How to negotiate

How to negotiate real estate: Tips for every scenario

Learning how to negotiate while buying and selling real estate is a tricky business. The process can be full of traps that you can’t be expected to know about as most people only enter the market every 5-7 years. If you only rode a bike, drove a car or swung a golf club every 7 years you would be pretty rusty at that too.

My goal is to save you some heartache and potentially save you some money by shortening your learning curve. This way you can avoid the mistakes I have seen so many people make over the years (myself included).

For most people, their personal home will be the most valuable asset they ever own.

Most Kiwis have 90 – 100% of their personal net worth tied up in real estate. Buying the right home at the right price can change your life for the better, and when it comes to selling – you only get one chance to do it right and maximise your equity.

Most of us will buy and sell 4 -5 times in our lifetimes and most people will go about it the wrong way, losing money in the process. But not you, you are going to be one of the smart ones 🙂

The key piece of information that will totally change how you negotiate is:

Are you the only offer?

Or are you in competition with other buyers?

You should tackle these 2 situations very differently. This article covers how to negotiate in both scenarios.

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Selling rather than buying? Click here to read negotiation tips for sellers.
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How to negotiate part 1: You are the only offer, congratulations!

If you have recently made an offer on a home in a hot market, you might be asking, “One offer, seriously? That actually happens?”. It does and it could happen to you so be ready to make the most of this fortuitous situation with these tips:

TIP: Negotiate the price but don’t be a dick about it.

Don’t come in $80k below what you think the property is worth. It is very tempting to get greedy at the moment of truth when you are about to make an offer and try to ‘steal’ the property. Owners are clued up these days and they have looked at what other houses in their area have sold for. All you do by coming in low is piss people off.

My suggestion would be you offer $20 – 45k below the max figure you would pay for the home, showing that you are serious but leaving some room to move. If you feel you would be wasting your time with the offer you have in mind then you could tell the salesperson verbally what you think the property is worth. This sort of feedback can really help owners become more realistic over time.

Not sure what the property is worth? Then you aren’t ready to offer yet. You need to do more research. Look at other properties in the area, drive past recent sales. Learn your market before you jump in! Here are 6 tips to help you decide on a price.

TIP: Use un-even numbers and cross-outs.

If you have read my blog for a while you will be familiar with this suggestion but it works so well it’s worth repeating. Whatever number you settle on, make sure it’s an uneven number. Instead of offering $400k, offer $401,350. In addition, write a few lower numbers down and cross them out too, so it looks like this:

$390,000    $400,000    $401,350

Un-even numbers look more considered, as though you are putting every last cent into your offer. The cross-outs make it look like you have already negotiated with yourself and you are at the top of your range (which most people usually are). When I recommend this sort of thing buyers usually look at me very strangely but I assure you owners love this stuff and it seriously helps.

TIP: Fill in the contract yourself. 

I suggest you fill in the contract yourself and deliver it to the real estate office at an unexpected time for 2 reasons:

1. Keep the salesperson on their toes.

If you announce you are going to offer at 5 pm tomorrow night, guess what the agent is going to spend the next 24 hours doing? Yes, that’s right, trying to rustle up other offers! If you deliver it un-announced then the agent is obliged to act quickly on it. They may still want to call a deadline (to check for other interest) but at least you didn’t give them a major head start by announcing your intentions before you needed to.

2. Don’t subject yourself to high-pressure sales tactics.

Save yourself the drama of an awkward late night home visit from that overbearing salesperson who doesn’t take off their shoes. Fill the contract in yourself with your solicitor. Seriously, in what other industry does the salesperson come round to your house at 9 pm at night? I know many salespeople who have negotiated contracts well past midnight!

It’s really not that hard to fill in the contract yourself (or with your solicitor) and you should be getting their advice before you submit your offer anyway. When I started working in real estate (in 2007) we used to drive all over town picking up offers but now that is extremely rare.

Most buyers email their signed offer, or sometimes they visit the salesperson at their office for a 10-15 minute strategy meeting to go over the contract, before taking the agreement away to sign and return at a later date.

Read: 5 things you should not say to an agent

TIP: Don’t let pride get in the way of securing your dream home.

