Finding quiet rental properties
July 4, 2007 8:53 PM   Subscribe

What are some good tips for finding a quiet rental property or apartment?

I am an author and work from home a lot, so my work quality of course depends on being able to concentrate at my place of residence. I don't mind normal neighborhood noise and weekend parties, but it gets to be a problem when there's 2 am outdoor drinking on Tuesdays, boom car owners, stereos left on all night, and that kind of thing. I live in Texas, so we're talking about suburban houses for rent and apartment complexes.

Obviously the thing to do is walk past a property at 7 pm on a weekday and visit again on the weekend, to scope things out. In regards to apartments, comments on seem to give some perspective, if all the "wonderful community and friendly staff" shilling can be reliably weeded out.

A lot of this is common sense, I'm sure, but I want to have my ducks in a row. Are there any tips or observations you have for picking out a pleasant surrounding to settle down in? Are there any warning flags I should be looking out for? Personal anecdotes and stories are welcomed.
posted by antipasta_explosion to Society & Culture (26 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I just leased an apartment based on similar criteria (I'm a grad student, not a writer, but the need for quiet is similar). The deciding factor for me was the landlord's insistence that all my references be positive and that I be coming in expecting quiet. Before I told him that I was explicitly seeking quiet digs, he pointed out that he'd evicted a group of raucous students for disturbing the peace earlier in the year -- to make a point to me that if I wanted to party, this is not where I should be. That attitude along with the sort of examination you suggest in your [more inside] sold me on that particular complex.

I move in next Monday, I'll let you know how it pans out.
posted by Alterscape at 9:01 PM on July 4, 2007

My advice:

- If you can, talk to the neighbors to see what they're like.
- Keep a lookout for kids bikes and swingsets. Kids = NOISE.
- If you get an apartment, get one on the top floor. Upstairs neighbors = NOISE.
- If anything on even remotely hints at thin walls or creaky floors, PAY ATTENTION.*
- If there is a college within walking distance, be cautious.
- If there are hot rods in the parking lot, be cautious.
- Old people & Young professionals are probably your ideal neighbors.
- Do swing by apartment complexes on a nice night to see if people are outside on their porches or balconies. Their voices will carry and eventually drive you nuts.

* My apartment complex was full of fabulous reviews with the occasional "Everything is great but the walls & floors are thin and I can hear my neighbors" type of comment. Our first neighbor was very quiet, but after he moved out a young couple that liked to have screaming matches moved in. And it was like they were IN OUR APARTMENT. We learned all about each of their shortcomings that way. Very awkward.

And honestly, I think you should go for renting a house. At least then you won't share any walls or floors/ceilings with other people.
posted by tastybrains at 9:07 PM on July 4, 2007 [5 favorites]

I used to manage rental property in Texas.

My tips? When you visit the office, look for "adult supervision." If the manager is under 25, chances are she has a different idea of "nice quiet property" than you do! A manager who has been working in property management 10 years -- preferably living on site so your neighbors are her neighbors -- does not want any trouble on site.

As for "Keep a lookout for kids bikes and swingsets. Kids = NOISE," I would like to make it perfectly clear that it is not legal to discriminate on the basis of familial status including the presence of children. I'm going to repeat that because it's important: the landlord can't say no kids!!! The only way to keep kids off property is to put up a sign that says "Senior Living" or "Retirement Village" and not allow anybody under 55. Since the original poster is specifically looking for someplace without "2 am outdoor drinking on Tuesdays, boom car owners, stereos left on all night, and that kind of thing," I don't think kids are even relevant! Kids don't drink outdoors at 2 AM on school nites and if they are you call Child Protective Services!

I also disagree that house is necessarily quieter than apartment. In an apartment -- and again, ideally with the manager on site -- you can call management and get a problem evicted without having to call the cops. If you live in a house you have absolutely no control whatsoever about who your neighbors are. Sure you can still call the cops, and sure they will still get a citation, but you can't make the problem go away.
posted by ilsa at 9:40 PM on July 4, 2007

For house rentals, I look at the quality of the lawns of nearby houses; in my experience, people who spend time making their lawns look nice tend not to be the stay-up-late sort.
posted by solotoro at 9:45 PM on July 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Disclaimer: yes, I might make a few generalizations here, but please take it for what it's worth, which is just aggregate observation and not lifestyle judgment.

