Sharing Your Vacation Home with Guests

teaching new renters to trust
At one time, most vacation rentals were second homes that were used by their owners and rented out when they were not being used.  I remember staying in rental homes back in the nineties where the owners had cleared a shelf in their kitchen cupboard for food, and a couple of drawers for our clothes.  It was clear we were in someone else’s well-used home.  What was acceptable then is no longer OK though, and if you are still in that mindset that you are sharing your vacation home with guests, without any compromise, you may find your stay in the rental business is short-lived.

Many vacation homes are now dedicated to this purpose with many people buying them for investment.  This has created new expectations in a growing client market as more travelers are choosing this type of accommodation for their vacations. Guests are less tolerant of the over-personalized house with a mass of family photographs on the walls, owner’s winter coats in the closet and their food in the freezer.

This by no means says a vacation home has to be a sterile place without any character or personal stamp because it’s the uniqueness of each one that makes them so different from a hotel room or resort suite.  However, a balance between keeping the place a home and creating a welcoming space for guests so they don’t feel they are intruding into your personal life, is the compromise.  Here’s four easy ways to get there:

Junk Drawers

We all have kitchen drawers that attract junk whether it’s matchbooks, rubber bands, half-packs of gum or birthday candles.  Guests will add to that, so it’s important to clear these out regularly and only leave items that are genuinely useful.

Photographs

There’s no need to remove every family photograph because having one or two selected pictures reminds guests that it’s a family-owned place and can serve to generate more respect and better treatment for the property.  Where owners have renovated or built a property, an album of photos that shows the progress of the work is usually well received as guests get a history of the property as well as some personal  owner information.

Clothes

Unless you really want your guests to know you very personally, never leave your own clothing in drawers or closets.  Rental guests will check out every cupboard and drawer that you have, so leaving anything in them is fair game to be found.  If you want to leave clothing at the property, use a separate lockable closet or pack items away in boxes that can be stored in a basement or locked room.

Food Cupboards

This is a tricky one.  I love going to vacation rentals where there’s staple items such as herbs and spices, flour and cornstarch available– those things you may use once or twice on vacation but you don’t want to buy a large bag or carton just for one or two meals.  On the other hand, I have heard of complaints from guests because they have found ‘owners’ food ‘ in cupboards that they expected to be cleared for them.  The solution is to offer guests the option of using the non-perishable foods that are left behind, as long as there is a clear indication in a guest book and pre-arrival information that they will have this choice.

If your vacation home is a place that you and your family use on a regular basis, there is no reason to strip it of everything that makes it personal for you, but you do need to consider how much of yourselves you want to leave behind. Sharing your vacation home with guests is a different practice in today’s market.

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Using Guest Reviews to Improve Your Listing

teaching new renters to trust
We live in a culture where we like to share our opinions, and in a consumer environment we are now more likely to listen to the voice of other buyers than to the sales spiel from the product manufacturer or supplier.  So, when guests take the trouble to write guest reviews on a listing, post a comment on your Facebook page, or leave some notes in your guestbook, think of them as little gems that you can use to create an improved product for your next guests.

What do the following comments tell you?

‘The pictures don’t do the place justice’ or ‘It was much better than we expected from the listing’

At first glance you might get a warm fuzzy feeling because the feedback is good, but what this is really saying is that these guests didn’t see the best of the property from your listing.  The comments would suggest that professional photography may bring more traffic and increased bookings. In fact you might even go back to those guests and ask them to elaborate on their comments.  What was it about the home they liked the most?  What images do they think would improve the listing?  People love being asked their opinion and if you respond to their guest reviews, asking for more, you may be surprised at what they will tell you and how helpful it is.

Using feedback to revamp your listing

Guests reviews left will often tell you things that are important to them and can create some good content for your listing.  If these comments are in your guestbook rather than online you need some place for your potential guests to see them, since they may be the triggers that encourage people to book.  Feedback such as….

‘We loved all the hiking trails and places to walk the dog, and that there are local restaurants where we could take her’

…tells you that pet owners would be interested in hearing about these features of the area, so you could add that to the text on your listing.

