can. For the buyer, it’s a good time to be cash rich, enabling strong negotiation and purchase at below ‘market value’. However, remember that you are making the market and tomorrow the value will be the price that you paid!
Juliet McCann – Evergreen Homes and Investments S.L. (www.evergreenspain.com)
I have my own real estate company here on the Costa del Sol and having been here for many years now, I've seen some changes in the property market during that time. Going even further back though, I remember when my parents bought their first property here on the Costa del Sol back in 1974. How different things were then....they paid less than £10,000 for an apartment on the frontline of the beach and subsequently sold it some years later for 3 times as much. In those days of course, not so many people were prepared to 'take the plunge' and invest in a Spanish holiday home. Perhaps they thought it a little too risky. Some would say that it is only the shrewd ones who bought back then who are the ones to have made any real money from Spanish property and that the market is 'dead' here now.
I would disagree. I've heard that said time and time again about Spain and the Costa del Sol in particular. Yes, there has been recent negative publicity about the Spanish property market and how it is all about to 'crash'. This type of bad press and scaremongering has been going on for years and yet we are all still here and the people in pursuit of their new life in the sun are still coming to the Costa del Sol. Spain continues to be one of the preferred choices with those seeking to relocate or simply to own a sunny holiday retreat, not too far away from home and that will never change.
The property market here on the Costa del Sol has been extremely buoyant over the years and before there was a massive demand for off plan properties which were being snapped up for investment with the view to them being resold before completion. Many investors were buying vast numbers of units in the same development and were then left with properties that they were unable to sell. This has driven the prices up and many of the developers have become greedy and have therefore now priced themselves out of the market. The mass buying hysteria of recent years could only last for so long and eventually the market has to stabilise and that time is now. There are still some very keenly priced resale properties available. In addition to this, there are developers here who continue to offer off plan properties which represent really good value for money.
I'm pleased to say that some of the other developers have now realised that their prices need to be 'adjusted' in line with demand and the true market value and this is good news all round. Primarily there are two types of property buyers, your 'investors' and your 'lifestyle' buyers. Spain has always, and continues to, attract a steady stream of 'lifestyle' buyers because of what it has to offer. Apart from the fantastic all year round climate, it is just simply a great place to live! The local amenities and infrastructure are excellent and these are constantly improving in line with the EU regulations.
My business has always been about finding good value properties for my clients. By this I mean properties that are genuine bargains, where the owner is selling at a vastly reduced price and in many cases the banks are prepared to offer up to 100% finance on them. This is very different to over inflated prices which are then 'reduced to sell'. These are not a true reflection of the current property market at all. It is true to say that there is an oversupply of properties in some areas and there are bargains to be had. Everyone likes a bargain and this alone will always attract new buyers!
Chris McCarthy - Viva Estates (www.vivaestates.com)
The following comments were part of a press release submitted on 30 April 2007 by Chris McCarthy of Viva Estates....
Why a press release?
On 24 April 2007 a long expected correction took place in the Spanish stock market, where significant falls were recorded as the value of shares in many leading construction and property groups depreciated.
Within hours, Chris McCarthy personally and VIVA Estates generally were inundated with requests to comment on the market, from a wide variety of media from the Financial Times, BBC Radio 4 and other national and local press, to the web forum and online community, such as the highly regarded Eye on Spain website.
So diverse were the questions posed that the Company decided to present an issue by issue response, to help quantify and clarify the real story behind the headlines circling the world.
The main issues and topics covered herein are:
o Did the Spanish property boom end last week?
o Is the glass now half empty and getting emptier?
o Is the Costa del Sol overbuilt and oversupplied with property?
o Is property overpriced?
o Has it become a buyers’ market?
o Are there huge numbers of distressed vendor sales?
o Is it safe to buy in Southern Spain?
o When is the right time to buy? Are prices going to crash?
o What is the future of the Costa del Sol?
The response from VIVA Estates is presented by Managing Director Chris McCarthy.
Personal statement by Chris McCarthy
Who am I to comment?
For almost 20 years I have lived on the Costa del Sol, working exclusively in the property market. Ten years ago, in 1997, I outlined a business concept for, and founded VIVA Estates. Since then we have sold over 8,000 properties and have become by far the largest listing and multi-branch agent in Southern Spain, serving both pan-European and local clients.
During that time I have witnessed an impressive and total transformation of the Costa del Sol, a metamorphosis which has been gaining momentum since the early days of package holidays to Torremolinos back in the 60s.
I can state unequivocally that the Costa del Sol is a completely unique environment both in Europe, and in Spain itself, not simply with regard to property ownership but more importantly its long-term development of infrastructure and investment which has genuinely made the region the California of Europe.
It would be simplistic in the extreme to view the real estate market here in the context of one day’s activity on the stock market, or across one or two years’ rise or fall in overall property sales.