One of the most dangerous emotions, when you are buying, is good old fashioned pride. As Kiwi’s we love to put our foot down and say “NO! I will not pay more than $X! They can take their house and shove it if they think I am going to move anymore!” 

This happens at some point in nearly every negotiation. We all chase some mythical middle ground that never really existed in the first place “I’ve moved 30k and they’ve only moved $10k! I’m not going another cent until they come down! They should meet me in the middle!”

If you come in $100k lower than what the owner wants, should they automatically have to move $50k so you can ‘meet in the middle’? Would that make you a good negotiator? It simply doesn’t work like that. Winning at negotiating should be defined as getting the house you want at a reasonable price. Not finding some owner you can brow-beat into ‘meeting you in the middle’.

I strongly urge you to remember that the owners’ sense of pride will be just as strong as yours and rather than playing the ‘let’s see who cracks first’ game, why don’t you instead try to find some way to give them a small win to keep things moving. Thereby getting you closer to moving into your new home. Keep your eyes on the prize.

For example: Let’s say you are $20k apart and negotiations have stalled. Both you and the seller are sticking your heads in the sand and refusing to move. Rather than waiting for days for someone to come to their senses (and risk another buyer swooping in) try the following:

Move a small amount.

What is $1,00 or $2,000 in the scheme of things? You are buying a house here, the biggest purchase of your lives so far. Don’t nickel & dime your way into continued homelessness.

Always try to keep a negotiation moving. No matter how small the change. You are not wasting your time moving a small amount (even if the gap is $10 – 20k). It all helps more than you could possibly imagine. Owners are like potential dating partners – they want to know you’ve had to work hard to seal the deal.

Offer something else instead of more money.

If you are absolutely stretched and can’t find another cent then give the owners another small win. Offer them whatever settlement date they need. I have had properties settle in 3 days before (sometimes 6 months too). Solicitors don’t like it but it is possible. 4-6 weeks has historically been the norm but every owner is different and negotiating a settlement date that suits them could help you win them over if your price isn’t up to their expectations.

Another option is to shorten your conditions (eg. change them from 10 working days to 5 working days or 5 working days to 3). It doesn’t really matter what you do, just change something. Most owners just need to feel like they have negotiated before they sign their life away. Saying no to movement of any sort is a sure fire way to slow things down which could put your whole purchase at risk.

I have personally missed out on 2 properties which I would have secured for an extra $1 or 2k if pride hadn’t gotten in the way. In both circumstances, another buyer came in soon after and paid significantly more than me to secure the home. So I am speaking from experience here. Don’t make the same mistakes I did.

Should you be using a mortgage broker?

How to negotiate part 2: When you are in competition.

Firstly, how do you know you are in competition? Are agents full of B.S when they tell you there is another offer? In my experience no, they are not. I’m sure it has happened in the past – where agents fabricated the idea of another offer to get the buyer to up their price, but in this day and age, it seems to be extremely rare.

Salespeople know that with strict REA guidelines in place, they risk losing their licence and destroying their reputation if they engage in any sort of misconduct.

If the agent is telling you there is another buyer interested, then here are the questions I would ask that salesperson to accurately gauge the situation:

Has the other buyer provided you with a signed offer yet?
If the other offer isn’t signed then their interest doesn’t mean jack.

How many times have they looked at the property?
Eg. Did the agent just take them through earlier this afternoon and they seemed a bit keen? As Kiwi’s we are terrible at being honest and we hate offending people. We walk through every home we visit saying “Oh this is nice” knowing full well we have no interest whatsoever. We suck at being honest about houses (myself included).

Have these other buyers offered on the property before?
If they offered more than 2 weeks ago and got rejected then you shouldn’t be overly concerned. But take it as a promising sign that someone else also wanted to buy the same house.

What sort of deadline do you intend to set now that you have my signed offer?
Once you give the salesperson your offer they will usually set a deadline for other offers to come in by (if they have interest from other buyers). Every office is different but in my humble opinion if the property has been on the market for a few weeks then 24 hours is a reasonable deadline for any other offers to come in, except for in these 2 circumstances:

1. If you make your offer on a Friday…
As an agent, I didn’t work Saturdays (family day) and Sundays were usually ridiculously busy with open homes. I often had to tell clients not to expect anything to happen until Monday. Other agents might be different though. Also, owners who have open homes scheduled for the Sunday will often want to see how the viewing goes before deciding on your offer. Better to make your offer on a Wednesday or Thursday and request a deadline of Friday afternoon at the latest.

