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AOL Real Estate - Blog

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     1111 Towlston Road McLean Virginia White House

    Sure, the fate of the entire country is up for grabs in this November's presidential election. But there's another battle between President Barack Obama and GOP candidate Mitt Romney that we here at AOL Real Estate are particularly interested in: the war for the keys to the White House.

    It's possible that the plush digs at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. will switch hands next year. But for the fellow who's denied access to the most prestigious address in America, there's another presidential place that may suit him just as well: 1111 Towlston Road.

    The stunning, Federal-style home at this address in McLean, Va., is nearly an exact replica of the actual White House, designed using the blueprints of the president's home and shrunk to scale. (The real White House is 40,000 square feet, while the McLean knockoff is only 14,000.) You'll still live like a president though: It boasts a full-size "Oval Office," complete with signature yellow curtains; its very own "Lincoln Bedroom," with a marble en-suite bathroom; and a library that's modeled after the White House's.

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    "The owner is a Vietnamese refugee who was taken into America and found success," said the home's listing agent, Chu Nguyen. "He wanted to pay tribute to his adopted country and its history and culture."

    Nguyen said that the home took two years to design and three years to build -- and though the home was a huge labor of love, Nguyen said that its empty-nest owners are ready to move on.

    While you'd think everyone would jump at the chance to live like the commander-in-chief, the home's turbulent real estate history illustrates that living in a White House replica actually makes it a harder sell. The home was initially listed at $4.65 million in 2011, after which it was swiftly slashed to $4.25 million. It was taken off the market in February, and then it went up for sale again just last month -- with an asking price of $3.9 million.

    "Americans like the White House," Nguyen told AOL Real Estate. "But that doesn't mean they want to live in one."

    %Gallery-137417%
    See also:
    Election 2012: Will It Affect Your Decision to Buy a Home?

    Barack Obama's and Mitt Romney's Homes
    Romney's Housing Fix: Let Foreclosures 'Hit Bottom'


    More on AOL Real Estate:
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    Sean Diddy Combs home New York

    Mo' money doesn't seem to be bringing mo' problems for Sean "Diddy" Combs. And if he calls selling a New York City bachelor pad for $8.5 million a problem, we'll gladly shoulder the burden.

    Diddy turned his three-bedroom, 2,300-square-foot Manhattan penthouse into a customized one-bedroom hip-hop paradise, and now he's thrown it on the market.

    %Gallery-167175%
    Located on the 66th floor of his building, Diddy's plush penthouse features sweeping views of Central Park and uptown Manhattan. Giant floor-to-ceiling windows letting in too much light? No worries. Diddy equipped the entire place with remote-controlled blackout shades.

    Two of the bedrooms have been converted into a media room and a piano room. According to the listing, other "tasteful renovations" include a marble-clad foyer, a custom-built wet bar (we're not sure if the enormous champagne bottle pictured at left is included) and closets designed with humidors and "special lighting."

    The living room was purposefully designed to maximize the use of its 9-foot television and "world class" sound system.

    According to the New York Post, Diddy's building, called the Park Imperial, is also home to Deepak Chopra (who is selling his place, too) and used to be home to Daniel Craig.

    Rick Kelly of Prudential Douglas Elliman has the listing.

    Click on the images below to see more homes for sale in New York City.



    More on AOL Real Estate:
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    Got a tip for House of the Day? Know of an exceptional or unusual property currently listed for sale? Please email harris.effron@teamaol.com with your suggestions and be sure to include links to listing details and photos. (Due to the volume of response, we unfortunately are unable to reply to each submission.)

     

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    Talk about a fantasy home.

    This Los Angeles manse might fulfill your every wild desire: It has at least two stripper poles, one in the home's two-story disco -- yes, this place has a disco -- along with an IMAX theater, casino tables and an elaborate lighting system. The other is in a more private locale -- the shower! (Unless it's there to help avoid slipping on a bar of soap.)

    The $6.1 million home's decor is delightfully gaudy, featuring gilded walls, intimate curtained chambers and Egyptian ornamentation. Topping it off is a lavish pool, surrounded by drapes, that stretches seductively over L.A.'s sprawl.

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    See the listing here.

    Click on the images below to see more homes for sale in Los Angeles.



    See more Houses of the Day on AOL Real Estate.

