Calendar icon May 17, 2023

5 Property Management Mistakes that make you a Bad Property Manager

We all make mistakes. But when in comes to property management mistakes, the consequences can be tremendous. Property managers balance so many moving pieces, and fixing even the smallest mistakes or bad habits can make a huge difference to your resident experience and your business growth.

From hiring people who aren’t a good fit to letting tenant screenings slide, there are plenty of predictable characteristics of what some might call a bad property manager. 

But it’s not always as straightforward as it seems.

So, we decided to seek out an expert on property management who could talk to us about how property managers can avoid the most common property management mistakes. 

Meet the Expert: Michael Catalano

Michael Catalano is a lifer in the industry and has unique insights as a founding partner of PURE Property Management. We asked him for the five most common mistakes made by property managers are and he delivered.

‍Michael Catalano is co-founder and general partner of Silicon Valley-based PURE Property Management, the fastest growing profitable residential property management and technology company in the U.S. As a second-generation property manager with over 25 years of experience running, growing, and acquiring property management companies, Catalano is an industry insider looking to transform the traditionally cumbersome and complex process of managing properties. PURE acquires hyperlocal property management companies and invests in their people, processes, and technology to achieve market leadership in their location.


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1. Mismanaging Trust Accounting

“One of the biggest mistakes I see newer property owners make is not actively managing and understanding their trust accounting,” says Catalano. “Trust accounting discrepancies can do more than jeopardize your bottom line. Depending on the state you live in, big shortages can put you out of business or even in jail.” 

The key to avoiding any discrepancies is to have the right people in place. Trust accounting in rental property management requires a more specialized understanding of the industry than a traditional CPA often has. The accountant you hire needs to have a deep knowledge of how money fluidly moves through all stakeholders, specifically in the property management industry - residents, property investors, and vendors. They need to keep accurate and up-to-date accounting so that you always know what your resources are. While shortages do come up occasionally, even with the most well-run companies, knowing and troubleshooting to find the problem right away will help avoid bigger discrepancies later. 

“Every owner should be monitoring trust accounts with their CPA at least monthly, and for some states, it is a licensing requirement. In these states, if you have a negative in a trust account, you will lose your license and can also be fined or jailed. Shortages in a trust account usually occur when money from a client has been placed in the wrong client account, commingling funds. As soon as you commingle, you break the law in most states.” 

Catalano really stresses the importance of getting this right the first time and offers two important suggestions: 

“Number one, put someone in place that understands this. Fortunately, there are now many accountants and firms that specialize in trust accounting. You can find the best for you by talking to your colleagues and checking references before hiring. 

The second is to conduct a self-audit every other year. Take the time and spend the money to hire a professional auditor to audit your trust accounting and make sure that all the accounts are balanced and in order. It may cost about $5,000, but that is considerably less expensive than having it wrong,” emphasizes Catalano. 

2. Dropping the Ball on Forecasting and Financial Analysis

“It is very important to have a sufficient understanding of your everyday and future finances by budgeting and forecasting, which is critical to running any successful business. I’ve seen some property management companies miss this important step,” says Catalano. 

Underdeveloped financial analysis can leave a lot of money on the table and become a costly mistake in property management services. Catalano is quick to note how some basic budgeting and bookkeeping refinement have quickly increased the margins and cash flow of many of the companies that have joined the PURE Property Management family, and this modification is generally something that every company can very easily do on their own. 

“In addition to budgeting and forecasting, it is important to have an understanding of your KPIs and metrics as well. I feel like a lot of companies in our industry could do a better job of tracking so that every day they can answer critical questions about the financial position of their business – ‘What’s my revenue per door?’ and ‘Who is bringing in revenue and why and what am I paying them?’” 

Catalano offers this advice to help ensure you’re keeping up with finances appropriately: “You should always be prepared to sell your company, even if you have absolutely no plans whatsoever. Because when you operate at that level, you will have the best control and understanding of your overall finances. By watching your revenue and expenses on a daily basis, you will always have a pulse on the health of your business.”

3. Failing to Complete Workflow Implementation

“While property management is not a particularly tech-savvy industry, we’ve seen more changes over the last three or so years than in the previous 30. There are now single-point technology solutions for the most time-intensive tasks within the workflow process innovated to increase efficiency. But the implementation remains challenging,” says Catalano. 