2. If the property has only just gone on the market…
Most owners will want to have at least 1 open home before reviewing any offers and some companies have a ‘7-day rule’ where a property has to be on the market for a week before being sold so bear in mind you could be waiting a few days.

If the agent is pushing for a longer deadline in any other situation it is worth pushing back and strongly encouraging them to present your offer asap, as long as it’s a reasonable one and you are not trying to buy it for $100k less than what it’s worth.

Note: Auctions & Tenders work to a fixed deadline, although Auctions will sometimes be brought forward if an acceptable offer is received prior to the advertised Auction day.

How to decide on your price? Put your best foot forward.

If there is more than 1 offer then, unfortunately, your chance to negotiate has gone. If there are multiple offers being presented at the same time there are usually 4 possible outcomes:

1. The owner rejects all offers. You can then decide if you want to give it another go at a higher price.

2. The owner accepts one of the offers.

3. The owner negotiates with one of the offers

4. The owner goes back to a select few (say the top 2 or 3) if they are very close.

If you really want the property then you are going to need to give it your best shot to stand a chance of achieving outcomes 2, 3 or 4.

Read: The 5 Step Home Valuation Method

When you sit down to decide your price the question you need to ask yourself is:

“If someone paid $10k more than us and we missed out, would we be really upset?”

If you could take it or leave it then just stay where you are and see what happens. However, if you really like the home and can picture your future offspring playing on the front lawn then maybe it’s time to put your shoulders back and reconsider your price.

When you are offering on your first home every $5k seems like a huge amount of money (and it is) but if it’s the right home for you then it’s worth remembering you are talking about less than 1% of the overall value of the property.

$5,000 = 0.7% of the value of a $700k home.

Many years ago, I bought my first home in Johnsonville for $416k. If you asked me now, would I care if I had paid $420k for it? or $410k, or $415? The answer is absolutely not. If it’s the house you like then get into it. The interest rate you pay on your mortgage will have a much bigger effect on your weekly repayments than an extra few thousand dollars on the purchase price.

As mentioned above, go in with an uneven number (eg. $416,750). I have seen countless people miss out on houses they loved by only a few hundred dollars.

Read: 6 tips to help you decide what price to offer

If the owner negotiates with just your offer…

Congratulations! You are super close to owning your own home and you are back to scenario 1 above. At this stage try above all else to keep things moving. Don’t be a stick in the mud or you run the risk that the owners might change their mind and go back to one of the other offers instead.

Make whatever move you can, even if only a small amount to keep them onside.

If the owner goes back to the top 2 or 3 offers…

This can happen quite a lot. It’s common to see 2 or 3 offers that are extremely close (within $5 – 10k of each other). The owner will sometimes ask salespeople to go back to multiple buyers to see if there is anything they can do to improve their offer. Essentially giving you one last chance to put your nose in front. For your info, most people don’t move a huge amount in this situation, the average buyer would up their offer anywhere between $1 – 10k in my experience and sometimes won’t move at all.

It is likely a mistake to stay put and go back with the same offer as usually 1 of the interested parties will move, putting that buyer into pole position with the owner. If you can move, you should. Even if it’s only a small amount. Adding as little as $500 or $1,00 could make all the difference.

If you are absolutely stretched on price then don’t forget you can also adjust your settlement date. Or the length of your conditions. Look for anything you can do to make your offer stand out.

How to make unconditional offers

Keep these tips in mind and you will be well ahead of the curve when it comes time to negotiate your next property purchase.

Still have questions?

Would you like advice that is specific to your situation? Book a one-on-one consultation for $89.

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48 comments
  1. What a unique topic you have chosen, great work really liked the content on negotiation I had put my house for sale but I dint for what purpose the house is not getting sold maybe I should implement the odd number pricing maybe that can help. Thank you.

  2. Hi Geoff
    We are interested in a property that has just been taken off the market which we thought was because of a lack of interest. We viewed the property and then I mentioned to the agent that we were very interested and would probably put in an offer, but just needed another look when there were no tenants. Showed up for the appointment, tenants were there, very angry as they had not been informed, then we were told by the agent that the vendor is likely going to sell the property to a family member so we needed to make a high offer for it to be even considered. Then later the agent suggested we still offer whatever we could. Is it possible that the owner is playing a game to push our price up?

