There are so many strategies out there that can help you achieve your investing goals. But when you look deeper, what all of these things come down to are a few fundamentals. For those who want to try their hand in investing in a note fund, Chris Seveney and Jamie Bateman have you covered. In this episode, they break down the top five things to look for when investing in a note fund. They talk about the important people you need, the characteristics these funds should have, the economic conditions you must be aware of, and the must-try strategies to implement. They also provide bonus tips and tricks that could come in handy in your toolbelt, helping you dot your I’s and cross your T’s and leave no stones unturned in that note fund.
Listen to the podcast here:
The Top Five Things To Look For When Investing In A Note Fund
Jamie, how are you?
I’m doing well. How are you, Chris?
I’m good. What are we talking about, Jamie?
We are talking about the top things to look for when investing in a note fund. This is a little more geared toward passive investors.
We’ll say top five, but we may throw in some bonus content as well like we always like to do. Prior to that, Jamie, why don’t you touch base with what you had going on?Transparency and communication go hand-in-hand. Click To Tweet
I’m not going to complain as much as I normally do. The one thing I was going to touch on is we’re selling an asset that looks to be a good win for us. I’m excited about that. We had purchased it alone and modified it. The borrower has been on ACH ever since and was paying before the MOD as well. We’re selling that one. Also, the person who is buying it is new to notes. I’ve been helping him through the process a little bit. I’ve personally bought notes similar to what he’s buying. It’s been great for an IRA or any kind of tax–advantaged accounts. It’s going to be a big win all around. It’s been good for the borrower, good for us, and good for the note buyer.
We closed on four more assets. I had some loans transferred to new servicing. I’ve got a few QWRs. I need to respond from Qualified Written Requests, where a borrower may question or contest a debt. You need to get your service or an attorney coordinated to make sure those get responded to accordingly.
Maybe you shouldn’t self–service.
Someone told us we should not self-service. Actually, I self-service a post-settlement judgment because the person just pays every month. You don’t have to comply with any of the CFPB stuff or anything along those lines but that is something I do. I did get my calculator wrapped up for my membership site. That is now operational on Mac and Windows. I know in my first trial, there were a few hiccups. I went back to the developer on that who created the software to license it. I was like, “I’m just paying you. Get this thing working.” I should know by now to hire somebody to do many different things.
Seriously, that’s what you do. You’re not afraid to outsource.
I’m not afraid to outsource anything in any way, shape, or form. One of the things I mentioned, I had two good calls with two attorney firms in different states in the Midwest, Southeast, and Northern Midwest as well. I’m learning about their services. I’m trying to expand the portfolio of attorneys. Everybody has access to and use this. It was a good call with the firm that I thought was only licensed in 1 or 2 states. They actually practice in seven. I’ll probably toss a loan over to them to see how they do.
Test the waters a little bit.
People who know me know I’m pretty much a straight shooter and I told them that. Why don’t we roll into some of the top five things to look for as part of a note fund?
#1 A Competent And Experienced Manager
Number one, a competent and experienced manager. It could be multiple managers, whoever is operating the fund.
A few things popped into my head about competent and experienced. Competent, of course, is self-explanatory. Experienced, for me, is somebody who has been in the business and understands a portfolio. They may not have run a fund before and that’s not a big negative. It’s something that they’ve got to adjust and grow to. You do a little more due diligence on them to understand how they anticipate managing a portfolio because managing 1 or 3 notes versus trying to manage 20 to 50 and that mix of performing and nonperforming is a little more challenging, but it’s something that can be overcome.
I would rather rely on somebody who has done 50 or 100 notes on their first fund than somebody who starts a fund after five notes and may have done two of them and is on their third one. I would rather have that experience with the asset class than with the fund management because that is more somewhat of a business practice component to it, which there are some risks involved. At the end of the day, if we’ll talk about some of the other characteristics to look for, it’s something that’s important but not as important as actual experience.
I’ll mention this 2 or 3 more times during this episode. To me, whether you’re investing in a note fund or multifamily syndication, whatever the asset classes or passive investment you’re making, the operator who’s managing the day–to–day of the fund is the most critical piece. You can do all the research you want on investing in notes or other research you want on market conditions or whatever else is going on in the particular deal you’re investing or in the particular notes you’re buying. At the end of the day, there does have to be a level of trust with that manager. That’s the key piece.
