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Harry

Getting A House In Vancouver

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Harry

Getting a house in Vancouver

This issue comes up so utterly regularly, that I think there is merit to giving it its own topic, and providing a compendium of information for folks.

The lay of the land, and why it matters

Vancouver is dominated by MOUNTAINS and WATER

Mountains cut the Lower Mainland off from the rest of Canada, and the only way to get to the rest of mainland Canada in winter, is across major mountain passes with serious snow, or by using ferries up the coast. The very same mountains also cut Vancouver off from a lot of the cold air that tortures the rest of Canada in winter and leaves the city under the moderating influence of the Pacific Ocean. Also, with the great ski-facilities and scenery on the mountains outside the city, the mountains in themselves are a huge attraction. This is why so many people want to live in Vancouver and why the house prices are high...the demand is great.

Secondly there is water...lots and lots and lots of water. We have not only the Fraser River, which complicates things further by breaking up into a delta and creating various islands in its lower reaches, but also the Burrard Inlet with its offshoot, the Indian Arm. This is actually the southernmost fjord on the planet, but it is now dead as a fjord...no more scouring rock and ice. Now it just looks beautiful and causes a traffic nightmare. On top of all this the Pitt river chooses Vancouver to join the Fraser.

The picture shows a view north up the Indian Arm. See those mountains!? There is no way you are getting through them in a car! The Burrard Inlet continues to the right towards Port Moody. The city is to the left...West. Read about "Contigua" below

iarm1.jpg

The result is that Vancouver's roads and traffic are utterly dominated by the bridges over these water masses and the tunnel under the Fraser River. Huge tangles of roads come together just before some of these bridges, leading to massive congestion.

The following map of Vancouver demonstrates the issues:

vanmap.jpg

The highly sought-after places

Some places are just really beautiful and everyone wants to live there if they can and they are awfully expensive. The two prime examples are West Vancouver on the North Shore, connected to the city by the Lions Gate Bridge, and Vancouver West, particularly the Point Grey area next to the University of British Columbia. Few, if any of us, are ever going to end up in one of those places. Both of these epitomise the tourist image of Vancouver.

EttienneG lives in West Vancouver and has posted a description of West Vancouver HERE for you to read. I'm not aware of any members in Vancouver West.

The bridges of Contigua

"Vancouver" is actually comprised of a number of independent cities, each with its own municipality and mayor. Not all are organised quite the same way, as far as I know. Local experts here can let me know where I get this wrong and then I'll fix.

A quick look at the map shows that Vancouver City itself and the cities of Burnaby, New Westminster, Coquitlam, Port Moody and Port Coquitlam are on one land mass, stuck between the northern flow of the Fraser and the Burrard Inlet. However, at Coquitlam/Port Coquitlam a tributary of the Fraser, the Pitt River, manages to cauterise this piece of the mainland and cut it off from the rest of Canada. Remember that, to the north-northeast, the Coastal Mountains ensure that there are no roads possible. SO, in a way, this major chunk of "Vancouver" is like an island by itself, cut off at one end by mountain rather than water. There is no way across other than the bridges. I'll call this chunk of land "The contiguous part of Vancouver" or just "Contigua"

For the easiest commute, you want to live on Contigua, because then you never have to cross any bridge to get to work. Most employers are on Contigua. However, Contigua also contains the oldest parts of Vancouver and, if you are ever going to see a not-so-nice part of Vancouver, you are going to see it on Contigua, probably as part of the City of Vancouver. Major parts of the City of Vancouver are not-so-nice and the same is true of parts of Burnaby. Conversely, both have really great areas. The City of Vancouver has Point Grey, after all ( see above)! The longest commute you are going to have on Contigua would be of the order of 45 minutes.

The North Shore of Vancouver is comprised of West Vancouver and North Vancouver. Actually, North Vancouver is subdivided into City of North Vancouver and District of North Vancouver, but don't let that bother you...I live in Deep Cove in the "district". West Vancouver is separated from North Vancouver by the spectacular Capilano River Gorge, which has only two serious car bridges across it (plus one shortcut to the Park Royal Mall). West Vancouver is joined to Contigua by the famous Lions Gate Bridge...an international Canadian landmark.

lionsgatelanes.jpg

North Vancouver is joined to Contigua by the Second Narrows Bridge which is actually properly called the Iron Worker's Memorial Bridge, after a number of construction workers died during its construction when the partially built bridge collapsed.

