Desperately Need to Move, But No Luck Finding a Place After Almost 3 Months
September 19, 2011 3:11 PM   Subscribe

So I am still looking for a place to live. This is so stressful and frustrating, and the worst part is I only have about three weeks before I must move out. I'm seriously not sure what else I can do right about now.

There are two mild improvements to my situation. I might be able to afford some studios at the lower-end of the spectrum. Also, I'm not working as much on the weekend anymore. The rest remains. Also, I have a hell of a time getting responses. I have tweaked my own responses, stripped them to 200-250 words. Even placed an apartments/rooms wanted ad on Craigslist as advised here. All I get in response to that are replies from creepy men or people in entirely the wrong area.

But time is running out very quickly, and I really do not wish to be homeless. I can't think of something I'm not doing except using brokers. I skip over anything with reference to brokers or credit checke because I can't pass any credit checks due to this. I don't have a cosigner (I might be able to get my boyfriend to do it if it's the very, very, very last option), other family has refused to "take sides" in the above matter, so they won't help me.

I have been looking every single day and replying to suitable ads. I went nearly the entire month of August without a single response to my emails and calls.

Also, the listings seem to be filled with men looking for roommates, people looking to rent out their living rooms, smokers, people who ask for no or little cooking, and broker listings.

I have been getting some responses lately, but not many. And it's often brokers or people who ask for credit scores. I have seen four places since July. One I made an offer on, but was too late. Another room I would have loved to offer on, but it was offered on by the guy who got there immediately before me. One was located in a relatively deserted area that I, as a solo female wouldn't want to be traversing at night.

One last week was a shady, illegal basement apt that was very nice but the owners are obvious tax cheats. They wanted a deposit entirely in cash of over $3k and cash rent every month with the condition of no receipts. Needless to say, I wasn't going to hand over $3000 to strangers in the hopes they wouldn't just steal my money and change the locks while I got my stuff.

The worst part was that I actually considered it for a minute, against all my good judgment, because I am super desperate right now and it was a studio in the perfect location. But I had to be smart about it.

Outside of three days where I got completely burnt out, I have been looking every day. Even spreading out to other neighborhoods. I have to consider price. If it's close to the neighborhood I want, then I can go higher on the price and walk a lt. If it's further away, then the place has to be cheaper to account for transport costs.

I don't want to post my location publicly, especially as this is not my main account, but if anyone has knowledge via mefi mail, that works also. Between this and work, I have been experiencing a lot of physical stress symptoms lately, and I have this deadline coming so soon. Is there something I'm overlooking?
posted by Fire to Home & Garden (35 answers total)
Oh, and I have savings, about half of which I am willing to put forth for this move. I don't make 40x rent for places, so brokers are even more tricky. But I have enough cash to put behind my seriousness. I'm completely willing to pay through the end of the year plus security if that's what it takes. As long as things are reasonable and there's a paper trail.
posted by Fire at 3:16 PM on September 19, 2011

I really don't think people can be of help without a location. If this is not your main account, what is the harm?
posted by DarlingBri at 3:34 PM on September 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Why don't you use an apartment finding service? It seems like the amount of difficulty you're having is WAY out of proportion from what I've experienced living in most places I've ever been.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 3:35 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Not sure that you actually describe what are other potential issues besides not having good credit. However the rambling prose is a redflag if your emails to prospective landlords are similar to your posting.

You should respond to rental adds with bare minimum along the these lines:


I'm interested in your apartment at xxx, posted on your add on yyy. When could I view it? Week nights/ weekends/ whatever work best for me.

You can reach me by zzz.

Best Regards,

If necessary ask relevant detail that is deal killer for you, but keep it short. I.e. Is there in unit laundry?.

Once you see an apartment that fits your criteria be upfront/ realistic about your issues and offer. I like the apartment and would like to rent it. However I have bad credit/ criminal record/ whatever, but I can pay extra months security/ give my employer as reference/ other redeeming factor.

The goal is not to qualify yourself out pre-maturely. As small time landlord (one rental house) I've learned that people who overshare on their email response are typically tenants that I want to avoid.

