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Condominium Costs
Old 04-05-2008, 09:25 AM   #1
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Condominium Costs

This is a spinoff thread from the recent "cost of housing" discussion. It's about the costs of condo living.

We are looking at condo options because of planned travel during FIRE. Same with "no maintenance" communities where the exterior upkeep is folded into your HOA or other deed-related arrangements.

Theoretically, condo maintenance should be lower than a fee-simple private property because of volume and shared pricing, since the HOA does not retain any profits. As I look at the numbers, this seems to be true.

The problem is when your priorities are at odds with the HOA priorities. For example, if you don't want to pay for cable TV and internet, you may have no choice but to pay for it if the HOA wants it. Or, you may feel that the buildings need painting but the HOA keeps putting it off.

The second problem is timing. Even if you agree the neighborhood needs more sidewalks, it might turn out that this is just not a good year for you to eat a $3000 assessment due to other expenses.

And finally, the ongoing fee-creep makes it very hard to plan your housing costs. But over the long haul, I think we will have spent as much or more on our single family home as we would have in a well-maintained condo. It's just that we've had more control over the timing of certain projects. I suspect that if you stay in a condo long enough, the overall costs even out or are lower.

I think a condo arrangement can work if a) you can live comfortably with the various deed restrictions, b) the big expenses are those you would avail yourself of regularly (why pay for a golf course cost if you don't play), and c) you have plenty of cushion in your budget for rising fees over time. Fees go up, but so would the homeowner's costs for insurance, roofs, maintenance, etc.

Does this seem accurate to those of you who live in condos?
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Old 04-05-2008, 09:45 AM   #2
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I lived in a house that the community did the outside maintenance on . This included all landscaping(including the sprinkler system ) , community pool , tennis court , clubhouse and basic cable in the monthly fee . I was in charge on painting the house ,roof and other outside maintenance . It was new when I moved so the maintenance was only $135 when I left in 2001 the maintenance was $150 very reasonable and worth every penney . It was a nice sized house 1800 on a nice sized lot . I really liked having my own house that they did the work on . The restrictions were reasonable and as a single woman I felt safe . Maybe too safe the neighbors were entertained by my dating at 51 . Before that I had rented in a condo community but I really like to have my own piece of land .
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Old 04-05-2008, 10:04 AM   #3
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We don't live in a condo or planned/gated community (yet). We have entertained the idea of selling the big house and moving to a highrise condo with views in Chicago. However, we have found that these types of highrises have huge monthly assessments ($600-$700 average). Add to this any special assessments, parking (yes parking) and taxes and you could be looking at $1100 - $1200 a month. That is more than (but not by much) my taxes now. The object is to have a 'lock it up and leave' home base that costs less. We have all but given up this alternative.

There are low rises near the lake that have more reasonable assessments, but not the view. So, as we all have found in the past, life is a series of tradeoffs.

In any case, luckily DW and I love where we live now, so there is no hurry. However the numbers for selling the current home, buying a condo and investing the balance are very compelling. We don't need the funds, but old habits are hard to change. OLD DOG yeah know.
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Old 04-05-2008, 10:13 AM   #4
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Chose your condo carefully. There is always someone who reaps little from the constant home improvement assessments, and someone who always seems to do rather well. Especially when it comes to "special assessments"/ My mom isn't very happy about her condo in Orange County. Always being told what she can and can't put on her patio, her front porch.

And then there is the ubiquitous condo-Nazi who is usually in a position of power over other owners and usually likes to exercise their opinion in an official sense. Residents have the feeling he patrols at night to record infractions, real or imaginary.
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Old 04-05-2008, 10:48 AM   #5
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I haven't lived in a condo, but I am thinking about it and yet I am a little leery about the concerns that you mention. So this post is not really answering your question, as much as just musing along the same lines...

I would expect that the positive aspects of owning a condo might be
(1) no more yardwork! , and
(2) it would be easier to leave for whatever limited travel that we might desire.

The possible negative aspects might be
(1) the possibility of feeling "bullied" by the HOA over something like the color of my shutters (I am very sensitive to bullying and will not tolerate it!!!),
(2) dissatisfaction with the quality of upkeep provided by the HOA, and
(3) extra assessments and fees that are unrealistic and nonconsensual, coupled with the inability to sell it quickly to get out from under, and
(4) possibly having to be physically closer to one's neighbors; less privacy and solitude.