5-06-14narrows.jpg

The Lions Gate Bridge is actually rather small, having only three lanes. The middle lane switches in direction. The Second Narrows Bridge has three lanes either direction and carries the Canadian National Highway 1. When these two bridges are out, North and West Vancouver become cut off from the Rest of Canada ( unless you want to try a trip over the mountains via Whistler and Lillooet, an 8-hour trip around to the rest of Vancouver...and it does happen. The Seabus can take pedestrians across the Burrard, but not cars.

Contigua is joined in the east to Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge, on the north bank of the Fraser, via the Pitt River Bridge. This is another counter-flow-lane arrangement that switches direction on some lanes between morning and afternoon. However, when you cross to Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge, you are stuck on that side of the river until you get to the Albion Ferry much further east. The Pitt River Bridge is therefore a BIG DEAL.

You can cross the Fraser over the Port Mann Bridge from Contigua on the National Canadian Highway 1 to go to the huge spread-out suburban areas of Surrey and Langley. This is the main arterial route of "Vancouver" and Canada. Unfortunately some clown tries to jump off there every now and then and then holds up hundreds of thousands of people and causes 10-15km traffic jams. I have no idea why they choose the Port Mann. The Port Mann Bridge is another Big Deal.

To the south, one can cross from Contigua to Richmond over three bridges. One is near the airport and carries the big Highway 99 from Seattle. This is the Arthur Laing Bridge. Further east along the Fraser sits the Knight Street Bridge, which, appropriately, carries Knight Street! Yet further east is the Queensborough Bridge which crosses the Northern (smaller) run of the Fraser to join the part of New Westminster that is on Contigua, to the part of it that is on Islands in the Fraser.

The heart of New Westminster is joined to the heart of Surrey by the Patullo Bridge, which is pronounced exactly the opposite way round: "Putallo". I have used all of these bridges, but, in my five years in this city, I have never had occasion to cross on the Patullo Bridge.

There are more bridges in Vancouver. The truly impressive Alex Fraser Bridge takes one from New Westminster across the larger southern run of the Fraser River to the eastern section of Delta, adjoining Surrey. This would be the main route taken to the USA by many people from Burnaby and Coquitlam and even North Vancouver.

5-06-14alexfraser.jpg

Further West, Richmond is joined to Delta by the George Massey Tunnel, which goes underneath the large southern run of the Fraser River. Both of these structures are wholly OUTSIDE Contigua.

Then there are still the three Bridges that link the Downtown area to the rest of Vancouver City: The Camby street Bridge, The Granville Street Bridge and the Burrard Street Bridge. However, they are wholly inside Contigua and can be bypassed if so required. The picture shows the Granville Street Bridge in the foreground, and the Burrard Street Bridge behind it.

107bridges.jpg

The actual "suburbs" and houses

Port Moody, Coquitlam and Port Coquitlam form the co-called Tri-Cities area. It would be the "Bellville or Pinetown of Vancouver", so to speak..the main feeder-city. Your commute from there (Port Moody) to work ( in say Burnaby) is typically 30-40 minutes. I would consider the Tri-Cities area the mainstay suburbia of Vancouver. All the shops seem to be bigger there. You also get better deals if you shop there.

Surrey is across the Port Mann bridge over the Fraser River. That bridge is the source of a major delay in the commute. Many tens of thousands of people ( if not hundreds of thousands) do that commute every single day, and we have quite a few ex-SA folks here that live in Surrey. There are lots of new housing developments there that are really superb and well-priced.

Maple Ridge, north of the river, and Langley ( south of the river, are getting towards "outlying", though huge numbers of people commute from there every day. House prices drop significantly as you cross eastwards over either the Port Mann bridge ( to Surrey and Langley) or the Pitt River Bridge ( to Pitt Meadows Maple Ridge). From hereabouts you are talking an hour or more commute to work...the lower house prices you exchange for bigger gasoline bills.

White Rock, in South Surrey (on the US border), and Tsawwassen ( "too-wassen") in Delta, are both stretches of suburbia that are much sought after. Both have much more sunshine and less rain than North or West Vancouver, because they are quite far from the mountains. White Rock ends up being a bit more expensive. A lot of high tech immigrant families that I know of have ended up in Tsawwassen, because the commute from there to to Richmond, where there are quite few high tech places, is not bad.

Where are the bad spots?"

The question has come up before. If you want to know where the real problem areas for Vancouver are then the answer would be that certain sections of East Vancouver, adjoining the city centre, have severe drug trouble with associated problems. Similarly both Surrey and Richmond have areas that are problematic...mainly those parts nearer the City of Vancouver. However, Vancouver City also has the most highly prized and priced area in all of Vancouver, Point Grey next to the University ( Vancouver West). Similarly both Surrey and Richmond have truly superb areas. The much sought after White Rock, with its great sunshine, for example, is in Surrey. So, yes, there are SPOTS to be avoided, but there is no single City within Vancouver about which such a blanket statement could be made. More recently dagga grow-operations have been uncovered in the upmarket Westwood Plateau area of Coquitlam, for example.