There is a much bigger picture than that, and I would hope I speak not only for VIVA Estates, but for the much wider community of people who, like me, are successfully, happily and permanently working and living life to the full in Southern Spain.
Response statements to the most commonly raised issues
Did the Spanish property boom end last week?
No. Not on the Costa del Sol. The most recent boom actually ended late in the first quarter of 2004, and it is a complete - yet perhaps understandable - misunderstanding on the part of the media to portray anything else.
Real estate sales activity on the Costa del Sol picked up rapidly in 1998 when, after several years of torpor, it began to race along on a wave of investment buying which built up and up to peak in 2003, when prices finally reached their upper limits and after intensive buying, market interest started naturally to decline.
What happened last week was a stock market fall - not a sudden collapse of property prices or interest in buying.
The media often relies on government statistics and official analysis, complemented by financial reporting and stock market performance. This data is not necessarily related to current activity, and is more likely to be a culmination of preceding years or a much wider Spanish economy perspective.
The actual reality of this fact therefore impacts on many of the other issues raised and offers the opportunity to look at the situation in a completely different light.
If the number of property sales and activity fell from three years ago…
Is the glass now half empty and getting emptier?
On the contrary it is half full and getting fuller. One should look at the mid- to long- term view. A classic example is Málaga Airport which, as the population on the Costa del Sol has exploded, has for years been straining at the seams to deal with 12 million arrivals and departures per annum.
It’s not so many years ago that previous redevelopment drastically improved visitor numbers and general access to the region, but now as anyone who has been through the airport in the past year can confirm, it is literally quadrupling in physical size, and with its new runway, from next year will be able to deal with in excess of 20 million arrivals and departures.
Can you name any other airport, neither serving a major city nor acting as an onward transit hub in Europe, that will handle this level of passengers? It is a staggering development and the project will shortly also be linked to a whole coastal railway system, much of it underground, that will allow people to travel quickly and efficiently from one end of the Coast to the other and right into the heart of the airport itself.
It is development on a grand scale and far exceeds that of any other European or Spanish holiday destination area. Together with the continuing expansion of road infrastructure - which in itself has been an astounding achievement these past ten years - and new high-speed rail links to Madrid and major Andalusian cities, it will utterly transform the whole area still further to become a highly developed cohesive region with a large city mentality surpassing any equivalent area in Europe.
The Costa del Sol is no longer simply a holiday destination, it is also a vibrant, developing residential area that tens of thousands of European and Spanish nationals aspire to live in and relocate to. Because it is completely unique, general issues relating to the overseas property market or to other areas of Spain do not apply.
Which brings us to the next, often misguided question…
Is the Costa del Sol overbuilt and oversupplied with property?
Absolutely not is the unequivocal, clear and definitive answer.
You can’t build an airport with 20 million arrivals and departures per annum, unless you have the capacity and scope to deal with that volume.
The build and development explosion that has taken place in the past ten years has been entirely appropriate and, I would venture to say, well planned and thought through from a mid-to long-term perspective.
From an aerial view of vast tracts of the coastal area it can easily be seen that many urbanisations extend no more than a kilometre or so inland, and from there the region is undeveloped all the way to Seville, a two-hour drive away.
We are talking about an immense and largely uninhabited area, for which there is more than sufficient land to house long-term development for another 40 years or so.
This is not the Costa Blanca where - unlike the stylish and appealing developments on the Costa del Sol with an average of 150 units in any one urbanisation - literally 1,000s of units on vast projects, create huge areas of concrete comprising high density, poor quality, small-sized properties along mile after mile of featureless and arid landscape.
Neither is the Costa del Sol remotely similar to the almost third world backwater of Bulgaria that is only taking its first tentative, some would say spurious, steps towards a future still some 40 years off. I hear the skiing isn’t bad and holidays are cheap enough, but whether that’s enough to make anyone actually want to live there and commute back and forwards as so many happily and so easily do on the Costa del Sol is another matter. In fact, could it really be the place where the notion and frenzy of overseas property investment will have its Waterloo?
It is naive and ill-informed to talk about overbuild or oversupply of property on the Costa del Sol. On the contrary, one could argue that the mid - to long-term boom has yet to begin.
This begs the next ongoing issue…
Is property overpriced?
Property prices peaked on the Costa del Sol at the end of 2003, having soared in value due to several factors.
First; because in 1998 the market had been undervalued and had been quiet for several years following the negative equity crisis in the UK and due to the fact that there was little build activity in terms of new projects.
Secondly; with a resurgent British market, and the beginnings of considerable development activity on the Coast due to low land prices, property began to look very attractive indeed, most especially as developers sought to sell off-plan in their initial stages and clients saw that early purchase would allow a sell on before completion and an opportunity to make a substantial profit.
