Long, Philosophical-practical question re: 3 feet.

palimpsestNovember 26, 2012

I have been thinking a bit about the following issue.

(Skip the backstory if you want)

The house in question is a small, 50 year old, architecturally significant, house. It is not significant because it is any great masterpiece, but because of its role in a particular period of urban redevelopment. It is one of a series of four houses built as part of a larger, mostly unbuilt project. The project was designed (and partially realized) as a response to the IM Pei development in Society Hill. They were meant for a more adventurous, less-income, demographic than those houses. So, the design is overall very good, but the parameters of the project limited size and execution (inexpensive materials). These houses have been documented and studied as thesis projects and are archived in a few urban development surveys.


The house is small, 50 years old, with no possibility of expansion in any direction.

The original format was a full bath in a roughly 7 x 6 space with an adjacent powder room and linen closet in a roughly 3 x 7 space. The full bath takes a 3 x 6 rectangular bite out of one large bedroom, and in the original format, the second bedroom was a perfect rectangle.

In 2007 the full bath was fully remodeled in the same footprint and on the cheap. In 2011, the powder room was turned into a 3/4 bath by eliminating the linen closet and taking a 30" by 7 bite out of the second bedroom.

The 3/4 bath was designed by Salvador Dali and executed by the Monroe Brothers from Green Acres. I saw the house in both permutations.

Both baths must be completely gutted.

Original permutation:

The problems with this bath are mostly access: 24" door, probably 22" clear access, and it takes a weird bite out of one bedroom and puts the access panel front and center.

The Dali-bathroom did this: it eliminated the linen closet, and...

It put a strange cobbled bumpout in the second bedroom. Yes the door is that crooked, and yes, the inside of door frame and the outside of the doorframe do not match up at all.

So, the original plan was to move the wall between the two bathrooms about a foot, to get a better entry into the full bath, and to re-shrink the 3/4 bath and make it a wetroom with a toilet and shower. The full bath would retain the toilet and tub in original positions.

It still leaves a big rectangular bite out of one bedroom that is not needed space wise but it bothers me esthetically.

Here is what I have realized: If I move the full bath over about Three feet instead of just shifting the one wall, I could have the rectangular bite in the bedroom be behind the entry doorswing, which does not bother me.

The 3/4 bath could rotate ninety degrees and actually become a bit larger. The old site could get a closet, and the same rectangular bite would be contained behind entry door swing in that bedroom.

The issue is that it moves one toilet about 30" and the other about a foot, and all the other plumbing as well.

In the original idea, one bathrooms plumbing stays put and the others' toilet moves about a foot.

So, would you just move it all and get an overall better end point, keep one essentially intact which would still be pretty good, and move only the other 3/4 bath in it's entirety? The plumbing costs would be essentially double.

Either plan involves putting an entirely new 3/4 bath and moving the kitchen appliances into the basement because of the loss of both bathrooms and major disruption to the kitchen one floor below these two baths.

Budget is limited overall, but is such that I could probably do either, it would just take something away from somewhere else. However, there is also cost-benefit analysis. I am acquainted with someone who is in the "money-no-object" category who spent roughly $800,000 to add three feet to the back of their house. $200,000 odd for the three feet and $600,000 (cash, in full) for a house to move into while the other house was renovated. For three feet and that much money, I would have bought a different house, or come up with a plan that didn't need three feet.

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I think you will be happier if you chose the option that gets rid of the bite. If you are ever going to do it, now is the time. I think it will always bug you. This is probably something that matters more to you then most, but I also strongly prefer a clean rectangle (or the appearance of one). No slieght of hand decor would distract me.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2012 at 9:58AM
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^^ Agree.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2012 at 10:17AM
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In moving the toilets, are you going to have to get "creative" with the floor joists? Or are you moving the toilets parallel with the joists?

If you are moving them parallel, then to me it's a great idea to shift everything as you have said.

Here's what I don't understand, though ... you are moving the kitchen into the basement because you'll need access to the plumbing for the bathrooms that I'm guessing are above the kitchen? If that guess is right, then will you need to put in a new waste stack after moving the toilets?

I''m not 100% sold on the idea when I think about the impact to the first floor and possibility of running a new stack. In your shoes I would look for ways to move other walls, For instance, in the "Original Permutation" picture there is a bedroom or something just to the right of the bathroom, and that doorway seems to prevent making the door wider in that direction. But what is that on the left? Is it a linen closet? What's behind it? If you could expand the bathroom in that direction you'd be able to keep the toilet & tub in the same place, get a wider door, and just shift the sink over a bit (maybe put in a vanity with storage).