It's business transaction, not dating.
posted by zeikka at 3:40 PM on September 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

Based on some comments you've made here (40x annual rent, broker, etc), I'm assuming you're in NYC. Craigslist is very hit-or-miss here, and the sheer volume of responses that people get to their ads is sometimes hard to deal with, so I'm not surprised that you don't get a response to every e-mail you send.

Also, based on your previous thread, I think you might still be putting too much in your intro e-mail; I'd be disinclined to respond to someone who launched into a whole bunch of detail in their first contact. I'd just ask if the apartment is available, say that you're quiet, neat, and pay bills on time, and leave the rest for later communications.

Location, neighborhood, and budget would help immensely in further answering your question.
posted by bedhead at 3:43 PM on September 19, 2011

Sorry to hear you're having such a tough time. I recently just rented a room off craigslist, and it could be that my area was easier to rent than yours, but I only looked for about 2 weeks before finding a decent place.

One thing I'd recommend is to call rather than email. It shows more effort, gives you both an idea of what the other person might be like, and is harder to leave gathering dust in some inbox somewhere. I also worry from your other post that you're giving way too much information in your opening email. Just mention that you're looking for a place, you have full-time work, and maybe some extra things like how you're neat and don't smoke. Other than that, wait for them to ask for more.

Besides craigslist, I like I'm not sure about, but that might be worth a look.

Also, don't be afraid to ask around your friends/boyfriend to see if they know anyone who might know anyone with an extra room in their house.
posted by segfault at 3:43 PM on September 19, 2011

Given that you've had such frustrating responses to date, I'd shift up your approach significantly, with the goal of NOT letting housemates/landlords/etc. have a reason to screen you out of their first pool of possibles. Get the chance for them to believe you'll be a friendly, reliable tenant, get the chance to meet them in person so you can build a rapport that will the foundation against which they'll weigh your particulars (later, NOT sooner), but don't approach this as matchmaking in which you are equal partners looking for the right person with whom to share a home. For better or worse, they are choosing you (until you get to the point that you have multiple possibilities to choose from), and you should be adopting an best-foot-forward marketing approach, not a "here's who I really am" one. Your objective should be to get through as many "first screens" as possible.

Don't mention that you work from home. Just don't. State your income (roughly), the kind of work you do, and the name of the company you have the best working relationship with as the one you "work for" (along with contact information for a reference there who will speak glowingly of you). Mention that you have a boyfriend whose apartment you like to stay at often, but who won't plan to come to yours often because of the location. Mention that you have hobbies like cooking occasionally, and you'd be happy to plan some dinners together if they're into that, but don't get into specifics like "I cook every day and here's why." For a lot of people, that just makes them picture dirty dishes in the sink and the smell of X cuisine they don't like lingering in the house.

Say that you know how difficult it must be for them to screen possible roommates, and you do want to make it as easy as possible for them, and to demonstrate that you are 100% reliable financially by offering to pay the first two months of rent up front. You can get into the details (ensuring that this is reflected in the lease agreement, etc.) once you actually have a conversation with them -- again, you're just trying to make that pool as wide as possible right now.

Go ahead and inquire about apartments where they mention a credit check. Again, when the time comes, you can offer to show them your W2s, 2010 tax filing, current bank statements, and an affadavit about the situation with your relative as supporting documentation to your actual credit report (which may have a bad score, but will reinforce that your story of what occurred was true). I've had a landlord tell me that he mentions a credit check in his ads, but only asks to see proof of income because, as he said "people may not pay their cell phone bills, but no one wants to get evicted."

Say that you're hoping to find someone friendly and nice to live with, like you, but you understand that you each have your own full lives outside of the apartment as well.

Think: low-maintenance, reliable, financially secure, and nice enough... but nothing with more personality with that until you actually meet the person.

(on preview, what zeikka and bedhead said much more succinctly)
posted by argonauta at 3:44 PM on September 19, 2011

Send very short, succinct, upbeat, punchy emails to potential housemates. Do not overshare. You are friendly, low-key, low-drama, quiet, respectful, responsible, and neat.

Send a three or four line inquiry expressing this to every person posting something on CL that looks like it might fit. You will get some hits and you can go from there in meeting people face-to-face.
posted by killdevil at 3:49 PM on September 19, 2011

Questions - for those who are saying cut the responses down to basics. How do I stand out then? If everyone else is putting forth a really basic response too, that is.