Frank pointed out that I could get the advantages of a condo without the possible disadvantages.
(1) I can hire a landscaping company to take care of my entire yard, probably for less than condo fees (and I can fire them and hire another if I don't like their work or charges).
(2) And then, I can learn how to "winterize" my home, and do so if I plan to be gone on vacation. I can tell the post office to shut off the mail, and maybe I can hire a kid to pick up all the unwanted newspapers, ads, and flyers that litter one's lawn and front door when away.
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Old 04-05-2008, 11:49 AM   #6
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I think a condo arrangement can work if a) you can live comfortably with the various deed restrictions, b) the big expenses are those you would avail yourself of regularly (why pay for a golf course cost if you don't play), and c) you have plenty of cushion in your budget for rising fees over time. Fees go up, but so would the homeowner's costs for insurance, roofs, maintenance, etc.
Does this seem accurate to those of you who live in condos?
Yup. I've lived in condos and in neighborhoods of single-family homes with HOAs.

The neighborhood HOAs at least allow more leeway & discretion while not bringing you into as much forced contact with your neighbors. The management/administration gene pool is a lot deeper, too (our HOA oversees an office of 30 employees/groundskeepers amid 14,000 homes) which tends to minimize the "good intentions" of the control freaks. I'm with W2R-- I don't think I'd ever go back to condo life.

IMO they're a necessary evil. While I don't particularly enjoy HOAs and never ask their permission if there's any possible regulatory loophole to weasel out of, I can appreciate how they protect property values and I'm willing to pay for it. You can quickly tell which neighborhoods around here have HOAs... and which do not.
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Old 04-05-2008, 11:55 AM   #7
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And why has someone not suggested renting an apartment

You don't have to buy, not assessments that you get blindsided (they have to eat the big ones because market forces will keep the rent reasonable)...

AND, you can always move to another one if they slip or you do have the 'nazi' police around...

They also fix the INSIDE if something goes wrong...
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Old 04-05-2008, 12:02 PM   #8
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And why has someone not suggested renting an apartment

You don't have to buy, not assessments that you get blindsided (they have to eat the big ones because market forces will keep the rent reasonable)...

AND, you can always move to another one if they slip or you do have the 'nazi' police around...

They also fix the INSIDE if something goes wrong...
He might need the room of a house. Otherwise ya apartments are good in that manner.
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Condo Living -- It Depends
Old 04-05-2008, 12:08 PM   #9
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Condo Living -- It Depends

I've lived in condos for over 20 years -- big ones (more than 100 units) and little ones (less than 10 units), and it depends.

As has been suggested, it depends on the HOA. Some are very restrictive and some are less so. Location, cost, floorspace design, AND association should be the major decision points when deciding to buy. The HOA will be the dealbreaker and is the one thing most people don't investigate.

Nords is right, it is restrictive, but the HOA serves a purpose -- to maintain property values through consistent architectural presentation. One has to be willing to accept the restrictions.

If you're considering purchasing, ask to inspect the codes covenants and restrictions BEFORE signing an earnest agreement. Also see if the current owner will let you inspect the last 12 months of board meeting minutes. The minutes give you some idea of how active the HOA is (including what problems your potential neighbors might have that will really IRK you).

W2R, your assumptions are sort of correct.

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I would expect that the positive aspects of owning a condo might be
(1) no more yardwork! , and
It depends, in my current condo, I have a private backyard and am responsible for mowing the lawn and keeping in up. I've lived in others where the HOA took care of that, but I also needed permission to remove plantings.

(2) it would be easier to leave for whatever limited travel that we might desire.
It depends. Neighbors can ignore your coming and goings no matter where you live. If your water heater leaks, will anyone know?

The possible negative aspects might be
(1) the possibility of feeling "bullied" by the HOA over something like the color of my shutters (I am very sensitive to bullying and will not tolerate it!!!),
Goes with the territory. Need to understand the rules before you buy.

(2) dissatisfaction with the quality of upkeep provided by the HOA, and
Goes with the territory. See above.

(3) extra assessments and fees that are unrealistic and nonconsensual, coupled with the inability to sell it quickly to get out from under, and
This is where due diligence up front is critical. When inspecting the board materials (including the annual budget and minutes), you can get a sense if the reserves are sufficient and how the board usually handles expenses like this. I lived in one condo for 8 years that only had 2 special assessments (both less than $1,000) -- because the HOA was firm in its belief that they'd rather have higher dues than pay assessments. It depends.