“I’ve noticed that in this industry, when you decide on a new process or workflow that you would like to implement, I see a lot of incomplete implementation. Every new process requires employee training, which means extra time away from daily responsibilities, but it helps, in the end, to actually sit down and hold a class on how to operate the new technology or workflow. The technology only delivers optimal efficiencies if the users know how to wield them appropriately. So you need to think critically about how much technology to implement and what it means to your current and future workflows.”

Catalano says that as the industry has embraced technology at an increasing rate, the companies that have leveraged that change most successfully are the ones that made the proper investment in educating their teams. Technology can help with communication, streamlining workflow around property maintenance issues, leasing, move in, renewals, rent payments, tracking late rent or other late fees, security deposit, etc.

Part of the challenge of technology implementation, according to Catalano, is the lack of an end-to-end technology solution that completes the entire workflow process within one system. “Right now, company owners are trying to piece together too many technology platforms on their own,” adds the professional property management veteran. “That’s the hard part because, in this industry, the different technologies do not truly connect. While some property management tech solutions are labeled as APIs, generally they aren’t true APIs because they don’t talk to each other.” 

The lack of integration Catalano touches on here makes heavy reliance on a large amount of software a hazardous venture. Not only do employees need to learn to be efficient with all of them, especially in smaller companies, but because they are not interconnected, there’s a lot of manual data transfer. 

“Right now, a property management API is like a CSV file, where you're downloading and then importing that CSV file in the new platform. In order to implement an entire workflow process, property managers use seven to 10 different platforms for all the different processes. Moving from one tech process to the next, we’re asking our property managers or leasing agents or maintenance coordinators to remember what they did in one platform and literally hand type that information in the next platform. As you can imagine, things get lost in translation, and then you have a problem.”

4. Falling Out of Compliance with Laws and Regulations & Screening Tenants

“I live and operate in California, and it seems like California has a new law every day for resident rights,” says Catalano.”Property managers have an obligation to themselves, their teams, their clients, and their residents to stay up to date with the ever-evolving laws and industry regulations in their state.”  

And unfortunately, as everyone knows, rapidly changing fair housing laws get complicated really fast.

“To make this situation even more complicated, in addition to the statewide ordinances, there are local ordinances as well that supersede the state ones,” says Catalano. “So, for example, you have to stay on top of knowing that while there is a statewide rent control in California, certain areas in Silicon Valley have a different rent control.” 

Knowing that lease and eviction law changes are fluid, Catalano believes it helps to think of them as living, breathing organisms that are continually changing and growing. In addition, Catalano recommends that you should review all state and local laws and regulations on at least a monthly basis. And while leases and property management agreements don’t need to be updated monthly, they should be combed through on a regular basis to be sure they are all compliant. Understand the laws around background checks, credit checks, and discrimination when screening tenants, etc.

“Updating your lease agreements is tedious and can sometimes be monetarily expensive. You may even have to pay an attorney to do it. But at the end of the day, you really have to do it. Believe it or not, we’ve had a few situations, especially in California, when we have acquired a company and when we have looked at the leases have found as many as four items in there that are actually illegal.”’

“It’s not easy to be perfectly compliant with how many laws and regulations there are, how quickly they change, and how different they are from place to place, but it is important if you don’t want to get sued. While lawsuits from renters are generally frivolous, they’re happening more and more, and it’s not something you want to open yourself up to.” 

5. Making or Keeping a Bad Hire

“Right now, hiring is probably one of the most difficult aspects of this business, and can be one of the biggest mistakes property managers make. There are a lot of hurdles to finding and placing the right people for every job.” 

“In California, if you want to be a property manager, you have to be licensed, which is also the case in other states as well. With a lack of viable candidates, however, many unlicensed people are doing property management duties that require licensing. As a company owner hiring unlicensed employees, you could get in some serious trouble with the Real Estate Commission,” says Catalano. 



“So have a strategy for finding the right employees for your company. Start by confirming that they have the required licensing. Next, make sure that they have the right personality for the job that they're hired to do. We use a company called Culture Index to help us determine if there is a good fit. The company uses personality analytics to determine if the job candidate will be in the right position, whether or not they have the skills to be a leader, and answers personality trait questions like ‘are they ambitious and will they follow directions accurately?’ This Culture Index has really helped us with hiring and making sure that we have the best person in the right position for them. 