Lots of good advice here already. I agree that the right house is likely to be quieter than the very best apartment. Shared walls just don't lend themselves to quiet.

What I'd be looking for if I were checking out apartment complexes: units with fewest shared walls, on top floor... in buildings away from main drives, main roads, and community spaces like the pool, barbecue area, clubhouse, playground. I'd probably not feel comfortable if I saw loads of boats and boat trailers in the parking lots -- it's almost always boat season in Texas, and boat people are usually party people. In the same vein, I'd also be wary of lots of grills and coolers on patios.

The quietest apartment I ever lived in was in a building at the very back of a circular parcel of land; right behind us was undeveloped woodland. I had zero traffic noise, and little noise from other buildings. That was by chance, but if I had to do it again I would use Google Earth to survey the property I was considering and identify preferred buildings before going in. (Especially since my experience in Austin and Dallas is that you don't always get to tour the exact unit you'll be moving into, before you sign the lease -- it's "look at our model unit! it's the same floorplan!" ...which naturally is quiet and perfect.)

For rental houses, I would look for properties in neighborhoods with very few rental houses. An area that's mostly homeowners likely means neighbors with more commitment to the community and to maintaining the status quo and peace.

In my experience with houses, kids aren't guaranteed to be a noise issue. I work from home, office facing the street, and I'm right in the middle of a family neighborhood, kids all around -- and we just never hear them. The weekly garbage service and daily UPS/Fedex runs are more distracting. Plus, neighborhoods with lots of young families will have early bedtimes, and be less attractive to the kinds of people who like to have 2am parties.

So, if it were me I'd look for a rental home in an area near an elementary school (but not too near, lest you get playground and traffic noise), and nowhere near a high school or community college.

I might also check out the local PD's record for noise complaints for the particular city block you're considering.
posted by pineapple at 10:19 PM on July 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

This might not apply to apartments (depending on storey) as much as it does to houses, but one thing I think people fail to consider is the location on the street with respect to intersections, speed bumps, traffic lights and so on.

If you find yourself living adjacent to the exact spot where people accelerate hard, change up/down gears, or where trucks apply their hydraulic brakes, it's gonna be noisy all hours, and especially so during the wee hours when people drive a bit more recklessly & everything else is silent. This applies even in otherwise peaceful suburbs.

So yeh, pay some attention to the traffic - ie how the vehicles behave on that particular stretch of the road.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:19 PM on July 4, 2007

It's hard to say. I moved from a large apartment in a very friendly, small complex with an in-house property manager (who was awesome), sharing one wall with a neighbor (the floor), in the burbs, to a smaller apartment in a major city where I shared all BUT one wall, and it's much quieter now.

Why? The (nice) women that lived below me in the former were home *all the time*. Their living arrangements took place roughly half on the porch and half inside (coolers of beer on the porch were fetched from almost all day, with an accompanying slam of their patio door that shook my entire apartment, etc.), and they more often than not had most of the complex over for drinks/BBQ/etc. at any given time. Their BBQ and cigarette smoke was always drafting in my windows. And so on. They really did their best to make up for the lack of other shared walls, and while it was not a party 24/7, it was a constant cacophony of banging and slamming that irritated me.

I do have a neighbor now that has a huge subwoofer, and it's used every few days pretty loudly, but only for 30 minutes or so at a time. I also have tons more to do in the neighborhood if I don't feel like being in my apartment, so I'd take that into account, too - since you'll never be perfectly silent all the time. I think a large factor is that it's a fairly nice building, which means a little classier people, plus being in a city means that folks aren't home as much as they're at work or out doing things. I think suburbia tends to lend itself way more to residents that are home more often and that have more room to have people over for parties and such.
posted by kcm at 10:41 PM on July 4, 2007 [2 favorites]

Also, the former apartment was also on a cul-de-sac with a little more unsavory neighborhood. I think a lot across the street was moving to Section 8 housing, and so there was a lot of noise from kids and teenagers that roamed the front yards all the time instead of going to a park or into a backyard - none of those. Along with the people that would doublepark in the cul-de-sac and repeatedly honk for their passenger to come out, there were innumerable work trucks that were not in the best of shape.. which meant a lot of whining fan belts and engine revving at 5-6am. Have you ever heard car horns that played "La Cucaracha"? Yeah, that was the post-10pm crowd on that street.