Trust is going to go a long way because people ask like, “What’s stopping me from losing all my money? What’s stopping you from running away with my money?” Besides the laws, nothing.
It reminds me of when I’ve sold partials. One partial that I sold, a guy asked me, “What’s stopping you from reselling a partial on this same note, this same stream of payments?” “It’s nothing. I could do it.” There is a level of risk in trust that’s involved in the manager.
You can’t take all the risks away like in any investment. I invested in WorldCom back in the day. I thought that was a great company to invest in. It didn’t work out. What did I get for? I lost everything. You’re right. There’s nothing you can do to stop somebody if they’re going to do something illegal. That’s why you got to vet them and do extensive research on them truly. My self–plug for this component is I do have on my website a downloadable eBook on questions to ask and due diligence on sponsors, investors and people in real estate.
Let me ask you before we move onto the next one. You hadn’t done a fund before. When you did your first fund, what kind of research do people do on you? What do you think you brought to the table at that point to help you get over the hump? Now, you can say you’ve run multiple funds, but at that point, what were things looking like?
It was a 506(b). Those were people I had pre–existing relationships with. Those were people who had done JVs with me, who knew who I was and were comfortable knowing that I was looking out for their best interest. That’s what it comes down to. I’ve had a few deals that went bad. At the end of the day, I made them whole and they were like, “That’s great.” They were happy with that, even though they wished they would have probably made more money, but then they continued to reinvest. It’s interesting because those who have done that have reaped the benefits as well because that first fund had done very well.
The fact that you had done a bunch of joint ventures, partials, and things like that speaks to the fact that you could probably make the leap and run a fund. That makes sense.
The biggest challenge I had early on with some of the funds I did was getting the right balance of the waterfall, making sure that I’m not taking too much and I’m not giving away too much. That’s one of the challenges and understanding the cashflows.
The second key thing to look for if you’re looking to invest in a note fund is transparency. Do you want to speak to that?
I don’t know many funds that are transparent. Honestly, a lot of them are in the note space. Let me start by that. Multifamily deals, you know what you’re buying. I’m buying this 100-unit apartment building. A lot of that information is available. The note space is very weird because people are like investing in a black box. I was like, “Where is this going?“ That’s one of the things that I’ve done a little. I like to differentiate myself from funds.
We’ve got Integrity Mortgage Note Fund that we launched. It’s about transparency saying, “Girls, guys, everyone who invested in this thing, you can see every single note that we’re investing in. You know what it is. A lot of the other funds, you have no idea. It’s a black box.“ I find that interesting. I’m surprised a little bit why more funds don’t do that, honestly. I don’t know, but it’s something that’s important to understand if you’re comfortable or not with it.
I’ve invested in certain funds, both in the note space and other asset classes. They can vary wildly. Even if the operator intends to be transparent about things or they’re not specifically hiding something, how often they communicate or how they communicate is critical as well. It helps that transparency factor. I’ve had investments where they have gone well, but I didn’t have as much communication as I would have liked. The portal was a different portal. I couldn’t quite access what the investment was and how it was performing at the time. Having that access is critical and it helps them. I don’t know about you but I’d rather take a slightly lower return if I have an idea of what’s going on with my money for three years. It gets to the whole return of capital versus return on capital. Transparency and communication go hand–in–hand.
I was going to touch base on that communication standpoint on letting investors know, even though you may have a portal, just still sending something out, whether it’s bi-weekly, monthly, or quarterly. At a minimum, I would think there would be some type of quarterly reporting that you send when you pay. If you’re paying a distribution quarterly, there’s distribution, “Here’s what’s going on. Here are the assets acquired and the assets that we’ve sold off.”
I have an investment that is doing well and it’s not in the note space, but I’ll get a quarterly deposit and I have no idea what it is. It’s not because I haven’t tried. They do eventually respond, but is this 90% principal coming back to me? What is this? One of the things I’ve learned, especially with my joint ventures, is trying to time the communication of the reporting with the actual payouts and deposits because that can be a little confusing for an investor if you’re getting money and you don’t know where it’s coming from.Assessing the market condition speaks to comparing asset classes. Nobody has a crystal ball. Click To Tweet
My recommendation for people who are looking at doing a fund unless it’s a performing note fund, I would not pay distributions on a monthly basis. By the time you get your books done, ready and everything, there is a lot to do on that. On a performing note fund with a preferred return, that’s a lot easier to review versus the nonperforming because you’ve got a lot of moving pieces and parts.