    Got a tip for House of the Day? Know of an exceptional or unusual property currently listed for sale? Please email harris.effron@teamaol.com with your suggestions and be sure to include links to listing details and photos. (Due to the volume of response, we unfortunately are unable to reply to each submission.)

    More on AOL Real Estate:
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    AOL Real Estate asked two real estate experts to share insights about Wednesday's presidential debate in Denver. Both agreed that President Barack Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney largely skirted the housing issue in favor of such topics as unemployment. But here's what our experts had to say about the candidates' brief comments about the housing market.


    Housing a Hot Potato in First Presidential Debate

    Daren Blomquist reaction to 2012 presidential debateDaren Blomquist, vice president of online foreclosure marketplace RealtyTrac:

    President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney agreed on a few things in last night's debate, but one of the clearest areas of agreement came in what they said little about: the housing market.

    Both presidential candidates treated housing like a hot potato, touching on it briefly in passing but not willing to grab on with both hands and crack open the issue for a deeper look.

    That's despite some staggering numbers when it comes to the housing crisis: Since Obama took office in January 2009, more than 6 million homeowners have started the foreclosure process and 3.2 million have lost their homes to banks. Meanwhile, home values have plummeted 30 percent from their peak even with recent home price gains, leaving more than 12 million homeowners seriously underwater, owing at least 25 percent more on their mortgages than their properties are worth.

    I caught only two explicit references to some variant of the word "house" or "home," one by each candidate. And it's not surprising that Obama's reference was positive while Romney's reference was negative.

    "Housing has begun to rise," Obama cautiously offered during his opening remarks, quickly moving on to more solid evidence that his presidency has improved economic conditions in the country.

    Romney did not dispute that carefully worded assessment, given that such a tepid endorsement sounded remarkably similar to the ground the Romney-Ryan camp was willing to give in its recent white paper offering up its solutions to the housing crisis, which acknowledged that "there have been some recent signs of life in the housing market."

    Despite these recent signs of life, however, the Romney-Ryan white paper went on to claim that "our economy remains stuck in neutral with 23 million Americans struggling to find work" and "persistently high unemployment that has stayed above 8% for a record 43 consecutive months, and real household incomes falling more than $4,000 over the past four years."

    Romney hammered away at that message in the debate, reminding the audience over and over again that "my priority is jobs," with the implication that an improving job situation will help mitigate future foreclosures and the lingering housing slump.

    His only explicit reference to the housing crisis also came early on, during an anecdote about a woman he talked to in Ohio whose husband had burned through four jobs over the past few years, resulting in the couple losing their home.

    Linking the foreclosure crisis to job loss is logical, and in many cases job loss does contribute to an eventual foreclosure, as I found out on a Super Shuttle ride to the Sacramento airport. That also allows Romney to provide a fairly simple solution to the housing crisis: create more jobs -- and he has promised to create 12 million if he is elected president.

    The only problem with such logic is that high unemployment was not the catalyst for this foreclosure crisis. The catalyst was a gold rush on real estate driven by speculative homebuyers and investors, enabled by bad loans with bad underwriting ... created to satisfy a seemingly insatiable appetite for those loans from Wall Street.

    That has left many homeowners with loan payments they struggle to afford -- even if they do have a job -- and aren't in line with the now-deflated value of their home.

    During the debate, Obama provided a fairly similar prognosis for the financial meltdown in which housing was the first domino to fall. But despite an accurate prognosis, Obama has not been able to come up with effective solutions to stop the bleeding.



    Foreclosure prevention programs implemented by the Obama Administration have attempted to address the bad loans piece through an evolving series of loan modification (HAMP) and refinancing (HARP) initiatives, but have fallen short of expectations because, at the end of the day, they are voluntary and cannot force lenders to address the root issue of negative equity by requiring modifications and refis to include write-downs of principal loan balance.

    The mortgage settlement between 49 state attorneys general and the nation's five largest lenders, finalized in April, may be changing that by requiring those lenders to offer some modifications with principal balance reduction.

    Maybe that's something Romney could use to his advantage in the next debate as more evidence that state governments should be doing more and the federal government should be doing less.


    Apparently, This Housing Crisis Is Over

    Jed Kolko reaction to 2012 presidential debateJed Kolko, chief economist of online listing service Trulia:

    If I had a housing-debate bingo card, I would have tossed it out halfway through the debate. In the only debate focused solely on domestic policy, the candidates never mentioned foreclosures, refinancing, Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Instead, Romney gave a shout-out to "qualified mortgages" -- which was definitely too obscure for my bingo card. What happened Wednesday night? Two mentions of housing.