Now I'm in the back of my building without a direct view of any streets.. which is nice, since I'm on an intersection with a stoplight at one of the hilliest streets (30% grade) in one of the hilliest US cities. There's also not a lot of drunken foot traffic late night from clubs or such, since it's mostly residential.

Honestly, like I said before, having options for getting outside if it's noisy or simply to cease being at home the majority of the time has been best for my piece of mind. I'm pretty sensitive to noise, I'll admit readily, and looking back since my move I've been most happy since I'm not in a position to care as much, though I don't think that is directly applicable for your situation.
posted by kcm at 10:50 PM on July 4, 2007

I feel your pain. I'm a translator with an intensive, heavy (and frequently lucrative) workload. We moved house last Fall, and it was a bad mistake.

My recommendations:

No hardwood floors or ductwork.
I'm not so sure kids are a big problem after 8PM or so.
Try to get into public housing - the walls are built thicker.

The long story: the people who lived below us in the shared house were 'trashy,' like Kenny's parents on South Park. They drank a lot, late into the evening, and we could hear everything because of the hardwood floors and forced-air heating. I can't function without sleep, and my zombie-like state nearly lost me my main client.

We moved into public housing (anyone can move in). At least where I live, the walls are really really really thick, and we can't hear ANYTHING (we live on the top floor).

But public housing (operated by the city) in Victoria BC may be different than public housing anywhere else. I love it!
posted by KokuRyu at 11:02 PM on July 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Try to view the street in terms of how convenient it may or may not be to the surrounding neighborhood; if it's a nice, wide central street, it may be more of a "thoroughfare" than it appears. If there's a handy shop, or a bus stop on it, it may be more popular than you'd prefer. If there's a steepish incline, stop sign, or whatever, you may hear more traffic noise than you'd like. We live on a tiny, narrow, one-way street, only two blocks long; it's almost invisible, which is hell for trying to get deliveries or guide a taxi home, but great for quiet.

After my husband had been away on business he came home and asked, "So any news in the neighborhood?" I said, "Yeah, last week a car passed by, and all the neighbors came out on their porches to stare. :)

But, no matter how quiet the neighbors, or how calm the neighborhood, hair-trigger car alarms are a menace, and can be heard for blocks and blocks - so try to find a place that has off-street parking all around... which still doesn't help if the car alarms go off when a cat brushes against a tire, a garbage truck goes by, or a jet passes overhead. Ugh. Also, dogs? One single constant yapper is enough to make an entire neighborhood into a slough of misery; walk up and down your street and surrounding streets, and see if it sets up a din. Ask if there are noisy dogs nearby.

Google Earth is a great idea; look for places that have natural green boundaries like wooded hills, golf courses, cemeteries, forests, parks - we have three such boundaries in our little neighborhood, and it's almost eerily quiet.

If you're not too shy, I'd suggest talking to the neighbors; they're the ones who know how it is all the time, and hey - you get to meet the neighbors! Some neighborhoods are very cohesive in how they view their area, and social enforcement is the most effective single persuasion against nuisance noise. We live in a huge, noisy city, so the people in this neighborhood are very proud that it's an oasis of tranquility. One night, unexpectedly, I heard really loud disco music blasting from someplace nearby. Okay, fair enough; it's really quiet, so a party once in a while is no biggie. Next night, same thing - and basically the same four songs (hello? It's Raining Men? What? Again?). Third night, same thing *groan* - when abruptly, "I will Survive" screeches to a sudden stop, and... it's done. Not a peep from the (apparently new) offenders since then, and no sign of the bodies. I don't think the ladies with their carefully tended window boxes of flowers and daily-scrubbed porches were amused. And they're a scary lot, they are. They are the terminators. Seek them out. :)
posted by taz at 12:47 AM on July 5, 2007 [2 favorites]

Google maps/Earth. Look for anything with big parking lots (schools/churches) and check for rail tracks. and loading docks. If the maps are good enough see how bad traffic is. Then do a search for businesses: Bar. See how many there are nearby. Definitely get 30 minutes walking away from any university.