In addition to implementing a hiring strategy, Catalano says that it is important to understand your end goals for each department and the overall company structure to hire the right workers correctly. 

“You should have an org chart, even if you only have six employees. The chart should visually outline, ‘Who's doing what?’, ‘Who reports to who?’ and ‘Are they in the right position?’ When you are hiring, you need to know if the position is departmental, portfolio, or hybrid. Both you and new hires will want to know the plan moving forward to attain more growth, and I think that’s a big pitfall. Having this org chart will keep you from hiring the wrong person or guide you on how you want to run the business,” says Catalano.

“Having an org chart and hiring strategy really ties back to knowing your financials and metrics. Understanding how many doors are being managed per full-time employee and how to structure around the best servicing that door count is the best way to optimize your business for success. I know that these strategies work because I think the average in the industry right now is about 50-60 doors per FTE and at PURE, we're sitting at about 115. You can get to well over 100 iIf you're more efficient, maybe 150 iIf the technology gets a little bit better. We think we can get to 200 eventually. So that's how we look at it. How are you structuring your business to get the best and most efficient organization?”

Keep learning

Your Guide to Property Management Agreements (with Free Template)

With a renewed focus on rental income as an investment trend, the popularity of property management is on the rise. Busy professionals and out-of-town real estate investors increasingly rely on property managers to handle the day-to-day operations of their rental properties. When they come to you for the first time, one approach to establishing clear differentiation with respect to your competitors is through the clarity and comprehensiveness of your property management agreement. In today’s guide we’ll cover the essentials of a property management agreement that provides a foundation for transparency throughout this critical relationship, as well as peace of mind for the investors relying on you to manage their investment. A Step-by-Step Guide to Building Your Agreement Crafting a solid property management agreement doesn't have to be daunting. Here's a breakdown of the key components: Parties Involved Property owner: Clearly identify the legal name and contact information of the property owner(s). Property manager: Do the same for the property management company or individual. Property Details Address: Include the full address of the property being managed. Legal description (optional): For added clarity, consider including the legal description, particularly for complex property ownership structures. Property type: Specify whether it's a single-family home, multi-unit building, or commercial property. Unique features/limitations: Mention any unique features (e.g., pool, historic designation) or limitations (e.g., zoning restrictions, HOA rules). Term and Termination Effective date: Define the start date of the agreement. Termination clauses: Outline the grounds for termination by either party (e.g., breach of contract, property sale). Notice period: Specify the required notice period for each party if they wish to terminate the agreement (e.g., 30 days, 60 days). Termination mechanisms: Explain how the date of termination should be communicated (written notice, specific format [e.g., certified mail]), along with any applicable indemnification measures. Manager Responsibilities Resident screening: Detail the process for resident screening, including applications, background checks, and credit checks. Rent payments and security deposit collection: Outline procedures for security deposit collection, rent collection, late fees, and eviction processes. Maintenance oversight: Specify the property manager duties and roles in overseeing maintenance requests, repairs, and independent contractor/vendor selection (approval thresholds, cost limitations). Financial reporting: Define the frequency and format of financial reports provided by the property manager (monthly statements, annual reports). Communication protocols: Establish communication protocols regarding occupant inquiries, maintenance emergencies, and routine updates. Availability: Consider outlining the property manager's availability for emergencies (24/7 hotline, designated contact person). Owner Responsibilities Repairs: Specify the owner's responsibility for major repairs beyond normal wear and tear. Providing access: Outline the owner's role in providing