Similarly, if a guest comments on how much they enjoyed an activity or attraction in the area, make sure you mention that in your listing too.

Is there anything we missed?

This is a great question to ask on your checkout list as it encourages more feedback.  It could be as simple to rectify as a suggestion you should get an ice-cream scoop, or some additional storage space.  Sometimes it will generate an idea you hadn’t thought of that might bring in extra revenue in the long run.  For example, this comment prompted one owner to install a freestanding propane fireplace which went on to boost her winter rentals substantially:

‘We’d love to come back in the winter but like to stay at places with a fireplace so we can get cozy after skiing’

What guest reviews have you received that have prompted you to make a change?

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Keeping Vacation Rentals Clean

teaching new renters to trust
This sounds easy – leave a clean property and you won’t get a complaint.  But hold on…what constitutes ‘clean’ and how can you really ensure the the self-confessed clean freaks will be happy with your efforts? Keeping vacation rentals clean can be more difficult than you might think.

You’ll never be free of the potential for complaint since some guests will never be happy no matter what you do.  We’ve all come across those types – the ones that will pick holes in the most pristine of places since that’s just the way they are.  And, when you only have 4 – 5 hours on a changeover to cover every aspect of your cleaning program, there is a limit to what can be done.  However, if you follow these few suggestions, there will be little room for negative comment.

Clear clutter

At one time, second homes were the repository for everything that should have headed to the landfill, from mattresses that were being replaced to the old vacuum cleaner with the fabric bag.  Do you remember the dust that puffed out when it was switched on? Of course, things have changed and what was acceptable in a vacation rental years ago, is now the basis for complaint if the owners haven’t caught up with the times.  In many places, clutter seems to collect and keeping vacation rentals clean is more important than ever before.

Too much stuff means dust, spider webs and the potential for something being missed in the changeover.  Take a good look at what is around and about the place and remove anything that doesn’t add to the overall ambiance.  It’s easy for things to be collected over time without much thought being given to whether they contribute to the look and feel.  This means getting rid of ornaments, old artwork, throws, old baking pans and chipped mugs and unmatched plates.  Check out bookcases for old magazines and games that have seen better days too.

Pay attention to detail

A changeover should be more than a flick of a duster and a quick spray of chemical cleaner and odor cover-up.  A ‘that’ll do’ attitude opens a place up to scrutiny that may result in negative feedback or genuine complaint, and all that is really needed is attention to detail.  A comprehensive checklist for property managers can make the difference between a happy or a disgruntled guest so it’s worthwhile compiling one that includes notes to remind whoever is doing the changeover to:

  • Check under the beds for dust bunnies
  • Wipe over all window frames and remove dead flies/ bugs
  • Look up and check for spider webs
  • Examine walls for swatted mosquitoes

Provide an efficient vacuum cleaner

Your property deserves the best and that applies to the cleaning appliances.  If you have ever been a guest in one of those places where the old home vacuum was sent to die, you will appreciate this.  There’s a dual benefit to this as most guests will want to use a vacuum to keep the place tidy while they are in residence.  If it’s ineffective it will lead them to question the quality of the cleaning that occurs between rentals, whereas a good vacuum is more likely to be used and appreciated.

These tips may seem to be no-brainers and for most owners there’s not much new to add to your regime.  However, it’s worthwhile taking a little time to consider if there’s anything you can do proactively to prevent a potential cleaning complaint. Keeping vacation rentals clean means more repeat business.

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Spending Halloween In Salem, MA

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photo©DrStarbuck

Spending Halloween in Salem, MA

Nothing says spooky like Salem, Massachusetts. I live in Boston, so Salem is just a 20-mile jaunt up the coast for me; however, spending at least one Halloween in Salem is a must-do trip for everybody, even if you live far away. Salem has a dark history, and its infamous witch trials still haunt the city. In 1692, John Hathorne presided over a witch-hunt that lasted several months and cost 24 men and women their lives. Many believe these “witches’” remain in Salem to this day… in spirit that is. If you are looking for a haunted Halloween with some real ghosts, psychics, and witches both dead and alive, plan to spend your next Halloween in Salem! Here are some fun Halloween activities for 2013!