(4) possibly having to be physically closer to one's neighbors; less privacy and solitude.
Goes with the territory.

Frank pointed out that I could get the advantages of a condo without the possible disadvantages.
Yes you can, but what you miss out on is the potential lower cost due to the purchasing power of the HOA. But, then, it depends.

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Old 04-05-2008, 12:18 PM   #10
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And why has someone not suggested renting an apartment

You don't have to buy, not assessments that you get blindsided (they have to eat the big ones because market forces will keep the rent reasonable)...

AND, you can always move to another one if they slip or you do have the 'nazi' police around...

They also fix the INSIDE if something goes wrong...
I agree. For the most part, in most urban areas, it will be cheaper and way less trouble to live in an apartment. But there are some give-ups.

One thing you give up is getting something of a lock on your residence expenses, and the possibility of speculative gains, tax benefits, etc. You also give up being able to define yourself by your expensive, well cared for home or condo. Even if all you did was put in granite and stainless, it can be a source of pride and differentiation from those without superior tastes.

But there is another side. I have a friend who is a loan officer at a local bank. She bought a condo in a supposedly nice part of town, where SFHs cost $550K or so for 100 year-old dumps. A drug dealer was working right across the hall from her condo unit. She sold out at a small loss and moved.

In a well managed apartment in a nice part of town that guy would have been gone overnight. And, the goal of the management of an apartment is to keep it attractive at its market level to maximize the rent rolls. Most of the things that motivate professional managers will be good from the POV of a law-abiding, well behaved tenant.

Not necessarily the case with the HOA or condo association volunteer nazi. His/her main motivation might be to assert control and dominance over others. This would not necessarily be congruent with your goals as a condo owner.

Another nice thing about renting is that I can live in an old expensive neighborhood where the lot costs and parking restrictions would preclude putting up a new condo project. ALso, I can live in an old but charming building, without taking on any of the maintenance headaches that would come from owning in a building this old.

Personally I will remain a renter until condos/co-ops are a real bargain. Then I might take one, either move in or rent it, and turn it when the housing market again gets wild.

Ha
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Old 04-05-2008, 12:30 PM   #11
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And why has someone not suggested renting an apartment

You don't have to buy, not assessments that you get blindsided (they have to eat the big ones because market forces will keep the rent reasonable)...

AND, you can always move to another one if they slip or you do have the 'nazi' police around...

They also fix the INSIDE if something goes wrong...
I am definitely thinking about this, too! I know that renting will be my first step once we move north, so that I can take my time about buying.

There is something very alluring about having the freedom to just pick up and leave. That has to be balanced with the ability to renovate and redecorate, and the feeling that "this is MINE" which can be rather intoxicating. And of course, rents increase with inflation whereas a paid off house, or a house with a mortgage, has more predictable expenses. But still, renting has its appeal.
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Old 04-05-2008, 01:05 PM   #12
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Chose your condo carefully. There is always someone who reaps little from the constant home improvement assessments, and someone who always seems to do rather well. Especially when it comes to "special assessments"/ My mom isn't very happy about her condo in Orange County. Always being told what she can and can't put on her patio, her front porch.

And then there is the ubiquitous condo-Nazi who is usually in a position of power over other owners and usually likes to exercise their opinion in an official sense. Residents have the feeling he patrols at night to record infractions, real or imaginary.
OMG, that's so funny and so true! There's an old guy who is constantly walking around our condos staring at people. We call him the Condo Monitor. When we were new it was especially bad. Glaring at me as I took out the garbage, glaring at me as I got the mail. I think he probably expected me to greet him in a friendly way--he's from a foreign culture where, I presume, it's normal to get to know the members of your village or whatever. But then why doesn't HE ever say anything?

We have problems in our arrangement, and the association is aware of them-- noisy neighbors, lots of garbage on the property from passers-by (fast food joints and grocery store nearby), and a really creepy and dicey atmosphere--lots of druggies and crazies.

There is that sense of not being in control of things you'd like to be in control of. The association recently informed us that someone--the property owners or somebody--were telling them that they were going to have to increase our monthly dues by five dollars. Small amount, but it seemed random and without justification. We can vote on it...Don't know what other things are going to come out of left field. Anyway, we didn't have a lot of choice--we knew it had to be a condo. This is close to our jobs and the unit is remodeled with new appliances. The only other option would have been to buy a shack and fix it up, but that would have cost money in repairs we don't have.