It makes sense.
#3 Economic Conditions
Number three, make sure to fund based on economic conditions that are supportable over the term of that fund. One of the things that you got to look for is, “What’s the length of the fund? What’s a lock-up period if you have a term? How long is your money going to be tied up?” That’s an important thing to understand. For example, the economy is pretty hot on housing, but if you’re tied up in something for five years, do you think it’s going to be worth more than five years or do you think it’s going to be worth less? That’s something to consider. What are your thoughts?
The operator is, in my mind, the most important thing, but right under that is the asset class and what you’re investing in. To me, assessing the market condition speaks to comparing asset classes. Nobody has a crystal ball. By the way, none of this is investment advice or legal advice. I’m taking the presumption that we are going to see an influx of nonperforming loans. Who knows if that definitely will be the case? We’ll see.
To me, housing is hot. The stock market is pretty frothy. The economic conditions point to the fact that there will likely be an influx of nonperforming loans. A lot of it depends on government intervention. We’ve seen such a rise in the housing market. That equity protection for the most part, will still be there. You’ve got to look at the macroeconomic factors as to, “Should I be investing in a multifamily syndication or multifamily fund versus a note fund versus mobile home parks?” We’ve talked before, every asset class has pros and cons, but that’s not a set-in-stone kind of thing. You’ve got to look at what’s going on in the larger economic world, if you will.
I’m going to digress. When I was taking one of my Global Investment classes at Georgetown, one of the things that was heavily focused on was logistics. It was interesting because I never even thought about logistics. Its shipping locations in central points. You set up for a lot of this whole shipping industry in logistics, where Baltimore is a major hub and certain areas of South America. I’m just, “Where is stuff coming from? Where is it going? What is the flow?“
Everyone has seen what has happened with the Suez Canal. A lot of these major players in that business are buying up buildings and space in certain strategic areas because as products continue to advance and technology advances, that’s going to be another major driver of investments, especially in some of the third–world countries that are starting to develop. When you look at the types of investments you can invest in, that was one I never even thought of.
Is it logistics in and of itself is an asset class?
Yes. It’s logistics and shipping between all these shipping companies because of Amazon and everything else that has come aboard over the years. We had to do a case study on it. It was interesting because it was like notes. A few years ago, I didn’t know notes was an asset class. I didn’t know that logistics and shipping were types of asset classes.
You got to be open to learning, asking questions, and always expanding.
#4 Upside Potential
Let’s go with number four, which is the waterfall/pay structure. Is there a preferred return? Is there upside potential? What does that look like? There are many different characteristics. I’ll let you start.
If you’re an investor, it depends on what you’re looking for. If you have $10 million and you’re looking for just protection, maybe you’re not looking for that upside. A lot of funds nowadays are paying 7% to 8% preferred return and with no upside in the note space, anyway. To me, I’d rather have a little bit of potential for that upside. I do want the preferred return, which is a little bit safer. They talk about the capital stock and like, “If you’re investing in different asset classes, you can invest in preferred equity and debt.” Preferred equity blend between the two. In a sense, I would equate our fund, the waterfall, almost like preferred equity in the sense of you’re getting a targeted preferred return but there’s also the chance for some upside on the sale of particular assets. I’d prefer to have a little bit of a blend. What are your thoughts?
I’ll get several comments on this one. I’ve tested several different components. One was a straight 50/50 split. I said, “We’re going to split like a JV.” What I found was non-accredited investors didn’t mind that. Accredited investors want a preferred return. I did an A/B test on this. You start with a preferred return. As you said, I’ve seen some that are up. One of the things I’ll mention is when we say preferred return, these are projected. It’s like, “I could give you a 50% preferred return, but you’re never going to get there.“
You make all the promises in the world.