Nthing the live-in manager and someone who is not too young.

Top floor, corner apartment, back facing.

Carpet. Built since 1980. New windows. No vents. Concrete is great.

Families are noisy, and you can't rule them out, but if you look for apartments in buildings that have a lot of 1 bedroom apartments slightly above market rate you can be sure they won't be crammed full of children. Possibly something near a business park.

High fences=noise. Either children or dogs or both.

I'd beware of too many finely manicured lawns, since that usually means a lot of mowers and blowers.
posted by Ookseer at 12:57 AM on July 5, 2007

Ah, another thought: the last place we lived was in the very center of the city - 24-hour traffic, and cafes open 'til the wee hours in the busiest, liveliest part of town... yet, it was an incredibly quiet apartment because the building was situated between two pedestrian squares, and it was at the very top of an eight-story building with no neighbors to the left or right, - and, as well, in this building many of the flats were used for business, so nights and weekends were even quieter. It was high enough (and acoustically fortuitous) so that the pedestrian noise didn't reach us, and the squares buffered any surrounding traffic noise. Also, it had double-glazed windows and French doors, so when they were closed, it was perfectly silent. That was a great, great spot.

Look our for industrial air conditioning units nearby, though. That apartment was located across from a department store that had its units on the rooftop, directly across the square from us, and so we passed on that place the first time it became available. Later, the store went out of business, the building was repurposed and the AC stuff removed. And then we snapped it up when it became available for the second time.
posted by taz at 1:29 AM on July 5, 2007

Before you move in:
- Take a map around with you and ask people in town (including teachers, police officers, ambulance drivers, and emergency room personnel, if you can find some that have the time) to point to neighborhoods where they would or would not like to live.
- Live in the most expensive neighborhood you can afford. People with money get better law enforcement, better cleaning, and better maintenance, and have fewer of the problems that come with unemployment and poverty. Generally, this also means quieter neighborhoods.
- Live in the middle of a block, not near a corner. Less action, fewer congregating loiterers, half the traffic, less noise from vehicle strain, less light pollution, no beeping crosswalks.
- Live near the top of the building, not near the bottom. Fewer street noises or building door slams or people walking up and down the stairwell past your door.
- Live near old people. Old people don't have the energy or inclination to cause much trouble, and their hobbies generally are quiet. Old people are less likely to have teenagers around, and teenagers in clusters are the worst neighbors a peace-loving person can have.
- Live far from universities, convenience stores, bars, liquor stores, betting shops, pawn shops, and whore houses. Any business that stays open at odd hours or caters to rootless, short-sighted, intoxicated, fuckyouit'safreecountryyou'renotthebossofme types is not a good neighbor.

After you move in:
- Befriend and defuse troublesome neighbors. Have them in for coffee and cake sometimes. Get so that they don't want to take offense at things you say. If you get a loud walker upstairs, donate some soft, comfortable slippers or an extra carpet for the appropriate room above yours. If you get a deaf neighbor with a loud TV, you can say you noticed the loud TV at night and give him or her an extra set of nice new headphones you won and have no use for. Even if they don't take the stuff, they might take the hint. ("Mrs Smith, I notice that you still have the television up loud at night, watching those old Columbo reruns. I'm telling you, you have to try those headphones. I couldn't do without mine. I can hear everything they say with no trouble, and no one has to know what I'm watching or when I'm watching it...")
- Find out what the applicable laws are in town -- get printed copies if possible -- so you know what you're talking about when you decide whether to complain about something. If you can nicely explain that Mr Idiot across the street with the leaf blower is definitely violating municipal code X, which states that idiots shall not use loud idiotic devices at idiotic times, then the problem is not just, like, your opinion, man.

But if you want real quiet and few distractions, get as far away as you can from other people. Not just suburban, but rural, and not on a truck route. Somewhere you can see the stars.

Someone ought to write a spreadsheet/checklist for this. In any case, you ought to make a checklist when you're comparing places.
posted by pracowity at 2:51 AM on July 5, 2007 [5 favorites]

Check a one block perimeter for evidence that dogs are kept outside. Barking dogs at night = Bad.