Thirdly; a proliferation of marketers then responded to a welter of positive TV coverage in Britain on the merits of owning property overseas, with their own exhibitions and substantial advertising campaigns across the UK.
The market took off, and for everyone involved - vendors, buyers, developers, lawyers, banks, estate agents, and countless associated suppliers - there was a long and sustained boom that mirrored a similar scenario in the UK.
Yet for the Costa del Sol, that boom finished at the end of 2003, due to higher land prices, construction and labour costs, together with increased marketing costs. This was inevitable. The market had risen for six long years. It couldn’t last forever.
We have now had three years where the market has stabilised. Government statistics may appear to show that prices have increased but in large part this is due to many developers selling on reservation in 2003 and completing on purchase up to 2006, when the transaction was recorded.
The truth is that the sheer volume of buyers has decreased externally by around 60%, which has not been a bad thing at all.
Developers have got on with completing their projects, many agents who sold solely on price point and investment have been off elsewhere pitching their whole off-plan, flip to win scenarios in Bulgaria et al, and quietly and happily thousands have been enjoying holidaying, living and working on the Costa del Sol.
A new dynamic has been progressing, and the future of the Costa del Sol is yet again about to transform itself still further, but not for those with their heads buried in the sand.
Prices rose to dizzying heights in 2003, but what people fail to understand is that developers then pulled back from those heights, and quietly engaged in price reductions of phases, discounting units on completion, and gradually stepping back from the brink.
Vendors reselling their properties over the past three years have recognised that they would not be able to achieve the three or four times value that they could have expected if they had purchased before 1998, and were happy to sell on at a level below that of the new builds for a reasonable and sensible price, knowing that buyers would be receiving real value.
If the market was overpriced, we would not be able to sell property. Yet we continue to do so, and now with higher recorded sales levels and appointment activity than in the past two years. We are actually seeing a resurgent and new market appearing, and for very good reasons…
Has it become a buyers’ market?
Yes it has.
There are any number of projects still in construction on the Costa del Sol, which have had to become price competitive and react to the market they are in; while developers are building a higher quality and standard of product that is available to buy on, or near, completion.
Purchasers can see, understand and use what they are buying. They simply won’t buy, nor need to, unless it is the right property at the right price.
Finance packages, and many other creative or supportive purchase elements are all the more readily available and are shown to be affordable. There is a real excitement now about what is on offer.
As developers have levelled out their expectations, and far fewer cranes and build projects are visible on the Coast, then, too, the resale vendor has to appreciate that he must also compete in the market. If he or she truly wants to sell, then they must offer great value, too.
Are there huge numbers of distressed vendor sales?
No there are not.
We can see this most clearly in the fact that over the past seven years, and despite huge sales volume, we have seen no appreciable change either in interest or in the number of vendors wishing to resell their properties with our own company, VIVA Estates.
There is no panic selling, it just does not exist. In the early to mid 1990s there were distressed sales - through auctions, repossessions and the like - but that has simply not returned and nor is it likely to.
Well, interest rates have remained low, and while they will inevitably increase over time, they have not made the original decision to purchase unaffordable or too heavy a burden on the owner.
Those who have bought on the Costa del Sol gain massive use and personal lifestyle fulfilment and benefit hugely from their purchase. The extent to which people love the Coast, and love living or having a home here, is perhaps not completely understood or accepted by those who do not.
All the reasons why people bought here – beyond a simple investment – are being improved upon year in and year out, not only as we said before the overall infrastructure, airport expansion and the like, but in the local development of hospitals, schools, shopping centres, amenities and all the facilities that have again utterly changed the face of the Coast in recent years.
Remember, you can fly here from the UK in a little over two hours, and we have around 320 days of sunshine each year. Yet you can watch the same TV programmes as you would back home, work on your PC or lap top and be reached on your mobile ´phone in just the same way as if you were in your UK office.
People do not want to sell.
They want to own a property here, and they want to literally sit on their investment. Relaxing on their terrace, looking out over the sea, golf course or the stunning countryside, and savouring a glass of vino tinto, not only are they appreciating their investment, but their lifestyle experience, too. Could they say the same about the stock market, pensions or some far-flung, undeveloped overseas alternative?
They are neither distressed nor desperate, they are enjoying themselves.
When they do want to sell, for whatever reason, they recognise that it is a buyers’ market, and that they should price their homes accordingly.
And now that’s precisely what they do.
Is it safe to buy in Southern Spain?
In the past two years, both the regional Junta de Andalucía and the national government in Madrid have launched a massive crackdown and campaign against corruption, planning irregularities, money laundering and tax evasion.
Special prosecutors have been appointed, town halls have been turned upside down and taken over, and all manner of public officials, businessmen, developers, lawyers, notaries and others have either been arrested or called to account for their affairs or actions.