And wouldn't people be offended/think I lied if I didn't mention that I love to cook and that I work from home and that I'm home a lot? If I don't have a lease/have a monthly situation, wouldn't that endanger my ability to stay?
posted by Fire at 3:51 PM on September 19, 2011

Also, leaving the thread now, but any tips on finding studios? Because I'd much rather have that if I can.
posted by Fire at 3:52 PM on September 19, 2011

Again, it would be really helpful to know where you are. In some cities you can just walk around in neighborhoods you like and see signs on buildings. Craigslist is not the best source in many places.
posted by mareli at 4:01 PM on September 19, 2011

You can/should mention that you love to cook and work from home prior to signing the lease, but not until you are significantly further along in the vetting process than you are now. As long as you are neat, responsible, respectful, etc., there's nothing stopping a roommate from picking up (or dropping) a hobby like cooking, or from choosing to telecommute more or less as time goes on. Of course you don't want to get off on a terrible foot with a new roommate because their expectations of you are wildly different from who you really are (or that you have a pet or smoking habit or meth-making side business you failed to reveal), but first you need the opportunity to even find out from these people what those expectations/preferences are, and you're not getting that far yet.

If you pay your rent on time and are an objectively easy-to-live-with person, few roommates/landlords are going to want to go through the trouble of kicking you out and starting over again over the fact that you cook and do or do not like videogames... and regardless, my advice is that that's not a worry that should be a priority for you in your current (admittedly desperate) state.
posted by argonauta at 4:01 PM on September 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

Are you in NYC? Do you have a lot of cash right now? One option might be to do a shorter term sublet and pay upfront. With sublets, you're not going to find the same 40x/guarantor hassles as you would on the regular rental market. I did this when I worked a bunch of part-time jobs and didn't quite have the financial paperwork to qualify for a normal rental.

I subletted a studio from someone who was working overseas and paid upfront. After that, I had another good reference and some time to get stuff in order before looking for a more permanent place.
posted by pourtant at 4:07 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm going to take a guess that you are in NYC. In which case you are going to have to start making some massive compromises in order to find a place. 3 years ago I was looking for a place in Brooklyn, but didn't have a job. However I was a lawyer, I had ample savings, and my father who lived locally was willing to cosign. I was also willing to put up a huge deposit and even pay rent a year in advance and I had good credit. It was very, very hard for me to find a place. I had to sublease for awhile before I found a place. Most apartments would take me, but almost no roommates were interested in me and a big reason was because I would be around the apartment all the time and just simple competition. There was always another person just like me, but who had a job so why would they go with me?

So here's what you do. You look at virtually anything in your price range. You go and see it as soon as possible. As in they respond to you, you immediately email back and say when can I come see it. The sooner the better. If they say right now, you go. You bring your paperwork and your checkbook. Your boyfriend is going to need to cosign, it's not even negotiable if you don't have good credit and/or make 40x your rent. If everything seems on the up and up, you take it. You offer to write them a check right then and there. If they hedge and start asking questions about your finances, etc, you offer to pay them 3 or 4 months up front.

Don't put anything about working from home or your finances in your intro email. The goal is to see the place and close the deal fast. Make them reject you face to face. It's harder to do and it's also hard to turn down cash in hand. I'm not suggesting you don't disclose that you work from home or anything, but wait until your face to face, if possible, to tell them all that. Really sell it as "I'm at the house when you aren't and I'm out when you're at the house." They have a cat? You love cats and would have no problem taking care of it when they are away. You get the idea. Close the deal fast.

I assume you are compulsively checking craigslist? You want to be the first email they receive. You want to be the first person to see the place. You want to be the first person to make an offer and you want to be the first person to hand them a check. I'm pretty concerned you've only seen 4 places in the last few *months*? I've seen more places than that in an afternoon. I realize that looking for a place is absolutely awful, but you need to be hitting the pavement. Every free moment you have should be dedicated to looking for a place.
posted by whoaali at 4:09 PM on September 19, 2011 [6 favorites]

How do I stand out then? If everyone else is putting forth a really basic response too, that is.

I don't think you should try so hard to stand out at this point. Standing out, especially the way you are doing it now, is raising red flags rather than generating interest. Approach it as a conversation, not a monologue.

any tips on finding studios? Because I'd much rather have that if I can.