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Podcasts for Vacation Rental Owners

teaching new renters to trust
Do you listen to podcasts?  A recent USA Today article says ‘The land of podcasting, once an esoteric outpost devoted to heavily tech-oriented chats, is booming.’  There are podcasts in every niche – something for everyone – and whether you are a listener, or one of the growing band of podcast producers you’ll be able to find an episode to interest you, or an audience for your home-grown presentation, and podcasts for vacation rental owners are no exception.

My own podcast, Vacation Rental Success is a lot of fun to put together, uncomplicated to produce on minimum equipment, and even easier to upload to a WordPress blog.  I was blown away with the number of downloads from the first episode and they continue to be listened to, months after the first upload.  I also subscribe to many other podcasts that keep me company in the car, on an airplane, while out running or at the gym and thought I should share my 4 favorites that deliver terrific information and resources that are great podcasts for vacation rental owners, and will help you succeed in the business.

Erik FisherBeyond the To-Do List

I’ve learned a lot from Erik’s interviews with many people about how they have managed their time, prioritized their tasks, and taken steps to avoid burnout.  Given that we vacation rental owners juggle so many things to keep our properties maintained, bookings managed, and guests happy, every little helps on the organization front.

Favorite episode:  Daniel J. Lewis shares successes and failures in building a business without it controlling your life – BTTDL23

Pat FlynnSmart Passive Income

Pat’s podcasts are my top of the line favorites.  If you are interested in going beyond the finite vacation rental income your place is generating, then subscribe to this one.  Focused on entrepreneurial activities, the interviews and resource tips that Pat offers are some of the most valuable content on the web.

Favorite episode:  SPI 011 : 5 Questions You Need to Ask Yourself to Improve Your Online Business, Blog or Website

Social Media Examiner – SME Podcasts

Without doubt the best resource for everything to do with social media on the web.  Whether you want to promote your place with Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or on LinkedIn, there is a podcast interview with an expert to help you.

Favorite episode:  Twitter Traffic – How to Double Your Traffic To Your Content With Twitter

And if you haven’t yet subscribed to Vacation Rental Success, I would love you to check it out and let me know if there are any topics you would like me to cover in future episodes – it’s one of the many valuable podcasts for vacation rental owners!

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11 Reasons The Gulf Coast Is The Best Coast Of Florida

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photo©Sebastian Fuss

I have said it before, and I will say it again; Florida is a tropical paradise.

It is sunny almost every single day of the year, and with the warm ocean water, the Gulf Coast of Florida makes the ideal vacation spot. The beaches are refreshing with sand that is like white powdered perfection. The evenings are filled with night-life and sunsets made for tranquil walks. I have never found myself struggling to find things to do when there are countless museums, zoos, aquariums, parks, beaches, restaurants, cities, amusement parks, and artistic structures around every corner. A vacation here will only scratch the surface of the Gulf Coast of Florida and have you dreaming to come back. Below are eleven popular places people visit on their Florida vacation.

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When Guest Friendliness Becomes Guest Intrusion

teaching new renters to trust
I had an interesting discussion with a neighbor of a local vacation rental property recently regarding guest intrusion.  Rather than complaining about noise, or overcrowding, or straying pets, he had what seemed to be a strange request.  He wanted to know how he should approach a problem he experienced each summer – the knotty issue of over-friendly guests.  What he wanted the owner to do was to speak to the incoming guests and explain that he lived in his property year-round, was retired, but he and his wife were not in constant holiday-mode and ready, or willing, to be entertained each week.  In short he did not want to ‘make friends’ with a continuous flow of neighboring rental guests offering invitations for drinks or even a barbecue.

This was an unusual dilemma but I could easily see how the weekly arrival of yet another round of happy vacationers, eager to become locals for their short stay, could begin to become wearing after a while.  The neighbor said that each week, at some point, the property guests would say hello over the garden fence or call to them as they sat on the deck having coffee.  They would ask questions about where the nearest beach or dog walk was, how to get to the Farmer’s Market or even look for information on events in the area.  The neighbor started to feel like an unpaid tour guide but did not want to be seen as aloof or unfriendly.  He and his wife began to take their coffee indoors and only spend time on their deck or in their garden when the guests had gone out, until they realized this was not an answer to the guest intrusion problem.