I would like back yard or a bigger deck. Otherwise, with no kids, we're fine in the space (around 900 sqare feet).
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Old 04-05-2008, 01:44 PM   #13
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I am the president of our HOA. I actually wished we had an "HOA nazi" around, because he/she at least keeps an eye on the area. We've found graffiti, stink bombs, and other stuff that could have been kept out had there been someone watching. Inner city living is no piece of cake.

It is not a pleasant job to be on the HOA, for the most part. The reason is that it is extremely difficult to enforce the association's rules and regulations. There are often complaints about a noisy neighbor, and we can't really do much except calling the alleged noise maker and tell them to be quieter. I guess we could impose a fine against them if they continue to be noisy, but if they don't pay up, it costs the association more to hire a lawyer or collection company. It's just not worth it. Plus, we are all neighbors, and who wants to have someone that hates them living just two doors down? Esp. since this is an unpaid position, it can be very unrewarding.

We just had a neighbor who put on satellite dishes on his balcony, which was specifically prohibited in the association rules. We've talked with him several times, and he just doesn't do anything. Other neighbors are complaining to me. I think we have no option but to start imposing fines.

Economically, I think living in a common interest community can be a good deal because of the "bulk" nature of a lot of the services. On the other hand, you are paying someone for small things you could do yourself. It all depends on how much you like yard work, I guess.

Regarding the issue of a huge assessment, if the association is well managed financially, they should have a reserve and a "reserve study" that outlines how much is needed for the big-ticket repairs/replacements at regular intervals (10, 20 years, etc.). It can be very complicated, but I think it's well worth your time to read carefully all the financial statements, esp. how much reserve they have.

One last point, it's important to make sure other homeowners in the association are not in foreclosure. If they are not paying the bank, they are certainly not paying association dues, so the burden is much higher on the other homeowners. Also, a unit in foreclosure drags down the value of all other similar units in the eyes of an appraiser.
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Old 04-05-2008, 01:50 PM   #14
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If you're considering purchasing, ask to inspect the codes covenants and restrictions BEFORE signing an earnest agreement. Also see if the current owner will let you inspect the last 12 months of board meeting minutes. The minutes give you some idea of how active the HOA is (including what problems your potential neighbors might have that will really IRK you).
This is an absolute must for a condo purchase. You should also look at as many yearly budgets as you can - see how expenses have behaved over time.

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IMO they're a necessary evil. While I don't particularly enjoy HOAs and never ask their permission if there's any possible regulatory loophole to weasel out of, I can appreciate how they protect property values and I'm willing to pay for it. You can quickly tell which neighborhoods around here have HOAs... and which do not.
The HOA is everything - but you can only judge one that has a track record. A new condo or building is attractive but risky - you don't know what the association management will do. To ensure the ongoing expense predictability and compatibility you'll want one that's been around for a while. You can inspect how well the buildings and grounds are maintained. You can also see the way they manage - if you agree with the way they spend money. Over time, it's not just the expense but how they manage it that will affect you.

A condo with a good HOA is an excellent option for property that is not occupied all year long.

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Old 04-05-2008, 02:02 PM   #15
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We purchased our first single family home 1975 and livee in several since. Currently we have lived in a condo for almost 3 years now and are satisfied. We do not have a clubhouse, pool, just a couple of park-like areas for sitting. A community pool and golf course (with clubhouse) are all within walking distance but do not cost us anything unless we want to use them. We have 20 buildings of 4 units each (two end units and 2 interior units). So far we have not had large increases in the monthly fee and have not had any special assessments. We do have a reserve fund for major expenses (Exterior Painting and Roofs). Entire development is about 7 years old (our unit is about 3.5 years old and was one of the last buildings built). We did not want to pay for anything but our unit so we do not miss any of the usual community add-ons (pools, clubhouses etc.,). I would suggest a very close reading of the CCR's or other rules and, to be on the safe side, assume they will be strictly enforced. If you can live with them you should not have a problem just be sure all occupants understand them and agree before the purchase. As, has already been mentioned, look at prior board meetings minutes and budgets to see potential problem areas. Additionally, if the development is new and the builder is still in control the condo fee will probably be artificially low. After the owners take over it most likely will rise, and sometimes significantly.
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Old 04-05-2008, 02:19 PM   #16
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Rich, if you are considering a condo near your son there are many areas where crime by neighbors won't be an issue. However, HOAs are subject to their member's psychological state (no different in any neighborhood). Goofballs exist in the finest of communities. At a certain level the larger the condo HOA the more diluted the impact of any one member. Professional management is a good thing. A HOA that tries to do it all because they are too cheap to hire a professional manager would give me pause.