  3. How can one be certain that an agent has presented a written S & P contract. I have a situation where I explained the offer that I was planning to make (a cash offer) and the agent said they were happy to present it but the day after presenting it I got an email to say the vendor would neither accept it or make a counter offer. Given it has been on he market for over a year and I am a cash buyer this seems extraordinary to me. I am, therefore, unable to determine what price the vendor will consider opening a dialogue as the agent seems unable or unwilling to answer that question. Is there a method by which I can be assured that my offer has been presented as is required by NZ law?
    Thanks
    Geoff

    1. Hi Geoff, that sounds very frustrating. I find it such a strange approach when agents won’t provide any indication after you have done the good thing and made an offer. Even if the vendor thinks the offer is low (not sure if that is the case) then surely the decent thing to do would be to provide some kind of indication of where you need to be. Unfortunately, there is no way to confirm whether the vendor has sighted your offer, you need to rely on the agent to be telling you the truth. It is likely they have though. Surely the agent would have no reason not to present your offer? Hope you get some progress soon.

  4. Hi Andrew,
    Fantastic advice, and information. I will be following you further! Needing a bit of advice currently. I have put in an offer on a house on behalf of my son that lives overseas more than 24 hours ago, and was informed the vendor received the offer. I have been advised that it is now a multi offer because somebody else wants to put an offer in and I should be altering my price. I was under the impression that a multi offer had to be disclosed BEFORE an offer was presented? Can you help Please?

    1. Hi Liz, thanks for getting in touch. Their approach sounds reasonable. Once they received your offer they probably phoned around to see if any other interested buyers would make one as well. This is standard practice and 24 hours is a reasonable timeframe for that to happen. Take it as a positive that someone else wants the house as well but before adjusting your price – make sure you confirm with the agent that the other offer is signed!

  5. Why do we have all this to’ing and fro’ing with signed contracts? It seems less than sensible. In most negotiations, you discuss what it is that you both want and once terms are agreed then the contract is drawn up and signed. Elsewhere in the world offers are verbally presented to the seller and if and when they are happy only then is a contract drawn up.

  6. Hi.

    This is going to sound like a stupid question but when a house is advertised with an asking price does this generally mean that they are wanting more than this? Also what are the reasons that there would not be a builders report included when their is a LIM. This is the first property I have encountered that is not offering a builders report.

    Thanks for this.

  7. Hi Andrew,

    Thank you for your blog.

    I am a Kiwi having worked abroad for most of my life. As retirement is closing in I have been looking to buy property in NZ. Recently I put in a cash offer on a property at the advertised price. This is a property selling based on advertised price only, no other schemes attached. I can understand from a commercial point of view that the agent as now running with my offer to turn it into a multi-offer. (Yes, I did put a short deadline on my cash offer). Now here is my point of view on this scenario. For one if you advertise at X price and obtain X price cash then why would the vendor not just close ? For instance, if I advertise my car at $ 10 000 and I obtain that exact price what would the buyer say if I told him that I will now up my selling price ? Isn’t an advertised price ultimately legally binding ? What would you say if your supermarket ups the the sale price of its tomatoes when you show up at the cashier ?

    Conclusion, most anywhere else in the world people would not understand that the vendor would not sell at advertised price ? It would seem absurd.

    Cheers,

    Fred

    1. Hi Fred, thanks for visiting. It is common for the agent to call a ‘deadline’ where, upon receipt of your offer, they wait 24 hours or so before going to the owner, to allow any other interested parties to also put an offer on paper if they intend to. This process shouldn’t be a long one though (24 hours ideally, 48 hours max) and this process should only be put in place when there is serious interest from other parties. Certainly, if an offer is received at the advertised price, then the owner should be prepared to consider it and work with it, anything else would seem like bait advertising. I wish you the best of luck with your purchase!

  8. Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for your blog, I find it really helpful. My question is regarding deadline sales which seem to have taken over the northern Porirua market where we would like to buy.