I’ve stayed in vacation rentals in areas that have permanent residents as well as holiday homes, where the owner has given some pointers on respecting neighbors’ privacy and offered some guidelines on being a guest in the community as well as the property.  In those situations we were gently advised in the Welcome Book that if we needed information on the area that was not provided in the copious tourist information, to call them and not seek answers from neighbors in the first instance.

As an owner myself, I accept a responsibility for protecting my close neighbors from any unwelcome intrusion by my guests whether it be from noise and disruption or from well-meaning overtures.  Taking the time to talk to them and find out their expectations and concerns about your rental intentions is worthwhile and can create better relationships.  Maybe they will enjoy the connection with visitors and welcome the diversion they bring, but if they don’t, finding out their views can be very helpful in addressing a potential situation.

This isn’t about telling guests not to be friendly to the neighbors – it’s simply about understanding the nature of a community and respecting that not everyone is on vacation at the same time they are. Addressing potential guest intrusion today, could save you headaches down the road.

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5 Tips for a Great Vacation Rental Listing

teaching new renters to trust
Use your vacation rental listing effectively.

I’ve just booked my winter vacation in the Bahamas and once again spent hours poring over listings, reading descriptions and exploring different location options.  Holiday planning is almost as much fun as the vacation itself as the anticipation grows, and now the decision is made we will go back to the listing again and again to remind ourselves what’s there, what we’ll be doing, and how much fun we’ll have.  After many years of doing this, we know what we’re looking for and what turns us off.  Here’s my top five features that help make our decision easier.

1. Evocative photos

The photos on a vacation rental listing should jump out and capture the imagination pictorially describing the experience we can expect.  We got captivated by images of people kayaking and paddleboarding.  I remember getting so excited when we were looking for our Costa Rica villa to see a photo of the bookcase full of paperbacks.  When you are taking photos to go on a listing, think about what will fire your guests’ imagination.

2. Comfortable beds and great looking linens

Bedroom photos are so important and can make or break a vacation rental listing – in my opinion anyway.  Beds with only a couple of pillows and flat-looking outdated comforters are a complete turn-off.  I often wonder why owners don’t spend more time and budget on creating luxurious bedrooms since these can make or break a vacation buying decision.

3. A great kitchen to cook in

When travelers go to a vacation rental, they are expecting to cook.  After all that’s what self-catering means, so the look of a kitchen carries a lot of importance.  Once again, photos are what captures or kills interest, so polished surfaces; clutter-free areas and breakfast bars staged with a vase of flowers, a couple of glasses and a jug of orange juice, can create that all-important desire in the eyes of potential guests.

4. Things to Do

In a resort hotel you’d expect there to be all sorts of activities on offer, either included or as optional extras, but with a vacation rental guests are mostly on their own in planning their day to day pastimes.  I want to see a list of all the things I can do such as nearby hiking trails; bike rentals; local attractions etc on a vacation rental listing.  The best is when an owner responds to an inquiry with additional information or a link to their blog where they are writing about their area.

5. Amenity descriptions

A family group has different needs and expectations – for our upcoming vacation, my son and his wife are looking for child-friendly facilities for their 18 month old; my husband likes to have access to satellite TV so he can watch sports if the weather is not great, and I love to read.  We all love to sit outside and explore local areas.  We look for listings that are fully descriptive and don’t just rely on a list of amenities.  Love of a property shines through in a well-written thoughtful vacation rental listing and if it describes the amenities and how different types of people might enjoy them,  that emotional investment could convince me this is the place I’ve been looking for.

Over the last few years, we’ve been to Maui, Costa Rica, UK, and the Bahamas and have been delighted with every one of our choices that have been based on our blueprint for reviewing a vacation rental listing.  There are other factors that come into play, of course, but getting the vacation rental listing right is the start.  I’d love to see your examples.