Ethnic Distributions

There are interesting ethnic distributions. Most East Indian immigrants settle in North Surrey. Most Chinese immigrants settle in Richmond, which is strongly Chinese in culture in the areas nearer the Airport, though many Chinese folks have selected the Westwood Plateau of Coquitlam in recent years.

Most folks of Iranian descent have settled in West Vancouver on the North Shore.

The South African folks DO NOT hang together and therefore are not congregated in specific areas. I know we have South African folks in the West End ( see above), in Coquitlam, in Port Coquitlam, in Port Moody, Surrey, Langley and a few in Tsawwassen and White Rock . I also know an SA family in Richmond. There is quite a large SA community on the north Shore, most typically in North Vancouver or North Vancouver District.

Not many South Africans I know of settle in Burnaby (very much like Newton Park in PE where I grew up) or Vancouver City, other than to rent an aparment in the West End, where I know a few people. Most try to find a place in North Vancouver, and, if the finances or mortgages don't work out, they go for the Tri-cities area. Some specifically head for Tsawwassen and White Rock for the sun. House prices are dramatically better across the Port Mann and Pitt River bridges, and so a lot of folks have elected to move there instead and accept the long commute. Surrey and Langley, in particular, have become VERY attractive.

Actual individual houses:

My suggestion is that folks use the excellent online facilities that the Real estate agents have around here. Folks headed for Vancouver, and NOT looking at Surrey and Langley, can try www.realtylink.org. Those folks headed for Surrey and Langley, should try www.mls.ca.

The cheapest house that was available in Point Grey last week, was $819,000. The cheapest in British Properties in West Vancouver was $738,000. An open lot of 15,000 square foot was $549,000, just to give you an idea. The cheapest one advertised in Westwood Plateau ( an upmarket end of Coquitlam) was $449,000. These few numbers give you the expensive end of the picture.

Here is the Real data of the Greater Vancouver Real Estate Board. The "Benchmark"-price for Greater Vancouver is $523,603. This certainly makes Vancouver one of the most expensive places on Earth, in terms of capital to lay out for a house. Your RETURN ON INVESTMENT is something else. I have yet to hear of another investment that works as well.

However...

Across The Fraser River:

The relevant organisation here, covering Surrey and Langley, is the Fraser Valley Real Estate Board. They give the benchmark price as $364,254. So, it is quite a difference. The complete stats are HERE.

You can ask for comment on housing from:

1. Adele, who lives in Surrey.

2. Jack, who lives in White Rock ( part of Surrey)

3. EttienneG, who lives in West Vancouver

4. Sponger in Coquitlam

5. Digin, who used to bein the West End apartment world ( Now in SA)

6. Rochelle or myself: both in North Vancouver

You may want to send them a PM.

The Webpages of the Various Cities

District of West Vancouver

District of North Vancouver

City of North Vancouver

City of Vancouver

City of Burnaby

City of New Westminster

City of Port Moody

City of Coquitlam

City of Port Coquitlam

City of Richmond

Corporation of Delta

City of Pitt Meadows

District of Maple Ridge

City of Surrey

City of Langley

District of Mission

City of Abbotsford

When you go further east than Mission or Abbotsford, you are getting into serious rural Fraser Valley. The commute becomes just plain crazy and you want to be thinking VERY carefully about all this.

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robert

Thanks for the hard work Harry!

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Harry

Only a pleasure Robert.

If I could get the folks over here in Vancouver to add their descriptions of their Cities to THIS THREAD HERE, then I can make links to those descriptions. There are lots of websites describing these places, but I think there ismerit in hearing the descriptions throughthe eyes of South Africans. they know what people will be looking for and what they will think when they see these places.

For example, folks know where to get biltong and Mrs Ball's in North Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey. Elsewhere I do not know.

So, Adele...Surrey?

Rochelle, how about some more North Van?

Sponger...Coquitlam??

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Sangoma

Just to confuse matter more...if you are willing to live in Abbotsford or white rock and work in Vancouver, you may also want to consider living on Vancouver Island.

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Harry

Sangoma,

what does that ferry cost if one has a season ticket, and how well can one truly rely on it for commuting? Also, is one stuck with Horseshoe Bay as terminal if one comes from Nanaimo, or is there a Tsawwassen terminal option?

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Cathy K

My pennies worth.....