Ideally, IMHO, the HOA should be 10 years old. An association then has a track record and most construction issues will be evident. A read of the minutes and correspondence will tell you if there are personality issues. That, together with their last reserve study and financial statement will tell you if the HOA is prudent.

I am not a fan of condos that have been converted from apartments. The original structure was designed with return on rental income as the primary consideration, then a developer buys it and does cosmetic updates. There are always exceptions, I know of a former mansion converted to 4 condos and they are lovely (and rarely go on the market).

My brother is keeping an eye out for a condo in Portland. Since that is my former home town I know it well. I haven't looked at any condo financials there, but I know what buildings I would look at. Termites aren't a problem in the NW, but I prefer concrete buildings because they transmit sound less and are typically less maintenance. When we sell I want to move to a condo, CC Retirement community, or will rent.
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Old 04-05-2008, 05:58 PM   #17
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Renting is not an attractive option for most people who live with a dog. Most rentals that allow dogs are not the most well kept or attractive. Therefore, you have to not mind living in a dump.

As for condo/townhome ownership, the major downside is high density living. The best advice I could offer is to make sure you feel comfortable around the neighbors. That requires some nosing around, I suppose, but better to be nosy before you buy then find out afterwards that your neighbor is real pill. (Been there!)
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Old 04-05-2008, 07:43 PM   #18
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I liked living in my condo for about a decade. One major reason was a good HOA board. I think it's important to choose a condo in a large complex like mine with 400+ units. That way there are more candidates for the HOA board, which makes it more likely that you'll get decent people on the board... elections will be competitive and the best candidates can get selected. It's a volunteer position. If you have a small membership, then the board is likely to be full of the kooks and control freaks that have nothing better to do.

I think living in the Silicon Valley where there are lots of well educated people was another factor in getting a good board... I wouldn't want to live in a condo in some podunk town where nobody has a clue how to run things. I've noticed that attorneys make great board members... they have experience dealing with all the legal issues and are good negotiators.

But there are always unexpected ways that things can go bad. I'm renting a new condo right now and sat in on a board meeting for kicks. It turns out the developer installed his own property management service without telling anyone he owned that property management company. It only came to light when the developer failed to pay his HOA dues on the unsold condos (six figures worth)... the HOA asked the PropMgr to start legal proceedings against the developer and the PropMgr just waffled. Also, the developer refused to pay six figure maintenance fees to the HOA for the public parking garage on the premises, citing a bogus legal loophole. Meanwhile the HOA is going broke and considering a one time special assessment. I'm very happy to be a renter.

Overall, I was happy with the services I received for my HOA dues. They kept the place in better condition overall than I would have if it were my home, and I never had to lift a finger to schedule any work. Again being in a large complex where economies of scale apply was probably a factor.
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Old 04-05-2008, 08:29 PM   #19
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In my experience attorney's spouses can be condo Nazis. In my PUD a couple seem to think they run the place, too much time on their hands.

Once a building is sold 50% the developer must turn over it's management to the owners. Were I an owner in free4now's situation I would hire an attorney to shake the developer up, big time.
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Old 04-05-2008, 08:45 PM   #20
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Renting is not an attractive option for most people who live with a dog. Most rentals that allow dogs are not the most well kept or attractive. Therefore, you have to not mind living in a dump.
No true in our experience. We've been renting now for 5 years and in our 3rd complex. All 3 have been expensive, exclusive, very well kept gated complexes and all have plenty of folks with dogs of all shapes and sizes.

When we started renting it was to see how we liked it as we plan to do a lot of travel and want to "lock and leave" for many weeks at a time. So far we have been extremely happy with the arrangements, and in fact has enabled me to apply for and change job locations twice, very easily. (same megacorp).

You need to have a bohemian nature and accept that customization and peronalization in an apartment is very limited, so it is not for everyone.
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