Your location is essential in order for anyone to effectively answer this question.
posted by bedhead at 4:10 PM on September 19, 2011 [6 favorites]

Might try, which is what we used...but basically we spent 2 weeks full time when we last went searching but we have the complication of a baby so you might be able to do better. Basically we showed up to any place we were interested in with a completed application if possible, the check for the deposit, and references as needed. Places that didn't fit the bill we just passed on after viewing. Places that looked doable we submitted the application and deposit as needed, but called up after we found a place. An application isn't a rental agreement, so get as many concurrently going and in process as possible.

Generally there are limits on deposits that can be requested, it depends on location.

I think you mission should be getting in to view as many places as possible as soon as possible. Broaden the criteria, talk to people on the phone over email if possible and start looking at a contingency plan (different areas, short term leases, furnished sublets+storage for your stuff).
posted by iamabot at 4:36 PM on September 19, 2011

(Also, it's making me wince a little to say this, but I have to recommend dressing up a little when you go to see each place. Not "dressy" per se, and not something that feels like a costume, but recognizing that how you present yourself physically is also an opportunity to send the signals that you want to say "neat, clean, professional, financially secure, has-his/her-shit-together, and takes-care-of-his/her-hair-and-clothing-like-he/she-will-take-care-of-my-property." This is one of the few methods available to you to "show, don't tell" that you possess these very desirable attributes.)
posted by argonauta at 4:37 PM on September 19, 2011

I'm moving from outside into the NYC boroughs. This is the first time I've ever looked for a place there or anywhere.

Boyfriend will probably not be willing to cosign. I shouldn't have even mentioned the possibility, because it's a remote one. He said "maybe", and that was the best I could get. He knows I wouldn't intentionally screw him over, but he is very protective of himself financially.
posted by Fire at 4:39 PM on September 19, 2011

In terms of additional options, some properties listed on airbnb, VRBO, etc. have long-term rates (and/or would be willing to negotiate one). You may still pay a premium versus "normal" rentals, especially since they are almost always fully furnished, but it might be worth a look as you broaden your search.
posted by tenzingy at 4:42 PM on September 19, 2011

I asked this question recently. Some of the links people gave might be helpful.
posted by mareli at 4:47 PM on September 19, 2011

You don't necessarily need a cosigner. One of my friends moved into a place in Manhattan last year, told them up front about her bad credit (but when I say "up front", I mean once she'd seen the apartment and met the landlady), and they just asked her to pay an extra month's security deposit. You're more likely to get that with an individual building owner than a large property management company, though.

Use padmapper, and search for no-fee apartments on realtor websites and as well. The NY Times real estate section is a good place too look, too - you can sort through listings and just look at no-fee rentals. Also, walk around the neighborhoods you're interested in and look for signs on the buildings - many rentals do this instead of advertising.

I'd also suggest branching out a little further and not just limiting yourself to neighborhoods that are immediately adjacent to your boyfriend's neighborhood, but also neighborhoods that are on the same subway line as his. You might be able to find a studio apartment in your price range that's a 20-minute subway ride away from him, rather than a share in his neighborhood.
posted by bedhead at 4:52 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nthing padmapper.

You say you've been looking for a place for three months, but have you actually been able to immediately move in during those three months of searching, or were you asking that you be able to move in three weeks from right now when you "must move out?" Because if you're just now coming up on the deadline you've been giving people for when you want to move, of course you never found someone willing to hold a place until the middle of October or whatever. Trust me, I tried and tried to arrange something months ahead of time using Padmapper (which uses Craigslist, among other sites) and it's just not going to work that way. If people have a vacancy, they post the listing maybe a few weeks before the place is cleared out, if that, and they want it filled immediately. I think out of the hundreds of listings I saw, there were two that were even posted a month in advance. This was in LA, so it's possible it works much differently where you are, but I'm not sure why that would be.

Our lease on our apartment was up September 15th, and we managed to move into a rented house on September 1st, all arranged on the last week of August -- roughly three weeks ahead of our final date to move out, but only one week ahead of time as far as our new landlord was concerned. So we still had to pay that last two weeks of rent at the old place, and then the deposit AND first month's rent at the new place, but we had prepared for that and just squeaked by. But I couldn't find anyone at all willing to even talk to us before it got to be a week before we were willing to move.