    First, in his opening remarks, Obama said "housing has begun to rise." He's right: the housing market is in better shape today than when he took office in 2009. More surprising was that Romney didn't argue. Romney did point out several ways that broader economic performance worsened during Obama's presidency, but the housing market wasn't one of them. Had Romney wanted to point to the ongoing pain from the housing crisis, he could have pointed to the stubbornly high foreclosure rate in many states or the fact that the market is still not even halfway back to normal. But he didn't.

    Second, Obama and Romney were more focused on preventing the next housing crisis than getting out of this one. They mentioned housing only in their brief debate over government regulation. Obama cited banks' risky lending practices in the past as reason for why regulation is important for the future. Romney got into the weeds, agreeing that mortgage regulation is important and, in fact, blamed the continued uncertainty over the Dodd-Frank "qualified mortgage" rules for banks' reluctance to lend today. (What is a "qualified mortgage," anyway? Those will be mortgages meeting standards that automatically "count" as being within a borrower's ability to repay, for legal and financial purposes.) Two cheers to the candidates for focusing on rules to prevent the next housing crisis.

    But that was about it for housing. There's a long list of what the candidates didn't say about housing. Not a word about refinancing, principal reductions, selling government-owned foreclosed homes, or the mortgage interest deduction -- all hot-button housing issues. Why wasn't there more debate over housing? Three reasons:

    The worst of the housing crisis is behind us. In almost every way, the housing market is improving: Prices, sales and construction are all increasing; vacancies, inventories and delinquencies are all falling. Housing policy doesn't feel as urgent as it did two, three or four years ago.

    Housing isn't really a winning issue for either candidate. As the incumbent, Obama needs major housing policy successes to point to; as the challenger, Romney needs compelling fresh new housing ideas to put forward. Unfortunately, neither candidate has what he needs to make housing a winning issue for him.

    Economic policy is the best housing policy. The housing market recovery depends on the broader economy. Jobs lead to housing demand; economic confidence leads to more lending and construction. Whichever candidate is better for the economy is almost certainly the better candidate for the housing market.

    But the biggest news is that Romney didn't argue with Obama's claim that "housing has begun to rise" -- and that both candidates were focused on regulations designed to prevent the next housing crisis. They're clearly ready to put this housing crisis behind them.

    See also:
    Romney's and Obama's Housing Policies
    Election 2012: Will It Affect Your Decision to Buy a Home?

    Barack Obama's and Mitt Romney's Homes

    More on AOL Real Estate:
    Find out how to
    calculate mortgage payments.
    Find
    homes for sale in your area.
    Find
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    Find homes for rent in your area.

    Follow us on Twitter at @AOLRealEstate or connect with AOL Real Estate on Facebook.

     

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    Just in time for Halloween! The owners of the house that was featured in the 1979 cult classic "The Amityville Horror" have scared up another price chop for their movie-famous home. Originally listed at $1.45 million last year -- then slashed to $1.35 million -- the home is now going for only $955,000.

    Clearly, owners Odalys and Jose Fragoso, who bought the Toms River, N.J., colonial in 2001, are keen to get rid of it -- but probably not for the reasons you're thinking.

    "My husband and I are getting a divorce," Odalys Fragoso told CNN. "It's not that the house is haunted or anything."

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    The horror movie, filmed at the Odalys' home, was based on the real-life story of the Lutz family, who bought an allegedly haunted house in Amityville, on New York's Long Island, in 1975. Thirteen months before the Lutzes moved in, a man named Ronald DeFeo Jr. had shot and killed six members of his family at the house. According to the Lutzes, they were victim to demonic, paranormal activity inside the home and left after living there for only 28 days.

    The Odalys' home was used as a double in the horror film, and to this day, dozens of fans continue to show up at the home's doorstep to take pictures and ask questions, according to CNN.




    See also:
    New Amityville Horror: Yuppie Tourists

    'Killer' Digs: Who Lives in Famous Murder Homes Now

    More on AOL Real Estate:
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    Hillary Swank house

    Academy Award-winning actress Hilary Swank has put her gorgeous Pacific Palisades, Calif., home on the market for a whopping $9.495 million (talk about a million-dollar baby!). Rumor has it she'll be making a hefty profit on the home, which she snapped up in 2007 for $5.8 million.