    I have noticed a trend of houses listed as deadline sales only to pass deadline and then be by negotiation. Is it likely that no buyer offered what they were after or is this a method of testing the market to see if a really high offer is made?

    I find it immensely frustrating as a buyer to not have any numbers listed when trying to work out what we can afford. At the moment I am going off TM Property Insights and Homes but notice that many houses are initially listed at well above these estimates when first posted as deadline sales and auctions. With the current highly inflated market and interest rates predicted to rise, I do not want to financially cripple myself by playing these real estate games.

    We are in the fortunate position to not need housing until November this year, so we may withdraw all interest if the current trends continue and just wait for more listings come spring. This may give us a better idea of where things are headed financially.

    All advice and tips are very much appreciated.

    Kind regards
    Megan

    1. Oh and by my comment of the properties being listed higher than their estimates is based on what price bracket they turn up at when searching TM based on price.

    2. Hi Megan, thanks for visiting. I have close friends looking in that same market so I am watching it with interest too. Many owners try a deadline sale process at the start and then switch to a ‘by neg’ strategy. It usually means they didn’t receive any offers (the agent probably pitched it too high) or they receive offers which were lower than their expectations. The house is often absolutely fine so don’t rule these ones out by any means.

      Figuring out the TM search range is quite a smart way of working out their expectations. Good on you for using homes.co.nz too (I use that all the time). I think you are on the right track. Hang in there and stick to offering realistic prices. Don’t fall into the trap of offering too much through exasperation. There will be a whole lot more choice come August / September but don’t be shy to place offers in the meantime.

  9. If you are telling buyers to come in under my asking price to try and negotiate downwards, I won’t be using you as my agent! Paying you too much money for that sort of service…

    1. Hi Joe, If that is just a general statement then I totally agree with you. If you are implying that I am suggesting buyers take that action in my article then please read again as I that isn’t mentioned anywhere. Thanks for visiting.

  10. Hi Andrew

    Great article, thanks! This may seem like quite a naive question, but are house and land packages (offered by companies such as Mike Greer Homes, etc.), just as open to negotiation as ‘standard’ vendors i.e. is this factored into the listing price?

    Thanks.

  11. Hi Andrew,

    We place an informal offer on email to the owner, as this is a private sale. Instead of taking time to consider all offer, they accepted it straight away and have asked to be sent a sale and purchase agreement by end of the week.

    Based on this agreement we had gone to a solicitor and the agreement was sent. However, before it gets signed, the owner claimed to have received higher offer and asked if we could up his price.

    The new offer is 20k above our original offer and we’re leaning to say no. But we would have incurred the legal cost for nothing. We wonder if sellers can legally do that.

    From a cost perspective, at what point shall we involve a solicitor and how do we avoid situations like this? If we’re required to go to the lawyer everytime we place a formal sale and purchase agreement, then the legal cost would pile up before the final property is bought.

    Thanks for your help.

  12. Hi Andrew,

    I am seeking your expert knowledge

    There was a situation where an offer was made for my property and we counter signed and explicitly said the amount was much higher than the offer.

    An external agent who’s offer was presented basically said the 1st buyer from their buyer wasn’t able to increase their offer over a certain point. Then my agent, who is selling the property, came with an offer 2 days later and i signed it. The other agent is upset and stating that it should be a multi offer? I am unfamiliar with this term and in defence to my appointed agent, did reject the offer from the external agent days prior with the other agent. The external agent is coming back saying that we were under negotiations still? They placed an expiry clause on their offer which made the offer ended several days earlier! Does a verbal negotiation still mean that we are dealing after the expiry clause?

    I am confused!!!

    1. Hi Jubair, thanks for your comment. It is always up to you as the seller to accept or negotiate with any offer you please. Different real estate companies have different ways of handling multiple offer situations but essentially until you and the buyer both agree to all terms in the contract (and sign and initial all changes, and convey acceptance) then nothing is confirmed and you can change your mind and work with another buyer at any time. Often when a 2nd offer comes in, agents will suggest calling a new ‘deadline’ to give the first buyer the chance to review their position, knowing they are now in competition – following that deadline you can consider both offers on an equal footing. This is how most real estate agencies operate but there is no law that says you have to do this. There are risks to this ‘deadline’ approach too as one of the buyers may walk away or see another property while you are waiting. A good agent should always advise you to employ the strategy which will generate maximum competition while minimising the risk of losing any potential buyer. Congratulations on the sale!