When we did our second floor & changed the bathrooms around we got lucky. We could use the existing stack for the master bath and by flipping the original plan we were able to run a new stack through a closet on the first floor. To put everything on the existing stack would have required large holes in the existing joists & structurally wouldn't work.

I'm probably being no help, but I can't decide without understanding the rest of the floor plan a little better.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2012 at 11:08AM
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I'm usually pretty good at visualizing, but I realy need a floor plan on this one. I need an idea of where the bedrooms are, etc.

But even without that, am I catching that the oddness of the bathroom and the need to de-odd it is much, much more important to you than keeping the kitchen above ground? Meaning that shunning the kitchen to the basement is not a big deal to you if it means you can do the shifting you desire in the baths? Because I wonder if that isn't exactly the opposite of what most people would want. "Most people" being those who comprise the class of individuals most likely to make up future buyers or renters of this house?

Of course I don't know your area, and basement kitchens may be standard. If so, then ignore what I said above.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2012 at 11:37AM
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I dont think the stack will have to move. In the original permutation, on the back wall, the door to the right is the bathroom and the door to the left was where the powder room was, and the 3/4 bath is now. The door opened to a shallow linen closet and the powder room was behind that and accessible from the east bedroom.

The doors are, from left to right, east bedroom, linen closet and bathroom on wall to back, and west bedroom.

The joists are perpendicular, but I would be jumping from joist space to joist space. There is already a dropped portion of ceiling on the first floor to compensate for the issue of plumbing vs. joists. The plan is to bury this dropped area or disguise it somehow when the kitchen is reconfigured. Actually it is already in a pretty thoughtful location esthetically and it may be possible to minimize it even more. Philadelphia ustilizes what is called the "Philadelphia One-stack System, which utilizes one major soil stack and vent stack for multiple bathrooms. Designed correctly, it works.

The issue with moving the kitchen to the basement is one of self-preservation We remodeled a single kitchen, single bath no powder room apartment and we don't want to live through that again. We were without a functioning kitchen for four and a half YEARS, due to a variety of extenuating circumstances. And without a toilet or shower for several days at a time twice in the bathroom project which meant showering at the gum and using the pool toilet down three stories and a trip outside, in winter. :(

The bath in the basement will be a plus all around and the appliances will stay there as backup. The new kitchen will be about 7'4" by 12' when it is Enlarged, and it can't get any bigger than that. The extra fridge and range will come in handy on occasion.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2012 at 11:43AM
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The new kitchen will be in the same location as the current kitchen. A temporary kitchen is being put in the basement for the remodel and will remain as backup.

That said, most of the houses in the neighborhood including the ones designed by this architect and the historic houses both, have basement kitchens. One of the reasons I picked this house was that the kitchen was on the main floor. The reason is that these houses are WIDE :) by Philadelphia neighborhood standards (20 feet,19 inside), the standard for this square footage is 15.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2012 at 11:48AM
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First, the blue door is a masterpiece of shoddy workmanship, amazing. In some comical, perverse way it is a shame to remove it.

If you are doing this for your enjoyment and personal satisfaction then by all means use the new plan. However, you mention a cost-benefit analysis. If the cost is $100K on a 2M property, it is different than $100K on a $150K property. How much is the plumbing? Double $5K is much different than double $25K, etc. What is it worth to you? Obviously your living space is very important to you, so it might be worth it at any price that doesn't keep you up at night.

I remember this property was a rental, are you moving in now?

    Bookmark   November 26, 2012 at 11:53AM
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Like jakabedy, I need drawings to fully understand what you're trying to do.
Do you really need that powder room? Have you considered just eliminating the smaller bath and making one large bathroom?

IMO, it really doesn't matter who designed it and who built it, since both did such a poor job in both fields. It's time to make it an area that works for you.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2012 at 12:21PM
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Budget is limited overall, but is such that I could probably do either, it would just take something away from somewhere else.

Unless you have money to burn, I would put it elsewhere. It's not going to add to the value of the home. I'm assuming the bedroom is on the small side, and it's not a room you're going to be in that much.

All I would do is paint the blue room another color and fix the door.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2012 at 1:06PM
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The 600000 cash comes back as soon as the place is sold. It ends up cheaper than renting.

In your household, do people have their "own" bath? In order not to share, we expanded a first floor powder room to be a full bath. Even though it is far from the bedrooms and I don't like to "official business" in first floor guest powder room, we had to do it.