    Apparently, Swank gave the Mediterranean-style manse, built in 1928, a complete makeover with the help of designer Mark Zeff and architects from Marc Appleton & Associates. The final result? Nothing short of, well, swank.

    With soaring, beamed ceilings, hardwood floors and wrought-iron detailing, the 6,722-square-foot home is fit for an A-lister. It also features six bedrooms, 6.5 bathrooms, a surround-sound theater, wine cellar, in-home gym and even maid's quarters.

    Looks like Swank's come a long, long way from her famously humble beginnings living in a trailer park!

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    Myra Nourmand has the listing.

    Click on the images below to see more homes for sale in Pacific Palisades.



    More on AOL Real Estate:
    Find out how to
    calculate mortgage payments.
    Find
    homes for sale in your area.
    Find
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    See celebrity real estate.

    See more Houses of the Day on AOL Real Estate.

    Got a tip for House of the Day? Know of an exceptional or unusual property currently listed for sale? Please email harris.effron@teamaol.com with your suggestions and be sure to include links to listing details and photos. (Due to the volume of response, we unfortunately are unable to reply to each submission.)

     

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    Sheryl Crow Hollywood home

    Is it that time of year already? Looks like it's celebrity real estate season once again. First, P. Diddy dumped his digs on the market, then Hilary Swank followed close behind, and now our favorite Grammy-winning songstress, Sheryl Crow, is continuing the trend!

    Crow has put up her stunning Hollywood Hills West compound for a cool $15.95 million. It features a gorgeous Spanish Revival main house built in 1914, a Craftsman built in 1909 and a cottage built in 1885 (because why have one house, when you can have three?). Then there's the infinity swimming pool, pergola with fireplace, bridge, trails and playground -- you know, just your typical Hollywood family home.

    Thanks to our friends at Estately for the tip!

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    Myra Nourmand has the listing.

    Click on the images below to see more homes for sale in the Hollywood Hills.



    See more Houses of the Day on AOL Real Estate.

    Got a tip for House of the Day? Know of an exceptional or unusual property currently listed for sale? Please email harris.effron@teamaol.com with your suggestions and be sure to include links to listing details and photos. (Due to the volume of response, we unfortunately are unable to reply to each submission.)

    More on AOL Real Estate:
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    Cheers to @tollbrothersinc for submitting this week's #housepornthurs winner, a $20 million New York City penthouse.

    The mouth-watering 10,000-square-foot home is the last unit available in The Touraine, a swanky apartment building on Manhattan's Upper East Side that is supposed to reach completion in the spring of 2013. The last of 22 boutique units, "Penthouse 1" offers five bedrooms and three bathrooms decked out in ritzy decor and fixtures.

    The home's gourmet kitchen features "custom millwork cabinetry, Italian Calacatta marble countertops, Gaggenau appliances and Sub-Zero refrigerators."

    There's also an expansive rooftop terrace with top-notch landscaping and furnishing. Against the backdrop of New York's sparkling skyline, loungers can warm up in front of the open-air fireplace and revel in the feeling like the master of the universe. (We know we would.)

    Other amenities include 24-hour concierge service, wine lockers, a top-of-the-line gym and a library.

    Toll Brothers City Living has the listing.

    %Gallery-168084%

    Click on the images below to see more homes for sale in New York, New York.



    This home is the winner of last week's #housepornthurs, a weekly Twitter conversation hosted by @aolrealestate. Tweet listings to AOL Real Estate with the hashtag #housepornthurs every Thursday for a chance to have one of your submissions featured as a House of the Day the following week.

    See more Houses of the Day on AOL Real Estate.

     

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    As #houseporn fiends and real estate junkies, there's nothing we love more than poring through fabulous home listings -- except maybe sorting through the tragically un-fabulous ones. They'll definitely make you laugh, and some of them could make you cry. Every week, AOL Real Estate brings you the sorriest listings we could find on the Internet to show you what you should never do when posting your home online. We very appropriately call it #listingfail.



    This Week's Theme: What in the Weird?!

    We get a kick out of real estate listings: the stunning ones, the ugly ones, the famous ones and even the useless ones. But the ones we've collected today have gotta be our favorites. These are some listings that are, well, just plain weird.