access to the property for maintenance or showings when residents are not present. Major decisions: Define how major decisions regarding the property (e.g., renovations, capital improvements) will be made (joint agreement, owner approval). Property inspections: Address expectations regarding the frequency and purpose of property inspections conducted by the owner. Insurance coverage: Clarify the owner's responsibility to maintain appropriate liability insurance policy coverage for the property. Fees and Compensation Management fee: Detail the structure of the property management fee (percentage of rent collected, flat fee). Additional fees (optional): Address any additional disbursements for specific services, such as resident placement or lease renewals. Dispute Resolution Process: Explain the process for resolving disagreements between the owner and the property manager (mediation, arbitration, legal action). Governing laws: Specify the governing laws that apply to the agreement in case of disputes. Free Property Management Agreement Template (Basic) This contract template is for informational purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for legal advice. Please consult with an attorney to tailor the agreement to your specific needs and to ensure that the provisions of this agreement comply with local and state laws. Property Management Agreement This Property Management Agreement ("Agreement") is made and entered into as of [DATE] by and between: [Property Owner Name] residing at [Property Owner Address] ("Owner"), and [Property Management Company Name] located at [Property Management Company Address] ("Manager"). WITNESSETH WHEREAS, Owner is the legal owner of the property located at [Property Address] (the "Property"); and WHEREAS, Manager desires to provide property management services for the Property; and WHEREAS, Owner desires to engage Manager to provide such services for the Property NOW, THEREFORE, in consideration of the foregoing premises and the mutual covenants contained herein, the parties agree as follows: 1. Services Manager agrees to perform the following services for the Property (Services may be added or removed based on specific needs. Consult with a lawyer.): Resident screening and resident selection (application processing, background checks) Collection of rent and late fee enforcement Maintenance oversight and coordination (up to $[AMOUNT] per repair) Move-in/move-out inspections Monthly financial reporting related to management of the property 2. Term and Termination This Agreement shall commence on [DATE] (the "Effective Date") and shall continue for a period of [NUMBER] year(s), unless earlier terminated as provided herein. This termination of this Agreement may be effected by either party upon [NUMBER] days' written notice to the other party. 3. Management Fee Owner shall pay Manager a monthly management fee equal to [PERCENTAGE]% of the gross monthly rent collected. 4. Legal Proceedings In the event of a legal proceeding arising out of this Agreement or the management of the Property, the following provisions shall apply: Authority: The Property Manager is hereby authorized to initiate and prosecute any legal action deemed necessary to collect rent, enforce the terms of tenant leases, or protect the Owner's property interests. Owner Approval: Prior written approval from the Owner shall be required for any legal action exceeding $[Dollar Amount] or involving potential litigation. Costs and Reimbursement: The Property Manager shall keep detailed records of all legal expenses and attorney’s fees incurred. The Owner shall reimburse the Property Manager for all reasonable and documented legal expenditures associated with authorized proceedings. Representation: The Owner shall have the right to be represented by their own counsel in any legal proceeding. However, the Property Manager shall have the right to participate in the proceedings and may retain separate counsel at the Owner's expense if a conflict of interest arises. Communication: The parties agree to cooperate fully and share all relevant information in a timely manner throughout any legal proceedings. 5. Dispute Resolution (Optional - Replace with preferred method if applicable) Any dispute arising out of or relating to this Agreement shall be settled by [METHOD OF DISPUTE RESOLUTION, e.g., mediation] in accordance with the rules of [NAME OF MEDIATION PROVIDER] (the "Rules"). The decision of the mediator shall be final and binding on the parties. 