But if it were negotiable and not absolutely necessary for sanity and hygiene I never would have put the money into it. YOu can always find places to put money in a house. But, unlike your acquaintance, you can't always get it back out. Although they will likely see their 600k again, I'm not sure about the 200.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2012 at 2:02PM
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If you completely eliminate the 3/4 bath or powder room it puts only one bathroom in the house, excluding the new one that will be put in the basement that will remain a basement. The house really needs two in the house proper.

The Original bathroom/powder room were fine by 1963 standard. A small powder room and a 5 x 7 ish bath with a 24" entry door is standard for the day. I have been in very large houses of the period with bathrooms and bathroom doors just as small.

The remodeling is what really screwed things up.

I want a 32" door into the bathroom for walker access at minimum. My dad is going to be 89 and doesn't use one yet, but may need to. I also want to plan a bit for the future. The basement bath I am going for universal access even though it is in the basement.

The property is worth a lot in terms of values across the US. It is "entry level" in my neighborhood, and when I was talking to my insurance agent (local to where I grew up and this amount of money would buy one of the most expensive, biggest houses in town), we discussed that the house structure is not worth all that much currently but the tiny piece of property it sits on holds most of the value.

Unfortunately I can't currently post a floor plan but I can explain the plan which is fairly simple.

The entire house is divided into a front space and a back space, separated by a u-shaped stair in the middle.

First floor front: Kitchen and eating area
Stairs in middle.
First floor back: full-width living room

Second floor front: full width bedroom
Stairs and baths in middle
Second floor back: full width bedroom (each bedroom now has a little bite taken out of it by the baths.
Third floor front: outside terrace:
Stairs in middle
Open "studio".

In general, the layout is very nice for the main rooms, and there are two walls of glass and two outside areas, a rarity in a neighbhorhood where there is often an alley if any outside space at all.

Most of the money will be spent updating services to current standards (HVAC, electrical), UNremodeling, and refining the surfaces and quality.

In other words I am remodeling to make the house look like it should have when it was new and like it had a bigger budget.

This kind of puzzles people. In my current unit, I spent the most money making it look like the original details were intact. Other owners in the complex would come in and say I was lucky to have a unit with so many original details in good condition. When I tell them I restored all the original details some of them wondered why, if I was spending the money, didn't make it "obvious" that I spent money.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2012 at 2:16PM
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LOL, Pal, I just got your joke.

At first I thought -- Salvador Dali, really? But then I actually didn't know that IM Pei did something in Society Hill. Is that the SH Towers? Or was it recent? Or am I just clueless.

But upon rereading I just got it. WHo remembered the names of the characters on Green Acres? Too funny.

Just had a great, belated giggle.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2012 at 2:32PM
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In terms of value added, and spending money and such, during my house hunt I qualified for houses that cost half again as much and as far as I was concerned they needed just as much work, they were just bigger or in a slightly (snobbier? tonier?) neighborhood. And at the higher price point, I couldn't afford to do what needed to be done. I live in a city of $700K gut rehabs if you want to live in certain areas.

In this house, I could afford it And afford to rehab it. Will the value added be reflected in a price I could sell it for? I don't know. Would I lose money? Probably not.
However, I would not make the money that somebody who cosmetically redid the two baths and repaired the remuddling but left all in place would. But I don't have any plans to sell and I don't have a job that requires any sudden transfers. And in the mean time I don't have a crappy 3/4 bath to contend with. Actually, when I offered on the property, I asked them to stop after the other bath had been demolished and not continue with the work, which was looking bad. It worked out for me only because I was able to rent it as a two bath house. So the baths will be redone, it's just a matter of whether a couple of feet are worth the extra money involved in redoing them.

They will never be large or fancy baths, they will be baths that look like they belong in the house. I will spend a little extra money on "sturdy" but not a lot of extra money for "flashy".

    Bookmark   November 26, 2012 at 2:54PM
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Sounds to me like you should do it. If your dad is elderly, walker or not, he may need additional room to navigate so a a narrow doorway or a tub will be difficult. Remodeling the 3/4 bath will be needed as well as the main bath.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2012 at 3:03PM
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The IM Pei houses are built to the west and south of the Towers. I love both the towers and the townhouses, but they are not flawless. The partitioning in the towers is solid layers of drywall. The baths are small. There are communal laundries. The townhouses have some strange soffits and at least one room that is a mean little room with low ceilings.