    From homes teetering dangerously on the edge of nonexistence (literally) to homes parked in the middle of the ocean and bright pink, bubblegum-shaped properties built in the thick of the woods, these homes will make you think, "What in the...?!"



    A House 'on the Water'




    We've always wanted to live on the water. However, in our heads, the idea wasn't so literal. We were thinking more along the lines of "a quick stroll to the ocean," rather than "jump out of your bedroom window into the ocean." Seriously, tell us this house isn't one strong gust of wind away from horrible real estate death.

    Thanks to our pals at Lovely Listing for this listing fail.



    House of Blues




    Usually, we love colorful homes. Colorful homes make us happy. But this house? Well this house just makes us blue. A very obnoxious, annoyingly bright shade of blue.

    Thanks to our friends at Nichols & Associates Real Estate for this listing fail.



    A Fixer-Upper?




    According to the person who snapped this picture, the for-sale sign was erected after this house collapsed and crumbled to pieces. (And isn't that when you know you should?)

    "The perfect fixer-upper," you can almost hear the broker gush. "An idyllic location, surrounded by nature!" Well, at least you know the home gets plenty of sunlight.

    Thanks to our pals at Lovely Listing for this listing fail.



    For more hilarious, "What in the Weird?!" #listingfails, see the gallery below.

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    Don't let your home be a #listingfail! Take some pro advice from our home staging guides:
    Home Staging Mistakes Sellers Should Avoid
    Home Staging Tips for Every Season
    Home Staging: Hire a Pro or Do It Yourself?


    Join the conversation! Tweet us listing fails @aolrealestate and hashtag #listingfail, and you could get a shout-out in next week's post!

    See more AOL Real Estate galleries:
    Charming Homes You Can Score for $150,000
    Gayborhoods
    Best Beach Towns for Buying Foreclosures

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    A couple in Warren, Texas, put their home up for sale in order to be able to offer a $50,000 reward for their missing dog. Charlie Parker, who is retired, said his dog, Sir, a chocolate Lab, is like a child to him and his wife.

    He tells local TV station KFDM that he's willing to give up everything to find Sir (besides his wife and his horse). "He plays such a great role in our lives," said Parker. "Whatever it takes, just bring me the animal and I'll pay you."

    See also:
    California Law Bans Landlords From Requiring Declawed, 'Devoiced' Pets

    Newest Home-Staging Trend: 'Placement Pets'

    Dentist Richard Malouf Builds Backyard Water Park While Charged With Massive Fraud

    More on AOL Real Estate:
    Find out how to
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    Find
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    Follow us on Twitter at @AOLRealEstate or connect with AOL Real Estate on Facebook.

     

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    Searles Hopkins Castle for sale

    We love castles
    , so when we got word that the stunning Searles Hopkins Castle hit the market, we jumped all over it. A Louis XIV drawing room? French, chateau-style architecture circa 1888? Forty-two-foot domed ceilings and massive stone terraces? Yes, please!

    The castle, located in Great Barrington, Mass., has hit the market for a kingly $8.995 million. (Think that's expensive? It initially hit the market for $15 million in 2007.) It consists of 61 sprawling acres, and boasts over a thousand feet of water frontage on the banks of the Housatonic River. At a whopping 52,245 square feet, it's currently the second biggest house in America on the market.

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    Stacey Matthews of the Matthews Group has the listing.

    Click on the images below to see more homes for sale in Great Barrington, Mass.


    More on AOL Real Estate:
    Find out how to
    calculate mortgage payments.
    Find
    homes for sale in your area.
    Find
    foreclosures in your area.
    See celebrity real estate.

    See more Houses of the Day on AOL Real Estate.

    Got a tip for House of the Day? Know of an exceptional or unusual property currently listed for sale? Please email harris.effron@teamaol.com with your suggestions and be sure to include links to listing details and photos. (Due to the volume of response, we unfortunately are unable to reply to each submission.)


    Castle Conversions Reign Supreme

     

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    russell simmons NYC penthouse

    It's stunning, and it's got great views and all the right celebrity connections. So why won't this place sell? This 7,175-square-foot penthouse in New York City, owned by hip-hop pioneer and Def Jam Recordings founder Russell Simmons, is on the market for $11 million. Again.

    russell simmons NYC penthouseApparently, P. Diddy was supposed to snag the sprawling spot in 2001, but damage from 9/11 had almost ruined the apartment. Even after renovations and a price chop, the place still hasn't sold -- more than a decade later! What gives, multimillionaires of New York?