  13. Hi Andrew
    I have bought and sold a few properties both through an agent and privately so is it really possible to, ” …Fill the contract in yourself … ” and deliver it to the agent in a surprise tactic?
    Past buying experiences have left me with the impression that For Sale and Purchase Agreements must be written out and presented using only the listing Agency’s Forms?
    Looking forward to your reply and thanks for posting all of your super advice and Tips

    Singa

    1. Hi Singa, thanks for reading. Many agents are now sending out ‘info packs’ to all property visitors which often include offer documents. These are pre-filled in with the property details and it is usually then just a matter of adding your desired conditions, terms (price, settlement etc), running it by your solicitor and then presenting it. Some buyers I worked with had filled in 5-10 tender forms by the time they ended up being successful so they got to know the paperwork pretty well 🙂

  14. Hi Andrew, I made an offer on a house and was accepted but due to builders report and a rude agent, we cancelled the agreement based on builders report. It has been a few days and now we are thinking of making another offer but at a reduced price and no conditions. Can we do that? Thank you

    1. Hi Anne, thanks for visiting. I would look at placing a backup offer on the property. That way if the other offer falls over, your one will kick in immediately. Find out how long the current offer has to confirm, if it’s more than 5 working days, is there an out clause? If not, why not? If you get a backup offer accepted then the owners cant give the current buyer an extension. Always talk to a solicitor first but dont give up just because its under contract. Good luck!

  15. Andrew Hi. I want to make an offer on a property whichis still bring advertised f sale. I emailed agent he replied by email saying ” Dear Anne. Sorry this property is already under offer” bye. Fritz. I am not happy with his clearly not interested response. I replied saying well if it is under offer i can still come in with an offer and I could be a cash buyer and was there any contingency agreement timeframe …I made it clear I want to go ahead. IS THE AGENT OBLIGATED TO TAKE MY OFFER AND OR TELL HIS CLIENT HE MAY HAVE A MORE SERIOUS OFFER. Its an OFFERS OVER asking price situation. I AM NOT HAPPY BEING TOLD BASICLY TO GO AWAY AS ITS ALREADY UNDER OFFER…THIS AGENT CAN HE DO THIS…SHUT OTHERS OUT..thks Anne.

    1. Hi Anne, according to the REAA Code of Conduct. The agent must submit all offers (as long as they are in writing) to the owner for consideration. If the property is under offer there is still a chance the current contract may not go unconditional so any agent should be expected to keep pursuing any potential backup offers and present those to the owner. The owner will need to honor the first contract (eg. If it has 5 working days for due diligence they can’t cancel it before the 5 working days is up, unless they have an out clause) but they can still look at backup offers and accept a backup offer if it meets their acceptable terms and conditions. I would advise you to keep pursuing the property. Contact the manager of the agent involved and ask to place a backup offer and have it considered by the owner asap. During that process, and following that step if that doesn’t work, talk to your solicitor immediately for advice.

  16. Hi duncan, we are a first home buyer and found a property that we like but how do we know if the property is not overprice before we send our offer. We will not give up. Thanks. Celso

  17. Andrew
    Excellent article, my son has been following your advice re taking the signed offer around to the agent in ” price by negotiations” sale, but the agent keeps fobing him off and saying they are waiting for this person to make an offer and have been waiting now for three days , should he ask for a dead line as he has been liaisoning with the agent for almost a week now.property has been on the market for approx. three weeks.Not sure if it’s ethical for you to comment.

    1. Sonia Gandhi had already ordered her Politicians to be on offensive against her Optnispioos. Don't we see today also The Corrupt Kapil Sibal and PM tries to BAT for A RAJA, blaming NDA policy on 2g and cheat the country? Not accepting the truth of LOOT done under table selling spectrum at low rates on paper. India needs more aggressive campaign to expose the corrupts. Baba Ramdev would not throw stone on anyone if he lives in a Glass House. Congress is getting scared of him.

    1. I hope it has helped. It is hard work buying a home right now but please don’t give up! You will see a lot more houses come on the market over the next few months as the Spring rush kicks in so that should help too. Wishing you the best of luck.

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