However, as Brutalist-Modernist architecture they are pretty good. The houses, in particular, look like they would be dark and relatively windowless, but the windows are large and the interiors are mostly spacious and light-filled. Same with my house. The bathrooms are a problem, and there are a couple other issues that can be sorted out relatively easily.
But the main rooms are large and light filled and nicely proportioned, and that is a relative rarity around here.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2012 at 3:34PM
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Okay, the explanation of floor plan helps a lot. Thank you for that!

One last question ... There will be one full and one 3/4 bath on a floor with 2 bedrooms in the end, right? Does it make your life and layout any easier if only one bedroom has access to the 3/4 bath?

I hear you on the challenges of a bath with just a 24"wide door. Both of our baths were like that when we bought the house. It makes it hard to get in and out if you are carrying anything (like if you want to wash the litterbox in the tub in the winter b/c you already shut off the hose spigots outside).

The fact that you are already planning to remodel the kitchen bodes well for re-routing the plumbing. So that is probably the right thing to do. I understand the logic of saying that it won't add to resale value, but I'm not sure I agree. In the kind of market you are in, having a normal and functional flow through the house is noticed because so many properties have remuddled flows (like accessing a bedroom only by walking thru another bedroom). So, having a 2 bed, 1&3/4 bath house with a good flow edges you toward the top of the range for 2 bed 1&3/4 bath homes in your immediate area. In a lower COL area where 2BR homes range from $90-$105k, that isn't much difference. But in a high COL area 2BR homes can range from $375-$425k and that's a larger span. So being above average nets a bit more cash in the end.

IOW - I can see the value in moving the bath 3 feet.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2012 at 5:38PM
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One of the baths, by default, has to serve as the guest powder room. Since it makes sense to have a full service bathroom accessible from all areas without walking into a bedroom, by default again the 3/4 ends up being the one accessible only to one bedroom, which then ends up the "MBR". This speaks to the 1960s version of the MBR which had only a shower or perhaps only a toilet and sink (as this one originally did).

The 3/4 or 1/2 in the master was a quantum leap over the single bath houses of the previous decades even though it seems a bit inadequate now.

Technically this house serves as a three bedroom for most people: the "studio" serves as a bedroom. Since this house will have to serve as a potential meeting spot if my dad sells my parents' house, I am planning to sleep as many as 7 by creating flex space. (Two in MBR; twin beds in 2nd bedroom; single in an area that is becoming a Den/TV room)--and maybe a sleeper sofa somewhere or a bed in the basement which will end up with a bath and large egress window.

The COL exceeds even your higher estimate in parts of this neighborhood, and there are plenty of $500K+ 2BR condos. Unfortunately the one I am selling is not one of them.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2012 at 6:17PM
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I'm with EngineerChic. How about you take the bath space (whatever parameters you determine it should have) to make one full bath with hall access, and give one of the bedrooms (the presumed master) an en suite 3/4 bath with no entrance to the hall? This means you could run the 3/4 bath across the back (side) wall, leaving a more square area for the main bath with hall entrance. And it would allow you to even out the bumps in the bedrooms, or at least combine the bumps with closets to make it all appear more seamless.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2012 at 6:26PM
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Ok, so this has nothing to do with or is NO help for the bathroom "issue" because I'd have to think it out...
For any of you at all interested, ALF is still alive and well and now that Frank Cady passed (Mr. Drucker) is one of the last 2 of the GA cast still living (you can look up the other one).

As far as the bathroom goes, I was forced to create a strange little bump out in one of my bedrooms to create a closet.
Not a perfect solution but necessary. I agonized for years if it was worth the trade off. It is for me, but the proof is when I go to sell, one never knows.

But I really appreciate your respect for the house, something that we certainly don't see on television stations these days.

Good luck.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2012 at 7:11PM
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cyn427 (zone 7)

Pal, is there an elevator or ramp that goes to the basement? If not, there doesn't seem to be any need for "universal design" expenses. I recognize it works for everyone, but much of it isn't necessary unless one is disabled or just older and in need of the alterations. It would seem to make more sense to apply those principles and dollars upstairs where your dad will be.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2012 at 7:40PM
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The basement stairs will easily take a chair lift or could be removed to place a platform lift that would go from landing to basement level. My dad has such a platform lift on one set of his garage stairs and if we are going out with my dad we ride it down or if not, go out the other door.

This is more convenient than a chair lift on the stairs in the house proper. If necessary he could sleep on the first floor and the kitchen is there, and the front door is already accessible. In a perfect world, there would be 3/4 on the first floor, but it makes more sense to use the extra space to enlarge the kitchen. It's like a 1.5 person kitchen, and a little bit of extra room will make it a 2-3 person with good planning.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2012 at 8:04PM
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From strictly an architectural perspective, it just seems that the best and most satisfying investment would be to make the house what it should be architecturally. You chose this house. Would you be happy spending the money on finishes that might have a better return?