I would not be surprised if it's a similar situation for finding roommates, where you're not going to have any real luck or commitment from people until you're closer to the deadline. I can't speak to the credit issue specifically either. But unless you've been telling people for months that you can move *right then* I would assume that things will get a lot easier for you very soon.
posted by Nattie at 7:28 PM on September 19, 2011

Not to be a jerk but it sounds a lot like you're over-sharing. I've never looked in NYC so good luck if that's where you're talking about but when I was looking for a place, if I saw an ad, all I would email back was to say, hey, saw your ad, interested in the place, please let me know where to go from here. I definitely did not share my salary or where I work. Also, I did everything I could to try to see a place before there was an open house and when there were open houses, I got there super early so I would be the first person there.
posted by kat518 at 7:44 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Maybe someone will take you with a very large security and/or multiple months' rent upfront. There is no way someone with bad credit and no guarantor (I am assuming your income is not high enough on paper) is going to get an apartment in Manhattan or relatively desirable parts of Brooklyn without being cleaned out. In the context of hunting for an apartment in New York "bad credit" can be one 30 day-late account. Yours sounds much worse than that. One thing you have to do is stop writing long initial emails about your problems. You will come off as crazy, desperate and unstable. No one wants any kind of drama with a tenant. You also should not rule out paying a broker's fee.
posted by knoyers at 7:45 PM on September 19, 2011

If I was looking in July, I told them July 15th/August 1st. If looking in August, I said August 15th or Seot 1st,and so on. The basic plan was to find something by August, but I had some leeway. Time is running out now.

I never mention the credit issue or any "problems" in a response email. Never mention salary either.

It's basically a positive email with "Hi, I'm Fire, I'm moving because X reason. I'm organized and friendly, I pay rent, have no pets, don't smoke. I work in Y industry. I work from home but will be willing to pay a little extra toward electric. {sometimes I omit any mention of working from home}. I am usually in the area on the weekends, but I can view the place after work on weekday evenings after 8." but in about 250 words with some personality injected into it.

Sometimes stuff like "I love the location, something about being friendly and social and mindful of others". Sometimes I mention how I'm out of the house on the weekend and evenings.

(Just for reference)
posted by Fire at 8:02 PM on September 19, 2011

If no one got back to you in August at all, something there was apparently turning everyone off. Just ask when you can see the place.
posted by knoyers at 8:09 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also people with good apartments do run credit and you can't be evasive about it.
posted by knoyers at 8:11 PM on September 19, 2011

I've never looked for roommates in NYC, so ymmv, but I think you're oversharing. I recently had to look for roomies and all my emails said was are you still looking for a roommate, do you allow pets, and if so when can I come see the place? I had a lot of success doing that.

Another suggestion which might not apply to your area, but when you look for studios on Craigslist try looking for more informal-sounding ads because the person likely won't perform a credit check.
posted by Autumn at 8:36 PM on September 19, 2011

Just mentioning working from home in your email might be the red flag here. Put yourself in the other person's position. Finding roommates through Craigslist is always a gamble. When they see "work from home," they may be envisioning a stranger spending all day in their home while they're at work. Even if you don't plan to be in the apartment that much, they might be getting the impression that you'll be around all the time. I wouldn't mention anything about it until you see the apartment.

It also seems like you might be limiting yourself with the neighborhood. Are you trying to be within walking distance of your BF? If so, you might need to open up your options a bit. But without more specifics it's hard to give advice.
posted by pourtant at 9:26 PM on September 19, 2011

Okay, I went through this recently. The conclusion I came to is that people don't want to get to know you by email. Many people don't even think it's possible to get to you know by email. They want to meet you in person and see what you seem like.

All those questions you're answering pre-emptively are making these minor things sound like a BIG DEAL (why else would you need to mention them?) and make you sound like you will be a stressful roommate. The NUMBER ONE absolute biggest concern of someone sharing an apartment is: is this person some kind of freaky weirdo, and are they going to stress me out? You could be boring as all hell and have zero personality, and that would be absolutely fantastic, as long as you weren't stressful or weird.