Theres definitely a Tswassen terminal option, the ferry lands at Duke Point. Another consideration is the float planes that operates from Departure Bay. The Flight takes about 15 minutes and lands near Vancouver Airport. I'm sure monthly rates can be negotiated.

Cathy K

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Cathy K

Harry

Behalwe vir swem of roei in 'n sinkbad, is die volgende metodes beskikbaar om by Nanaimo (of vanaf) te kom:

BC Ferries

Harbour Lynx Voet 'Ferrie'

Vliegtuig tussen Nanaimo en Vancouver Lughawe

Dan is daar nog een of twee ander lugrederytjies wat heen-en-weer vlieg.

Pierre K.

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Harry

Dankie Pierre & Cathy.

Ek is seker ons SA lede kan die "links" deurkyk en self besluit.

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Sangoma

Monthly Passes for Harbour Lynx = $495.00 (plus GST)

It is reliable enough, you always have a few backup options. Fog may eliminate the use of float planes in winter.

Nanaimo has two major BC Ferry Routes servicing it:

Duke Point to Tsawassen (from south nanaimo to south vancouver)

Departure Bay to Horseshoe Bay (from northern nanaimo to northern Vancouver)

Edited by Sangoma

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Harry

To that cost would have to be added the monthly/season rate for Translink (Buses/Skytrain/Seabus) and the cost of getting to the terminal on the island.

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EtienneG

Thanks Harry - excellent post.

If I had to arrive here today in as poor a state as I did 7 years ago, I would seriously consider Bowen Island. It is still possible to get a property there at reasonable price if you don't expect oceanfront. The ferry service is regular and fairly cheap (10 tickets for about $39 but I'm sure there are better deals to be had). Kids use the ferry for free (by law the govenment HAS to provide free transport if a school is more than a certain distance away - or so I've heard).

They are also introducing a new ferry next year which will run from Snug Cove on Bowen to downtown (at the seabus terminal) with a stop in Ambleside. This will make Bowen a very attractive option and I would bet that property prices will reflect this very soon.

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Sangoma
To that cost would have to be added the monthly/season rate for Translink (Buses/Skytrain/Seabus) and the cost of getting to the terminal on the island.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

To that cost would need to be subtracted the amount you save on housing costs, car insurance etc.

Its not the perfect solution but its an option which many people take.

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Harry

Point made and taken Sangoma. As Etienne mentioned, I know of quite a few folks that do the Bowen Island thing...one car in Horseshoe Bay and another on the island!

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Harry

I have now added to the first post of this thread the links to the webpages of the various cities that make up "Vancouver". Happy hunting!

If folks want the information expanded, then ask questions.

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Harry

The lastest Royal Bank of Canada Housing Index document is available HERE.

The Local Real Estate Board has its March 2006 data HERE.

Things are getting scary. Calgary seems to have gone insane with just too many people chasing that oil. Vancouver remains very high and grows second fastest of the big places.

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Harry

For those focusing on a house in Vancouver, you might want to follow THIS BLOG.

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KateyLee

Thanks for the link. I'm finding the Vancouver real estate market confusing when I research properties on mls.ca It seems difficult to get a large condo in the downtown area because so many units are only 500 - 600 square feet. Then most of the houses are too big (and too expensive) for our needs.

I did find a townhouse development near Kitsilano that seemed to be comparable to the cost of similar projects in downtown Toronto. Hopefully the prices don't triple in the next 7 years!

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Alwyn

Out of curiosity I have looked at Ottawa houses and was quite amazed how the price and quality compared to that of Vancouver area.

Wonder if it is worth it taking the weather into account?

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Harry

It's not the weather ( which is often murky in winter in Vancouver).....it's the climate. +3C in winter beats the hell out of -20C. +25C in summer beats the hell out of +33C on a continuous basis at 85% humidity.

Also, when is the last time The Stones played Ottawa?

Also, shall we make comparative lists of things you can do around Van as compared with Ottawa

etc etc etc....You have the World's most ( or second most) Favourite City to live in, compared with a place whose main claim is that of being the capital.

In the end, the fact is that ALL Canadians dream of living in Vancouver, and that chases up the prices. I have US attorneys in NY who are wanting me to help them justify moving to Vancouver. Also, we have movie stars and rock stars living over here in West Vancouver. Everyone that is anyone just wants to be here....and they do not care what they have to pay and they have the money. So, you are competing with the richest of the human race for new places.

So, the word is out....and the prices show it....our neighbours across the road are US folks, for example.

Lastly, the lay of the land makes that the commute is tough and expensive, as I have explained elsewhere (search for "contigua"). If you want to live in Surrey or Langley and accept the commute, you can have Ontario prices and standards. Near the city, the numbers are crazy, and are likley to stay that way.