BTW, I agree that door's almost too good to "fix." Could you just tell everyone it's art and ascribe special insights to experiencing it? :)

    Bookmark   November 26, 2012 at 8:26PM
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I am relatively lucky on the finishes aspect. This house is modernist with brutalist leanings. This means flush doors, no crown moulding, simple hardware, modest materials.

The house has two walls of glass, one of which is peaked, a wood ceiling that is raw cladding and beams, clerestory, ribbon and slit windows elsewhere, and a trapezoidal fireplace. No amount of fancy millwork or expensive tiles etc. will turn it into a house that looks like something else. One of the houses has been "colonialized" a bit and the overall effect is pretty atrocious.

So, simple materials like Solid flush doors, concrete tile, Daltile bathrooms and the like are the order of the day. Of course the labor will be more expensive to get the simplicity right. You can't just put up another fancy moulding to cover a discrepancy.

However, in my historical house I spent the equivalent of a modest bathroom on restoring the ornamental ceiling in One room, and it wasn't even a fancy ceiling. So the modesty of the overall materials and the lack of necessity of superspecialized craftsmen will offset the large scope of the project somewhat.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2012 at 9:08PM
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How long do you plan on being in the house?

If it was me and I had the money to fix it, was planning on being in the house for a while (more than 5 years) and planning on an aging-in-place functionality I would fix the bathrooms. I would do it to match the old aspect of the house and to bring it a more sensible function.

Doing things properly, especially in terms of flow and function, will always add to the value of a house either in terms of dollar value or simply in terms of a quicker sale than comparables.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2012 at 10:19PM
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How long do I plan on being in the house? Ideally about 40 years. I have lived in my current place ten plus and feel like I just got settled. I will have owned the new place two years before I move in. I doubt I would move for 10-15 years minimum unless the circumstances were really unusual. My profession actually discourages moving and there is no such thing as promotion or relocation so any move would be self motivated and would likely be within the same neighborhood.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2012 at 10:33PM
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I think you know the crap I've gone through with my remodels just down the street from you. It can be daunting, but it'll be worth it. At least our row home market didn't take the beating the condo market did! I opted against putting in a second bathroom in my house for several reasons: (1) my house never had a bathroom to begin with because it's so damn old; (2) I have a huge bathroom insofar as my type of Center City house is concerned (14' x 7.5'); (3) I didn't want to put it in my basement (and by basement, I really mean basement); and (4) I didn't want to lose my 7' x 5' walk-in closet on the third floor or smash a half bath into the first floor somewhere. So, I still have one bath. But at least it's nice, and it now has a tub and a stall shower as well as two sinks. It's hard to make things work in these older homes, and even though mine is nearly 200 years old, I don't think the younger age of yours makes it any easier. I did get my house appraised before I proceeded with the bathroom remodel and the slight kitchen renovation to be sure I had a big cushion without the remodels to start with. Good luck!

    Bookmark   November 26, 2012 at 11:08PM
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The housing market in the zipcode only dipped slightly, and I paid less than the last one that had been sold, and now the market is rebounding a bit.

This house actually had a competing bid in a slow market, and Both of us started by offering Less because of the new bathroom than we would've offered before.(Both having seen the house pre new bathroom).

The house had been taken off the market and reappeared accidentally when the demolition was complete. We both asked the seller to "stop" but the Realtors said the work should be finished because of appraisals and such.

The main bath would suit many people at this price point, the new 3/4 bath, I think most people would consider a strong negative.

My current place appraised identically with the new bath and the old, but there was agreement all around that it needed to be done to go onto the market. Sometimes it isn't a dollars and cents decision.

Kevin, I looked at such a house: 1810 two long term owners and no real bath in the house proper. A kitchen and bath had been built in the side yard along the stairs in the 1960s and there was a toilet in the basement and a toilet in a closet cantilevered over the very top of the stairs. The plumbing for this ran openly through the stairwell.

Out of necessity I would have inserted a bath in place of the smallest bedroom, but I would have tread lightly. Unfortunately it was Marketed as needing a full rehab, and it looks like that is what it is Permitted for. This means complete destruction of the 1810 stairwell because they are not up to current code, and once touched, they must comply :(

    Bookmark   November 27, 2012 at 11:22AM
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