Your email should be like this:

I saw your apartment on craigslist, and wanted to see if I could come check it out! Evenings are best for me, but if that doesn't work, let me know. My phone number is

Then, when you meet them in person, you let the charms come through.

Some additional things that are maybe helpful, and possibly true:

1. Minimum for a studio in Manhattan is probably $1500 or so (you might be able to get lower if you're far uptown, and of course there are always deals if you get lucky.) You probably need 5x the rent to move in if there's a broker, probably more like 2-3x if not. If you have bad credit, you might be able to get in if you offer to pay extra months in advance.
2. Padmapper is useful, but their information is sometimes out of date, and they are not great at figuring out addresses, so it tends to leave off a lot of apartments. When you're really searching, go to craigslist. It sucks, but it's what you do.
3. is a good place to look for no-fee listings.
4. I would make a post on r/nycapartments or look and see if you find anything there. Don't be dismayed if it looks like a wasteland, a lot of stuff happens over PM.
posted by !Jim at 9:32 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Are there any local colleges where you might find posted "for rent" notices?
Some school housing bureaus don't mind if you walk in off the street; others might have some public notices and some private notebooks for their students only.
I would also look for coffee shops, large company cafeterias or other public gathering places in the neighoborhoods of your choice.
posted by calgirl at 9:49 PM on September 19, 2011

I agree you're oversharing. Get your ad response down five or six sentences, tops, and then send it to EVERYONE.
posted by mskyle at 6:40 AM on September 20, 2011

If you've only seen four places since July something is seriously wrong with your approach. First take all the good advice above for what your (brief!) emails should and shouldn't include. You don't want to email a life story, you just want to be able to get your foot in the door to see apartments. In any case where a phone number is provided you should be calling, not emailing.

Next, realize you may need to compromise on your budget, location, or both. The reasonably priced non-basement studio that's a ten minute walk from your boyfriend and five minutes from a subway station may not exist. Make it your goal to contact as many places within the next few days as you can, in anything approaching your budget anywhere in the city, with the aim of having at least ten places to go look at this weekend. If you can actually take a few days off work this week to make this happen, even better. (If you haven't sent out literally hundreds of emails/calls already now is the time to do so.)

Consider using a broker or other service, since your approach to date hasn't worked. Yeah, it costs more money but they do this for a living and they'll know if your expectations are realistic.

It's not clear if you're ruling out male roommates but if you are, stop doing that. Men can be just as good a roommate as women and you can't really afford to rule out half of all apartments on that basis alone.

Look at sublets, too. People in those situations are often significantly less choosy, especially if they have just a few months that they need to find a tenant for. This will also help with the credit problem because you can just pay up the entire period. And it may transition into a full-year signed lease at the end once the landlord (and other roommates) see that you're a responsible and respectful tenant. Easier in that situation to keep a known good tenant with bad credit than to go through the hassle of finding someone else who may have good credit but be a crappy tenant. And if not it at least gives you time to keep searching.

Once you find a place make an offer on the spot. Have your checkbook ready and be willing to a sign a lease starting that day and just eat the difference on the two weeks or whatever left at your current place.

Last resort, get a place outside of NYC that has train or cheap bus service into the city. See your boyfriend on the weekend.
posted by 6550 at 7:40 PM on September 20, 2011

The problem with living outside NYC or far away is we've had this hours-long commute to see each other for years and this is the time to end that.
I am a rape survivor and I'm not comfortable living with strange men.
Sublets are iffy, because if I move into one, I won't have the savings I currently do now, but will still have the bad credit issue, so if I have to pick up and move in 3 months, that's a huge issue.

Also not looking for luxury, just a comfortable space. Both studios I looked at were basements. That's fine if they're in the right place.

Anyhow, I have reworked a briefer email (about 150 words) that I am sending out and I have one place to see tomorrow. I have social anxiety issues, so calling places is very difficult, but I'll try to push myself into calling more.

thanks, Mefi
posted by Fire at 6:07 AM on September 21, 2011

Fire: "Anyhow, I have reworked a briefer email (about 150 words)"

I suspect this is still your main problem. As people have said, 200-250 words was clearly pretty much a dealbreaker for an initial response and 150 words is still almost 4 times too long.
posted by turkeyphant at 9:49 AM on October 18, 2011

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