It is NOT the local economy that is supporting the prices...it is the collected riches of the Western World, as best I can tell. The world appears to have a love affair with Vancouver.

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KateyLee
Out of curiosity I have looked at Ottawa houses and was quite amazed how the price and quality compared to that of Vancouver area.

Wonder if it is worth it taking the weather into account?

All I know is that I will never move anywhere colder than where I am at the moment (Toronto). Ottawa definitely has colder winters with much more snow. I haven't visited Ottawa yet, but I've heard many complain that there isn't much to do and that it has a very small town atmosphere that is dominated by politicians. That doesn't sound too good to me!

But that said, it is 2 hours drive from Montreal. So you would be able to escape the bureaucrats for some culture if you needed.

I think Vancouver is probably the easiest city in Canada for South Africans to adapt to.

Edited by Maya

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Karen

This is my plan- I will stay in Toronto until retirement, when I will sell my GTA home and buy an apartment on Vancouver Island which faces the water. I figure what I get for my home here, will cover a nice two bedroomed apt there ( at least right now), and that is all I will need at that stage of my life. Well, that is my dream, at least for now. When I want cultural city life, I will hop over on the ferry and spend a few days in Van, staying at my reasonable boutique hotel on Robson!!! ( Dream on, old girl!!).

Meantime, here I am in exciting, vibrant, multicultural T.O. - the New York of Canada. The longer I live here, the more I realise what a great city this is to explore and live in. There really is a lot to do, if you want to- great theatre, great eating, museums, etc etc. T.O. is truly a world in one city. OK, winters can be tough, especially January through March, but they all pass soon enough, and spring is absolutely wonderful, summers can be as hot as Durbs, Fall is magnificent and winter virtually guarantees you a white Xmas and time to enjoy the great indoors of the malls, your cosy fireplace, evenings with friends sipping gluwein and hot, thick soups. It's a time to bundle up in thick parkas, warm gloves and tuques and snug boots and venture out for a walk on crisp, virgin snow on a bright blue sunny day. It's the time to stay at home and play board games or watch movies when the weather outside is frightful, but you are warm as toast in your heated little box and all the world outside is grey and icy and slippery and white, devoid of all colour. It's a time to snuggle under a duvet with a good book, which can transport you to wamer places in your imagination. If you have kids, delight in their excitement about skating, skiing and toboganning down a steep hill with bright eyes and rosy cheeks.

And when Spring sprungs, T.O. will seem like the best place in the world to be and you will momentarily forget your desire to be in Vancouver!!!

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KateyLee

I agree Karen. Toronto is a fantastic city and it really grows on you. I discover new things that I like about this place all the time.

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cheryl
I agree Karen. Toronto is a fantastic city and it really grows on you. I discover new things that I like about this place all the time.

If I could put in my 2 cents worth - Vancouver is beautiful and definately moderate in climate compared to the rest of Canada. When we came to Canada in 1995 I was determined not to settle in an area which has snow all winter long - hence we ended up in Vancouver. My only regret is that Vancouver is sooooo much further from SA. All my family are still there and to fly my family of 4 to see everyone is terribly expensive.

If you have strong ties back home you should seriously consider putting up with the fluffy, slushy white stuff !

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coldenuforyaeh?

The market in Vancouver is levelling off. When you have a rickety old house on a tiny Kitsilano lot going for a million dollars plus how much higher could it possibly go? The big jump was over the last few years, so anyone who got into the market before then must be smiling. Out in Langley for example where there's a lot of development happening its definitely more afforable getting something, but as far as those places are concerned you might as well be anywhere else in Canada. Its basically impossible getting into Vancouver proper now without a towering pile of cash and/or a super high income. And if I did have that pile of cash I'd probably head south anyway.

Vancouver isn;t quite whats its cracked up to be, especially if you don;t have much of a cushion in terms of savings, friends/family, or a decent job. It can be tough finding your feet here without either of those, or anywhere else u'd think, but this is definitely not the kindest of places to those after career progression and that home with the white picket fence. Its great for established people who came here with money or young jobseekers just passing through.

Is it just me or has anyone felt this city growing significantly the past 2/3 years?? seems to be getting busier...

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Wesley
Is it just me or has anyone felt this city growing significantly the past 2/3 years?? seems to be getting busier...

Yes, I've noticed it getting busier. More buildings, people and cars on the road. Just a lot more congestion in general. It's quite something actually to see the city grow at such a fast pace. I think I preferred the slower, less congested Vancouver to tell you the truth.

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