It doesn’t matter what goes on that piece of paper essentially for a preferred return in a sense of, “That’s what you could get but are you going to get it.” That goes back to the first one of the manager’s experience. As I said, I’ve seen some that go up to 10% from that perspective. Having that upside is preferred because it gives both a vested interest. It splits that vested interest where both parties get to share some of it. If it’s not doing well, we’re going to take more risks to try and get a little more money from themselves because they might not be making anything. I’ve done one that had an initial 10% preferred return. I can tell you, as a manager, you’re not making anything until you start selling those assets or they start closing because you’ve got some performing in there. They’ll provide some type of return, but you also have your management expenses. You’ll get your management fee, but that’s not a lot.
It’s almost like buying performing notes at 11% and then selling partials at 10%. You’re going to make the money on the back end but you’re not making anything during the time of the partial.
#5 Management Fee
The other thing that was interesting in what we did that I thought was very unique and I liked it. We moved our management fee after the preferred return. It truly shows investors, “After–expenses in the fund, money goes first out the door to you.” I think that’s critical. One thing I wanted to touch upon about management fee and I find this interesting because this is my Note and Bolt for everybody. Look at what it’s based off of. The reason I say that is you’re like, “It’s a management fee.“ I’ve seen management fees based off of unpaid balance, lower pay off the unpaid balance of fair market value, or the assets under management.
Let me give you an example. Let’s say the management fee is 1%, which is low. Honestly, there’s typically a note space of 2% to 3%. Some people may not charge one, but usually, you’ll see 2% to 3%. Let’s say you raised $1 million to keep things simple. You’re at 3% based on assets under management. That’s $1 million raised at 3% and a quick $30,000. If you had $1 million, you’ll keep some of it for expenses, but what’s the UPB going to be on $1 million of assets that you’re buying?
Two-thirds of them are nonperforming. That’s $1.8 million.
Let’s keep it nice and simple, $2 million. Here’s the thing. You might buy a loan that has a $400,000 UPB but the house is only worth $50,000. They’re still basing off of UPB. Let’s say it’s double. All of a sudden, that 3% management fee isn’t $30,000. It’s $60,000. When you look at how your returns are calculated, if the fund was making 10% on $1 million and made $100,000 and then $60,000 goes to the management fee, there’s only 6% left. They’re doubling their management fee because your returns are based off of the amount of money you have to invest. If your management fee is based off of something else, it’s doubled.You got to be open to learning, asking questions and always expanding. Click To Tweet
That’s a good point. You can’t just say, “What’s the management fee, 3%, 2%?”
The other thing to touch upon and it rolls into number five is the legalities of the risk involved.
What do you mean by that?
What is at stake? Is it only your investment? Can they go after you personally? How is the investor protected? There are some that I’ve seen that have a clawback language that says, “The sponsor, if they’ve given you profits and there was ever a problem at the end, could clawback some of those profits.” Can they leverage which then would be a bank loan? What are the personal guarantees involved with that? Most people would want to have it structured where, “What I have invested is the risk involved. I’ll make sure there’s nothing else.”
As the passive investor, you can’t lose more than what you put in is what you’re saying.
That would be something that you definitely want to look for. Honestly, this is something that surprises me a little bit. With a lot of investors that I work with, I don’t think a lot of them have an attorney who reviews the PPM. I have my attorney review everything and anything. I had a borrower who sent me a settlement agreement to resolve an issue. One of my attorneys sent it over to me and said, “Are you okay with this?“
I looked at it and reading this. I can’t believe my attorney hasn’t commented like, “Why would you sign this?“ It’s a settlement agreement that the guy has to pay me X amount of dollars to resolve a foreclosure case to buy out the loan. If he doesn’t make the payment, then nothing happens. It was like, “What gives this agreement?” It was like, “I’m going to put it on paper that, ‘Here’s what we agreed to. We’re agreeing to a short payoff, but if I don’t pay you, nothing happens.’“
Is it essentially like an unsecured loan? There is no teeth to it.
I took the lion, Ryan Gallagher. He went after it and shredded it like a lion catching a gazelle. We put a language in there that says, “If you don’t make the payment, you’re in default and you’re signing over your rights to the property.” It’s like a Deed in Lieu written into the agreement if he doesn’t pay me. It’s actually a land contract. It will be a cancellation of a land contract.
You and I are working on some other things as well. You do definitely have your attorney review a lot, which is a good thing to be thorough, protected and detail–oriented. Brian is not afraid to make comments. He knows what changes to particular documents are likely to get accepted. He’s also frankly not afraid of a fight if it’s warranted.