Speak with local law enforcement about prevalence of noise complaints.

I don't know TX, but in CA, Cul-de-sacs, courts and dead end streets are your friend.

If you work from home in the daytime, your neighbors aren't necessarily going to know about the noises during the day unless they work at home too. Look out for day care facilities, schools, parks, pedestrian cut-throughs and sometimes churches as these will be noisy during the day.

Buy a white noise generator such as a fan or air filter.

Get a place with AC and double paned windows.

If you don't have fences around your property or apartment complexes, look for paths in the grass where people cut through between streets, and look for smashed bottle glass, beer cans or cigarette butts. You don't want loiterers or pedestrians.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:09 AM on July 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

Make sure no one in the neighborhood owns a motorcycle, or sets up ramps to jump bicycles or skateboards.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:10 AM on July 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

Realising this isn't exactly what you're looking for -- have you considered ditching the city? The main hassle of rural is the commute, but that's not a factor when you work from home.

Two months ago, I moved to a wee village of 2,000. I love it. Noise was a consideration. Here, the only things that're loud are the birds, and it took less than a week to mentally tune them out most of the time. Traffic noise is buffeted by a backyard that's basically woodlot. I have no evidence to indicate that people out here use car alarms, let their kids shriek, have fights, use 911 services, or even listen to stereos. I'm not even that far from the neighbours or the main street, too.

I'm never going back. And get off my lawn!

The other consideration would be that you can get a very nice rental pad quite cheaply in the sticks.
posted by kmennie at 3:16 AM on July 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

Gauge a landlord's willingness to toss out losers. The quietest building I have lived in was one where the landlord only did tenant-at-will agreements. In MA, it's much easier and faster to evict a 30-day TAW than someone with a lease, so loud/annoying people were gone quickly.

Also, look for a building or a section of a complex that will not accept cosigners on the lease and that does not require a security deposit or a last month's rent payment. While it's not a perfect filter, people who the landlord trusts with such terms will tend to have good credit and good references, so they're more likely to be good neighbors.
posted by backupjesus at 4:14 AM on July 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

Barking dogs at night = Bad.

Barking dogs in the day time = worse.

Owners at work all day may not know or care. If you're at home, you will.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:31 AM on July 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

If you go for a house I'd watch for skips/building work in the near area. Usually indicates an area on the up, but someone having work done on their house next door will drive you mad all day.
posted by corvine at 6:42 AM on July 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

The place I'm in now has concrete walls and floors between units. I never hear anything from my neighbors.
posted by doctor_negative at 8:53 AM on July 5, 2007

One more little tip, do your property tours on a Saturday if possible, and insist on seeing the actual location they want to rent to you, even if you can't get inside and have to see a model or other vacant instead. Total red flags if they won't even let you look at the outside of the front door and patio! I mean heck, even Google Earth Streetview can do that.....

Why a Saturday? Because chances are that most of your neighbors work during the week and are at home on Saturday. Seeing what is going on over the weekend is a decent proxy for what will happen in the evenings. Furthermore, odds are very very good that management won't have someone picking up the grounds on a Saturday; any cigarette butts and beer cans you see (or don't see, hopefully) will be fresh, and a good indicator of what happens on site on a Friday night.

Oh, and a radio playing in the model apartment means they are trying to cover up potential noise. Maybe it's just that they put the model facing the highway because who wants to live back in that unit. Maybe not.

And finally, as quiet as it may seem to live looking back into undeveloped land, and as nice as those trees might seem, please be aware that animals live in the woods. Animals include cute squirrels, singing birds, rodents who think trash cans are an easier meal than traditional foraging, feral cats, bugs, and depending exactly where you are coyotes, possums, raccoons, and armadillos. Some of these critters may try to run under your car. Some of them may try to get into your home. Some of them may make normal animal sounds at whatever hour they normally do so. The other consideration to undeveloped land is that unless there is some legal reason otherwise (part of a park, protected wilderness area, or wetlands), it can and will someday be developed. You will have very little standing protesting the land use petition as a renter. At the risk of stating the bleeding obvious, construction sites are noisy.
posted by ilsa at 10:24 AM on July 5, 2007

I live in an entirely concrete apartment building and we basically live in a sound-proof box. The other night I met neighbors who lived directly above us I didn't even know were there (it's a small complex and I've lived here for a year!). The other people who live directly above us have two LARGE dogs that bark and run a lot and we can't hear them either.