6. Waivers The Owner acknowledges and waives any and all claims, demands, or causes of action against the Property Manager arising from the following, unless such claims arise from the Property Manager's gross negligence or intentional misconduct: Acts or omissions of any resident of the Property. Loss or Property damage caused by reasons outside the Property Manager's reasonable control, including natural disasters, acts of war, or civil unrest. Unexpected repairs or maintenance issues beyond the scope of normal wear and tear. The Owner further agrees to indemnify and hold harmless the Property Manager from any and all claims, liabilities, damages, losses, or expenses (including attorney's fees) arising from the Owner's violation of this Agreement or any applicable laws or regulations. 7. Entire Agreement and Governing Law This Agreement constitutes the entire agreement between the parties with respect to the subject matter hereof and supersedes all prior or contemporaneous communications, representations, or agreements, whether oral or written. The terms of this Agreement shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of the State of [STATE]. IN WITNESS WHEREOF, the parties have executed this Agreement as of the date first written above. [Property Owner Signature] [Property Owner Name (Printed)] [Property Management Company Signature] [Property Management Company Name (Printed)] Optional addendums For specific situations, consider adding supplementary documents like: Bed bug addendum Pool addendum Pet lease addendum These addendums can address unique requirements and regulations related to these aspects of the property. Legal Considerations and Customization Consulting with a lawyer is crucial to ensure your property management agreement is legally sound and reflects your specific circumstances. An attorney can help you with: Specifying maintenance coverage: Clearly define which maintenance issues are the responsibility of the property manager and which fall to the owner. Pet policy details: Outline a comprehensive pet policy including pet restrictions, fees, and deposit requirements. Local legal compliance: Ensure your agreement adheres to all relevant laws and regulations in your area, such as resident rights and fair housing regulations. FAQs: Helping Potential Investors Demystify Your Property Management Agreement Q: Is a property management agreement legally required? A: While not always mandatory, a property management agreement is highly advisable. It protects both the owner and the manager by outlining expectations and responsibilities. Q: Can I use your template for any property management situation? A: The provided template is a basic framework. It's best to consult with a lawyer to customize it for your specific property type, location, and desired services. Q: Do I need a lawyer to draft the agreement? A: While not mandatory, legal guidance is highly recommended. An attorney can ensure the agreement is legally sound, protects your interests, and complies with local laws. Q: Can I use this template for agreements outside of property management, e.g., for lease agreements or rental agreements? A: No, this template is specific to property management agreements. For other types of agreements, consult with a lawyer or use appropriate templates designed for those purposes. Q: What should I do after finalizing the agreement? A: Once both parties have signed the agreement, keep a copy for your records and provide one to the property manager. Familiarize yourself with the terms and communicate openly to ensure a smooth and successful working relationship. Conclusion A well-drafted property management agreement is the cornerstone of a successful relationship between owner and property manager. By using the provided template as a foundation and consulting with a lawyer for customization, you can establish a clear and comprehensive agreement that provides full transparency and fosters a smooth rental property experience. On top of your agreement, consider rolling out a resident benefits package (RBP). It’s a powerful way for property managers to create a Triple Win – for residents, investors, and themselves. An RBP like Second Nature’s is designed to be simple to use and easy to implement. All the services included within it are managed externally by Second Nature, meaning there is no day-to-day upkeep required from the manager. You plug it in and Second Nature keeps it running. The value creation an RBP generates – with such little work required from the PM – is an incredibly easy way to grow your business and create great experiences that residents will pay and stay for. Don't get left behind in the evolving world of resident experience. Learn more about our fully-managed Resident Benefits Package and how we can build ease for you, your investors, and your residents.