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Top West Coast Beach Vacations

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The West Coast has long been portrayed as the ‘hip’ and ‘hang loose’ coast, and synonymous with all things ‘hang loose’ are great beaches – to help you harvest your inner Spicoli, we compiled a list of some of the top west coast beach vacations from northern Washington state to southern California.

So, dip your schnoz in the sunscreen, lube up the longboard and let’s jam into the Woodie – it’s time to cruise through the West Coast’s Best Beaches.


Rockaway Beach, Oregon

The mecca for Kite Flyers everywhere, Rockaway Beach is home to an annual Kite Flying competition and attracts ribbon runners from across the globe. The seven mile beach is known for having some of the most amazing views of dramatic offshore rock formations, and, due to the expansive collection of crustacean-inhabited tidal pools, it’s is considered to be an excellent beach for families.

Long Beach, Washington
While this beach may be best known for its lighthouse, Cape Disappointment, its name is not representative of the beach. The cool differentiator for Long Beach, is that it’s an active beach where the most popular activities don’t include catching rays and riding waves, but rather catching clams and riding horses! A beach-side horseback ride is a special experience, and something everybody should try. Also, if you’re into peepin’ birds, this stretch of sand is the spot! There are tons of shorebirds calling this 11 miles stretch of beach home.

Butterfly Beach, Santa Barbara, California
Into reading celebrity gossip articles about who gained and lost 10lbs this week? Then you’ll love Butterfly Beach! Not because there are dispensers regularly distributing those grocery store check-out line publications, but because at this beach you’re likely to see a celebrity up close and personal in their aquatic skibbies. Since there are no public facilities on Butterfly Beach, it probably isn’t the ideal beach to bring your kids, but its charm, simplicity and majestic sunset will probably have you feeling thankful that you got a babysitter for the evening.

Bandon, Oregon
Freckled with lighthouses and offshore rock formations, a trip to the Bandon coastline will recharge even the deadest of batteries. Bandon has managed to avoid the excessive commercialism that infects so many seaside communities, and such a commitment to simplicity is cleansing for the soul. Turn off the phones, shutdown the IPads and bring the kids to Bandon for an opportunity to reconnect and enjoy being a family again. Bandon also hosts a fantastic Cranberry Festival in September that is a fantastic way to extend the summer!

Carmel Beach, Monterey, California
Due to its pretentious and stuffy reputation, Carmel Beach was a controversial selection. But if you look past the city ordinances requiring popped collars and a thorough understanding of the anatomy of a grape, Carmel Beach is undeniably beautiful. 1. It’s encompassed by a bird sanctuary 2. Whales can be spotted within 500 feet of shore 3. It’s dog friendly!

Rosario Beach, Whidbey Island, Washington
Deception Pass State Park is Washington’s most visited park, and is great spot to bring the kids. There are bunches of hiking trails to get lost on, and leave the nine-to-five behind. AND the most popular regular at this beach is the patriotic bald eagle – how cool is that? Within the park is Rosario Beach, and it is a must-visit! The beach features shallow waters ideal for slappin’ a scuba mask on little Johnny and opening his eyes to what’s beneath the surface.

Redondo Beach, California
Located just south of Tinsletown and occupied by plenty of biologically enhanced beautiful people, Redondo Beach is a popular ‘sight-seeing’ destination, but it’s also a great beach to bring the kids. Why? Well, the city-owned Seaside Lagoon offers plenty of enjoyment for the young ones; it’s a saltwater lagoon under lifeguard supervision, and contains play equipment to be climbed on, a snack bar to satisfy the midday munchies and even a luau to shelter that vulnerable baby skin.

San Clemente, California
Hang ten, brah! Trestles, or Trestle Beach, is a secluded little spot that requires a walk-in and is home to some of the raddest surfing on the planet. The walk-in provides some peaceful seclusion and watching the surfers can be an inspiring distraction for the little ones – just make sure not to steal anyone’s wave. In an odd juxtaposition, President Nixon made San Clemente home to his Western White House while Commander in Chief – though it’s hard to imagine him in a pair of board shorts and screaming, ‘Cawabunga’.