It‘s the fairness of certain things. The indemnity agreements in most of these contracts that people sign is, “You’re going to indemnify whoever you’re paying for everything but they don’t have to indemnify you for anything.” A perfect example, I was reviewing an agreement with a company that does document recording. Somewhat, I have to indemnify them for everything. It was very limited, but then if there’s ever an issue, they’re like, “We would only be responsible for what you paid us in the last two months,“ or something along those lines.
I went to Brian and said, “What happens if I’m in Florida or a note that’s in a state that doesn’t accept lost note affidavits or lost notes and they lose the note?” He was like, “You got two months of whatever you paid them in the last two months.” I was like, “If I paid them $50,000 to do nothing in the last two months and they lose a $100,000 note, they have insurance.” He was like, “Yes, they would.” I was like, “I don’t get any of that.” He was like, “No.”
The insurance is for them, not for you.
I was like, “That’s pretty scary.” He was like, “Yes. Do you want me to put something in there about it?“ I was like, “Of course, yes.” He was joking with me because he had already picked up on that. He quizzes me to see what I pick up on. I always joke that I’m going to become an attorney in my next life or I’m going to finish one schooling and I’ll get another one to be an attorney.
He wouldn’t be surprised.
I said that but you never know. I might get fired up one day and become an attorney.
Open a law firm or something to manage.
Jamie, we’ve touched upon the top five things in a fund. What are some of the other things you think people should be looking for? Any other last–minute tidbits?
We’ve hit a lot, a competent and experienced manager, transparency and communication. Number three was supportive economic conditions. Number four was upside potential or potential for a split of excess distributions and then number five was with the waterfall. Number five was the management fee, “What is that based on?“ We threw in a couple of other little tidbits. I think that covers it. Do you have anything else?
Again, look through the documents. As we mentioned, just because someone is going to say, “I’ll give you an 18% preferred return,” doesn’t mean that you’re going to get it. Understand, ask what is historical and look at if it makes sense from that perspective. If the historical returns on the notes are 20% and somebody is giving you a 12% and then that doesn’t include all the ancillary fees that you have to, is it realistic? If somebody is running a $1 million fund, I’m going to scratch my head. If it’s a $10 million, $20 million, $30 million fund, maybe it makes a little more sense depending on the asset class that they’re buying.
I’ll recap. My view on whether it’s no funds, multifamily and any asset class, the fund manager or the operator is definitely number one. You need to do your due diligence. There’s no question. Number two to me are market conditions, asset class, economic conditions and what type of assets do you want to be investing in. Number three, drill down to the particular deal or particular notes you might be buying. The big picture, that’s how I view 1, 2, and 3.
Note And Bolt
My last Note and Bolt for this episode and then I’ll let you get yours. You can’t compare asset classes. You can’t compare a multifamily fund to a note fund. They’re completely different. The structure, the returns, the length, and the risk are going to be different. It’s like trying to compare a tech stock versus a Disney stock or something along those lines. They’re two completely different asset classes and the length of term. Everything is very different about them.
One of the things that I get asked a lot about is, “On a multifamily, I can get up to 18%.” I said, “Your money is tied up for seven years. It’s a lot riskier because when you go to liquidate, refinance, or something happens and rents are not stabilized, rents have gone down, or you’ve had issues with the property, whatever may be the case, you’re of much significant higher risk of losing a significant amount of money as well.”
We’ve compared notes with rental properties and hard real estate before. You can’t compare the returns from one asset class to the other. It’s an entirely different thing. Certain asset classes have inherent tax advantages. One reason people, frankly, with money may invest in a note fund is diversification. Even though they‘re getting some of the upsides potentially, they have an investment in other asset classes. They also want to make one in notes that helps diversify across asset classes.
You see a lot more investors using their self-directed IRA money with note funds. If that’s the case, review the PPM to see the person or ask them if they’re going to leverage because if they use leverage, it pretty much blows out the whole good portion of using a self-directed IRA. I see a lot of people use that for note funds because on the multifamily, you’re not getting the tax advantage anyways because it’s deferred. Whereas in the note fund one of the unfortunate things is its ordinary income. That’s one of the biggest hurdles I have with investors when they look to invest if they’re using their cash. Now, they are high net–worth, they see it’s ordinary income, and they don’t want to use their cash.