Calendar icon May 14, 2024

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How to Reduce Employee Turnover in Property Management: A Guide to Retaining Your Valuable Team

The property management industry faces a significant challenge: high employee turnover. In the US, the national average employee turnover rate measured in 2023 across all sectors was 17.3%. With highs of nearly 33% in some sectors, and lows of 12% in others, turnover is a pressing issue. Indeed, the National Apartment Association (NAA) reported that multifamily industry turnover rates in the last decade were up to 40%. While numbers for single-family home property management companies are harder to measure, the bottom line is that employee retention is often a casualty of the stresses that come with the high stakes of simultaneously managing people’s homes on one hand, and substantial real estate investments on the other. A revolving door of staff creates a ripple effect of negative consequences: residents face disruptions in service and communication, while companies struggle with lost productivity, increased recruiting and training costs, and a decline in overall morale. This comprehensive guide will equip property management teams with the tools and strategies to build a happy, engaged workforce and keep valuable co-workers on board. Understanding the Reasons for the High Turnover Rate Multiple factors contribute to the high property management turnover rate, particularly during inflationary periods, when low wages and benefits may fail to match the demanding workload. Team members face long hours, stressful interactions with residents, and the constant pressure of handling emergency situations. Many may feel undervalued and underappreciated, with limited opportunities for career advancement. Poor communication within the company, coupled with an unsupportive culture, will further fuel feelings of dissatisfaction and disengagement. Another factor may well be the cultural fallout from the recent pandemic, which catalyzed large changes in labor market behaviors, particularly among the so-called millennial generation. This has driven an upending of traditional wage-earning paradigms, giving rise to an endemic “gig economy” that industry and governments are still grappling with across sectors. Building a culture of retention Shifting the focus to a positive and supportive work environment is key to stemming the tide of staff turnover of property management employees. Here are several strategies to help cultivate a culture of retention and employee satisfaction: Competitive compensation and benefits Analyze local market wages and offer salaries that reflect the responsibilities and demands of the job. Provide comprehensive health insurance plans, paid time off, and other benefits that demonstrate your commitment to employee well-being. Consider offering perks and incentives such as gym memberships or fitness equipment subsidies to further enhance the compensation package. Work-life balance Promote healthy boundaries by offering flexible scheduling options whenever possible. Explore remote work opportunities for certain roles, especially those suited to administrative tasks. When dealing with difficult resident issues, encourage employees to take breaks throughout the day to prevent burnout. Implementing a core-hours policy, where employees are guaranteed to be available during specific times for urgent matters, can help maintain a sense of work-life balance. Investment in training and development Investing in your employees demonstrates your commitment to their growth and success. Offer ongoing training programs encompassing property management software, tenant relations, conflict resolution, fair housing laws, and industry certifications. This not only enhances their skillset and knowledge, but also empowers them to perform their jobs more effectively and confidently. Clear communication and recognition Establish consistent communication channels to keep employees informed and engaged. Hold regular team meetings, conduct performance reviews, and encourage open communication from the bottom up. Address concerns promptly and professionally. Most importantly, recognize and celebrate employee achievements publicly. A simple "thank you" or a public shout-out goes a long way in boosting morale and fostering a sense of appreciation. Building a team environment Foster a sense of teamwork through team-building activities, mentorship programs, and encouraging collaboration. Promote a supportive environment where colleagues can rely on one another for help and share best practices. This creates a sense of community and belonging which helps reduce feelings of isolation and discouragement. Strategies to Reduce Stress and Burnout High levels of stress can lead to employee burnout and ultimately, turnover. Here are some practical solutions to address this concern: Workload management Analyze workload distribution within your teams and identify opportunities for better balance. Consider cross-training employees to share the burden and alleviate pressure points. Utilize temporary staffing solutions to handle peak periods or unexpected vacancies. Technology and automation Embrace technology to streamline tasks and free up employee time for more strategic endeavors. Implement property management software to automate tasks such as rent collection, maintenance requests, and lease renewals. Consider online portals for residents to submit service requests and access property information, which reduces the burden on leasing and maintenance staff. Stress management resources Offer access to Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) to provide confidential counseling and support for employees dealing with personal or work-related stress. Consider offering on-site mindfulness training or wellness programs to help employees develop healthy coping mechanisms for managing stress. Retention through Growth and Opportunity Providing a clear career path is critical for retaining top talent. Here's how you can promote employee growth and development: Create clear career paths Map out advancement opportunities within the company and establish clear performance benchmarks for promotion. This gives employees something to work towards and motivates them to invest in their long-term success with the company. Mentorship programs Establish mentorship programs that connect experienced employees with newcomers. Mentors can provide guidance, answer questions, and offer support during the onboarding process and beyond. This fosters a sense of community and helps new hires feel more integrated into the team. Cross-training Invest in cross-training opportunities to broaden employee skillsets and increase job satisfaction. This allows employees to gain exposure to different areas of property management, keeps their work interesting, and prepares them for potential future opportunities within the company. Empowering Your Team: Fostering Ownership and Engagement Empowering your employees fosters a sense of ownership and engagement, leading to a more motivated and productive workforce. Delegate tasks and decision-making Delegate tasks that match employee skill sets and provide them with some level of decision-making authority. This demonstrates trust in their abilities and encourages them to take ownership of their work. Encourage feedback and suggestions Create an environment where employees feel comfortable sharing their ideas and suggestions for improvement. Hold regular brainstorming sessions and actively solicit feedback on company policies, procedures, and resident services. Recognize and value employee ideas Acknowledge and value employee ideas, and whenever possible, implement suggestions that can enhance efficiency or improve resident satisfaction. This demonstrates that their input matters and fosters a sense of ownership within the company. Conclusion Reducing employee turnover in property management requires a multi-pronged approach that prioritizes employee well-being, professional development, and a sense of belonging. By implementing the strategies outlined here, property management companies can cultivate a happy, engaged workforce that delivers exceptional service to residents and contributes to the company's long-term success. Remember, a strong team is the foundation for a thriving property management business. Invest in your employees, and they will invest in your company's success. Learn more about property management company best practices, marketing, and more in our Second Nature Community,

Calendar icon May 14, 2024

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