Cannon Beach, Oregon
This beach is a cinematographic classic collection of sediment – yep, Cannon Beach was featured in the Goonies, and to this day attracts the film’s faithful. In addition to conjuring impromptu Truffle Shuffle impersonations, this beach is world class for kids. The far receding shoreline results in shallows waters to run through, and plenty of tidal pools to explore. Cannon Beach might be the most versatile beach on the list – managing to be both a Painter’s Paradise and Kid’s Castle.

Baker Beach, San Francisco, California
We had to include one nude beach, right? What makes Baker Beach so special is the… ahem… sights. The view of the Golden Gate Bridge, of course! Sure, going nude at Baker Beach is acceptable and as a result it’s probably not ideal for the whole family, but its location on the banks of one of America’s most beautiful cities, and sitting comfortably in the shadows of one of the country’s most recognizable fixtures is tough to shrug at. So, next time you’re in San Fran and feeling adventurous, grab a bowl of Rice-a-Roni and go live a little down at Baker Beach.

There ya’ have it, our VacationHomeRentals.com Top West Coast Beach Vacations! Please keep in mind that the West Coast United States is jam packed with wonderful beaches, so there is definitely something for everyone. Whichever west coast beach vacation you choose to plan, be sure to use VacationHomeRentals.com, and keep some extra cash in your pocket.

 

Did we leave your favorite west coast beach off the list? If so, let us know in the comments section below!

 

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Vacation Rentals are Mainstream

Heather Bayer
For many vacation rental owners the busy summer season has drawn to a close with September arriving, Labor Day over and the kids back at school; we will all have had different experiences but one thing is clear – vacation rentals are mainstream as an accommodation choice, and everybody is benefiting.  Owners are appreciating the income and the majority of guests are enjoying the freedom that the self-catering option brings while delighting in the amenities, facilities and attention to detail offered in their chosen location.

I’ve had a long summer managing the issues that arise in a busy rental agency, as well as dealing with my own two cottages that have been consistently rented every week.   There’s learning in every situation and even after 20 years in the business, I can still get surprised by something that a guest demands or that an owner delivers.  Here’s a couple of things that occurred this summer that got me thinking about hospitality and why, now that vacation rentals are mainstream, it is ever more important to see ourselves as providers to the tourism industry and not just vacation rental owners.

Delivering hospitality

Even if you never meet your guests, it’s still possible to show 5* hospitality.  Take the guest who complained the air conditioning was not working in their rental property despite the fact it was not an advertised amenity and had never been installed.  The owner arranged for a portable A/C unit to be delivered to the property, apologized for the ‘breakdown’ of the non-existent facility, and called the following day to ensure his guests were happier.

Generating goodwill

When a massive storm took down power lines in many parts of Ontario in early July, rental guests were left high and dry – with no water to flush toilets or to have a shower in properties with electric water pumps, and the worst thing….many guests were left without the ability to access their technology.  Some left after two hours as they were not able to make a phone call or update their Facebook page.  Seriously! We heard of one owner who went to a local Rent-All, picked up a generator and drove 3 hours to his vacation home to set it up so his guests could keep in touch with work.

Lighting the way

Thirty years ago when I was taking my young children to vacation rentals in England, it was truly a self-catering experience and it was also a self-entertaining one.  There was no satellite TV, internet connection or even telephone service.  There was a charcoal BBQ circa 1960; we took our own pots and pans and had an amazing time just enjoying pitching in and being together.  What I have noticed in recent years is that rental guests are more demanding, less resourceful and nowhere near as self-sufficient as we were.  Today’s VR owners need to allow for this and to be prepared to hand-hold much more.  For example, we had a call from a guest in panic because the automatic ignition wasn’t working on the BBQ.  Her family had never used a BBQ because they lived in a condo and were completely unaware there was a manual method of lighting it. The owner found and sent a YouTube video showing how to use a lighter in the hole at the side of the unit.

Owners who develop a culture of hospitality and deliver top notch service are going to be the ones who really benefit as guest expectations and demands rise.  Getting there is not difficult – it may take a change in attitude but it will be worthwhile. Vacation rentals are mainstream, and it’s time we all recognize and act accordingly.

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