It has become a fascinating soap opera of events, with blanket coverage on national television as well as filling the pages of the international press as each wave or operation is launched and fresh activity undertaken.
What does it all mean to the local resident, the potential buyer?
Quite simply it means that Spain is demonstrating in considerable measure its status as a mature, stable and wholly democratic country, with all the attendant care and concern for the rule of law and therefore the protection of the individual’s civil and personal rights.
In truth, it has been a fantastic time for the future of Southern Spain.
The country is still a relatively new democracy - many people forget that it only became so less than 30 years ago, and that since 1992 Spain has been rapidly developing as a full and increasingly equal partner with the major economies of the UK, Germany and France.
Now, the full weight of that democracy and care for its future has been applied. Planning abuses are being tackled, banks are becoming far stricter in their secured lending, and lawyers have to be rigid in their professional practice to ensure that clients’ rights are fully protected in purchasing a completely legal and fully registered property.
The various scandals and reports of corruption have given all involved in property and construction a cold shower, and the dénouement is simply; that Southern Spain is now one of the safest and most secure places in Europe in which to buy.
In fact, what has occurred in the past few years may well be viewed as the real making of the Costa del Sol, bringing about a level of confidence and security which frankly would be hard to equal anywhere beyond the major European states.
What price the current opportunity for corruption and malpractice in all manner of other overseas markets? What redress and effort will be put into challenging those areas to change? How well will Southern Spain come out of this by future comparison?
When is the right time to buy? Are prices going to crash?
In our honest opinion, the right time to buy is when the purchase is affordable, makes good sense to you and your family, when the property is the best available in its price range, works for you as an investment, is something that you know you will able to live in (or rent out), sell on, and which fulfils your financial, lifestyle and future aspirations.
The time to buy is now, if your inclination to purchase is matched by the above criteria. If it is not, then simply do not buy, but what is available today, may not be there tomorrow. Nor can you automatically expect it to be at the same price, and most importantly the real value of time itself, and the benefits of ownership and usage, will have certainly passed irrevocably by.
Property prices are not going to crash, they have already fallen in real terms over the past three years. We know this from our own detailed accounts which have been fully audited by KPMG these past six years.
We are at the frontline of what happens in the property market, we deal with the buying and selling of homes day in and day out, we are months, even years ahead of any government or other statistical analysis, which is drawn ultimately and belatedly from our own revenues and performance.
Is the average value of a UK home going to fall 30% from £200,000 to £140,000? No, it is not, and the same can equally be said for our own area. We have again an increased demand, we do not have an oversupply, we have a clear and dynamic future, and we do not have clients in desperate need to sell.
What we have, which was the purpose of this press release to rationalise, is a media which quite naturally wants to feed on the headline-grabbing notion of an end to the property boom, and which is beguiled by the drama of a stunning property collapse.
Well, we have already said our boom ended three years ago. We do not have a collapse in prices and we do have a great future, but this does not mean that the market did not downturn or that people are not being practical and cautious.
However, that in itself presents a great opportunity for those who are buying property here today. There is a time to be smart and ahead of the field, or not to go where others are following the pack.
Warren Buffett, the world’s richest man for many years, and acclaimed as the greatest investment guru and practitioner ever known, had it right when he said, “Most people are interested in stock when everyone else is. The time to get interested is when no one else is. You can’t buy what is popular and do well.”
Then, too, Mr Buffett had some other perspectives on our position, when responding to a supposed doomed market situation he said his philosophy was that “We simply attempt to be fearful when others are greedy and to be greedy when others are fearful..
And not to belabour the point, but perhaps to round off our view on when is a good time to buy, if we take the liberty to paraphrase Mr Buffett by substituting the word ‘company’ for ‘location’ to match our purpose, “It is far better to buy a wonderful location at a fair price, than a fair location at a wonderful price.”
The last ‘best time to buy’ on the Costa del Sol was probably between 1995 and 1998 prior the last boom. Perhaps logically, it will be the case that those buying today, will in time to come, be judged to have been the smartest of all buyers.
Especially when you consider the future that lies ahead.
What is the future of the Costa del Sol?
Golden, it’s as simple as that.
It will have its ups and downs, which is only natural and cyclical. Yet for all of the above and so much more that could be said, the Coast could easily be described as being at the culmination of decades of preparation, and therefore now in a state of readiness for an explosion of growth and continued development as the ‘California of Europe’ that it already represents for thousands.
Its progression has been ever upward and onward, and mid- to long-term that is quite frankly unstoppable by any stock market correction or a momentary lull in the property market.
Ask the people who are successfully, happily and permanently working and living life here to the full, and you will find a consistent and resounding answer that they just do not wish to be anywhere else.
Thank you to all those that have taken the time to provide comments for this article
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