We did the episode on the Top 10 Reasons to Invest in Notes and then a follow–up on Reasons Not to Invest in Notes. One of the things hopefully that people appreciate about our approach is we tell like it is. Notes are amazing. I spend most of my time focused on notes but there’s no perfect asset class. Everything has pros and cons. Do your research.
Number seven/another Note and Bolt is to understand the tax implications of the note fund. That should be up on that list.
Taxes are important.
What’s your Note and Bolt, Mr. Bateman?
I‘ll be honest. I was a little unprepared on this one. I’m just going to say, please give us a review. It’s a shameless plug. I can tell you as a listener of many shows. I often do not leave a review. I get it. It takes a little bit of a pain. To the audience out there that do appreciate the content that we’re putting out, it does help us if you can give us a review. Hopefully, that’s a five–star, but if not, that’s fine. That’s my Note and Bolt.
It’s not iTunes anymore. It’s Apple Podcasts. On the 7E Investments’ website, if you go to Podcast, if you click on subscribe, there’s a link there that shows you how to leave a review. We make it as easy as possible for you. Any final thoughts?
No, I’m good. This has been good.
You’ve already told people to leave us a review. If you’re looking for more great content, read the blogs. Come join us over on Facebook at the Notes And Bolts From The Good Deeds Note Investing Podcast group. Jamie has got his Labrador Lending YouTube page. I’ve got my 7E Investments YouTube page. Also, Integrity Mortgage Note Fund is our fund. If you go to IntegrityNoteFund.com, you will also be able to check out what we’re offering in our fund that we launched that has a preferred return with excess distributions. The preferred return varies depending on the investment amount. Make sure to check that out. We’ve started raising money. We’re going to start looking at our first pool of assets acquired. It’s exciting.
I’ll give you a couple of examples. I played lacrosse in college. I would score a goal and my coach would make fun of me because I would go right back to the starting spot. I expect that of myself, to be honest. It may sound cocky. I don’t know. That’s my minimum threshold. It’s to succeed. I don’t need to be too celebratory. Another one, I got the second COVID shot and my wife was making fun of me because I claimed I was in pain. I was hurting a little bit, but she said I had the same face the whole time that I have all the time. It is what it is, but I need that energy. I feed off of that energy that you bring to the table. I think it’s a good partnership.
I played football and baseball in high school and then did a little bit of baseball in college. I was a quarterback in my junior and senior years. That was the time right around Deion Sanders. He was also my favorite athlete. He was a little flashy. He used to have a show with his wife. That was pretty interesting. I have some very old VHS tapes of me high–stepping on the sidelines. What was interesting is I was very similar.
I was an exceptional basketball player too back in the day when I was younger. I would never celebrate because my father was like, “You’re expected to do that.” Football is a little bit different. When I scored, I turned in the ball to the official and moved on my way. I never talk smack. I‘ll maybe showboat a little bit once in a while but I would never talk smack because I’m full of the opinion that if you do, it’s going to come back at you. I don’t taunt people or anything about that.
You taunt with your actions. Go score again.As the passive investor, you can't lose more than what you put in. Click To Tweet
In reality, especially now with business, some people say things, but I’m so focused on my business and get out of my way because I’m going. If I offend somebody, I’m sorry. If I come off as being a jerk, I’m sorry. I say it like I see it, but I’m ultra–focused because I’ve got a few things going on, 1 or 2 maybe.
You left out the word 100 or 200.
I was joking with somebody and made a comment. I said, “When my day on this planet comes to an end, I can honestly say I left it all. I didn’t leave anything left on the table. I went all out.”
I may have mentioned this before. I had a roommate in college. He was a powerlifter. He would always say, “People would say, ‘Powerlifting is dangerous. It’s bad for your knees to squat 700, 800, 900 pounds.‘” He would say, “Would you rather rust out or wear out?“ It’s like, “Get after it. You may make some mistakes, get injured, or something, but that’s much better than having regret for having not tried and put your best foot forward.“
As always, everyone, go out and do some good deeds. Thank you.
- Calculator – The Ideal Property Analyzer
- Integrity Mortgage Note Fund
- Top 10 Reasons to Invest in Notes – Previous episode
- Reasons Not to Invest in Notes – Previous episode
- Notes And Bolts – Facebook
- Labrador Lending – YouTube
- 7E Investments – YouTube
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