Lots of modernist lofts/apartment buildings are built out of concrete, I'd look into that.
posted by bradbane at 10:26 AM on July 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

Find an apartment in the same building as the model apartment and/or office.

Live on the top floor, as others have suggested.

My apartment faces the street so there is some noise from moving traffic and the occasional siren, but it beats hearing loud music and arguments from neighboring apartments.

When it gets too humid in the summer I turn on my AC and that eliminates most of the street ambient noise (though that doesn't really bother me).

My apartment complex has a mix of families with children, college students, and working people, and I've had no problem with noise.
posted by apartment dweller at 10:34 AM on July 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

Make sure you're not right above the garbage dumpsters, or else you'll hear the trucks!
posted by PercussivePaul at 12:21 PM on July 5, 2007

I would like to make it perfectly clear that it is not legal to discriminate on the basis of familial status including the presence of children. I'm going to repeat that because it's important: the landlord can't say no kids!!! The only way to keep kids off property is to put up a sign that says "Senior Living" or "Retirement Village" and not allow anybody under 55.

It's not legal for the property owner to discriminate, but it's certainly legal for the OP to take note of a large child-presence and use that as criteria when deciding on where to live.

I say this as half of a young professional couple who just moved out of a "family friendly" complex. More than half of the units in my building had at least 2 kids if not more. And the kids ran around in the hallways screaming well past 8pm - in fact one family didn't believe in bedtimes and would send their kids to burn off their energy in the hallways as late as 11pm on weeknights. And I am sure anyone who has had a child or lived in a building with an infant can tell you that babies do not observe quiet hours. When they want to bawl, they bawl. And how.

I'm not saying that family friendly apartment complexes are in any way bad - I think they are great ... for families who want kid friendly environments. They're not great for singles & couples who want some quiet. Which is what OP seems to be.

So, I agree with the poster above who suggested looking for complexes that are primarly 1-bedroom units that maybe are a little pricier than average. Also, you will probably want to avoid amenities designed to attract families such as playgrounds and pools.

As a final note, we moved from a family-friendly complex to a family-friendly suburban neighborhood. There are tons of kids in my neighborhood, from toddlers to teens. They are always outside playing. When the tykes go to bed, the teenagers walk around and hang out all over the neighborhood, laughing and talking and even yelling. And you know what? It is a TON more tolerable when their noise is not coming from the wall next to your bed or from above you. Trust me.
posted by tastybrains at 1:36 PM on July 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

Heh, while you are of course correct that the OP can discriminate in any way he wants (I have at least twice had people walk out of my office because they saw "too many blacks" on property), it is worth noting that even a family friendly property can enforce rules that help everybody live together.

For example, even though I could not say "no kids", I could say "I am sorry, I can't put 5 people in a 2 bedroom apartment." Note the word people; I legally can't give a flip if we are talking about 5 months old, 5 years old, or 55 years old, but I can say a person is a person. The take-away lesson from that is that if a complex has 3 bedroom apartments (most don't), someone wishing a "quiet" place does not want to be anywhere near them because it is a defacto family section. This is the opposite reasoning of someone who noted that the one bedroom apartments were apt to have more adults and couples, and it still holds.

As for kids making trouble, running down the halls at night, and/or teenagers congregating in the parking lot talking loudly, I could and did send letters to their parents to let them know this was unacceptable behavior for which they could be evicted if it continued. Funny, threaten to put somebody on the street and they get a lot more strict as parents. Just one more case where good on-site management can be your friend.

And sure, babies cry, it's what they do, as a parent please be assured that nobody wants baby to stop crying more than mom!

And finally, I have only seen one apartment community with a playground in 20 years. They are seen as a liability nightmare and a draw for non-residents. Pools are going to be at pretty much any apartment complex that was ever intended to be "nice" in that region. That's just how they do it in Texas. Obviously, somebody seeking a "quiet" place does not want a pool view apartment.
posted by ilsa at 3:20 PM on July 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

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