    The home boasts a stunning spiral staircase, 12-foot ceilings and almost 3,500 square feet of outdoor space. It features a massive kitchen with breakfast room, a library, four bedrooms and 4½ bathrooms -- not to mention a very stylish, zen-like, Southeast Asian-inspired decorative theme. We'd snap it up in a second -- if we had a loose $11 million lying around.

    Thanks to our pals at Zillow for the tip!

    %Gallery-168020%
    Deborah Grubman and David Dubin have the listing.

    Click on the images below to see more homes for sale in New York City.



    More on AOL Real Estate:
    Find out how to
    calculate mortgage payments.
    Find
    homes for sale in your area.
    Find
    foreclosures in your area.
    See celebrity real estate.

    See more Houses of the Day on AOL Real Estate.

    Got a tip for House of the Day? Know of an exceptional or unusual property currently listed for sale? Please email harris.effron@teamaol.com with your suggestions and be sure to include links to listing details and photos. (Due to the volume of response, we unfortunately are unable to reply to each submission.)

     

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    Back in May, a stunning home hit the market for $14.9 million. Built on the "highest point in all of New York City," with chandeliers from The Plaza Hotel, stained glass windows and ceilings adorned in 24-carat gold leaves, it was divine, to say the least.

    Quite literally divine, as it turned out. The mansion in the Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx was built in 1925 by a wealthy and very devout New Yorker named Genevieve Griscom -- who never actually lived in the home. Neighbors and the press speculated that the home was built for Jesus Christ himself (who probably would object to that luxurious outdoor hot tub) on his Second Coming. Naturally, we had to check this place out for ourselves!

    %Gallery-155261%
    Like what you see? Sean McPeak of Prudential Douglas Elliman has the listing.

    inside look: second coming

    Got a tip for our Inside Look series? If you know of any exceptional or unusual property currently listed for sale that's video-worthy, please email krisanne.alcantara@huffingtonpost.com with your suggestions. (Due to the volume of response, we unfortunately are unable to reply to each submission.)

    More on AOL Real Estate:
    Find out how to
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    Find
    homes for sale in your area.
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    See celebrity real estate.

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    Wafa Guloona and family ate poisonous mushroom

    The mushrooms growing in one Connecticut family's backyard (pictured below) might have looked appetizing, but once they ate them, they became violently ill and had to go to the hospital.

    Shah Noor, 40, who is originally from Pakistan but now lives with her family in Newington, Conn., picked the mushrooms last Thursday, just like she used to do in Pakistan. She cooked them with some onions, garlic and green chili peppers for herself, her husband and two adult daughters. According to the Hartford Courant, the family thought it was a tasty meal.

    But the next morning, all four were experiencing symptoms of severe intestinal distress, including nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, and sought medical aid.

     family ate poisonous mushroom"I was really scared, and it was really painful to see all my family members in the same situation," Noor's 24-year-old daughter, Wafa Guloona (pictured above in a hospital bed), told WTIC-TV.

    According to Dr. Danyal Ibrahim, a toxicologist at the Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford, Conn., the mushrooms belonged to the deadly Amanita group.

    "Amanita bisporigera is what I believe she ate, which contains the Amanitin toxin that damages the liver cells," Ibrahim told NBC Connecticut.

    The four family members were all treated with a charcoal solution to absorb the toxins, as well as a drug called N-Acetylcysteine to aid restoration of damaged liver cells. While this helped most of them, Guloona's condition continued to get worse.

    Thankfully, Ibrahim was aware of an experimental drug used in Europe, called Silibinin, which blocks toxins before they reach the liver and kidneys. He got emergency approval to use the drug, which quickly started to help Guloona. She is expected to be able to leave the hospital later this week.

    "We are very thankful to them. God bless them," said Musarat Ullah, Noor's husband, of hospital staff. "The people here at St. Francis Hospital really took care of us. They took care of us so well."



    See also:
    El Paso 'Cave Man' Says Neighbors Shouldn't Fear Him

    'Nightmare on Elm Street' House Got a Lot Less Scary After Rehab

    CEO Angers Hamptons Neighbors With View-Blocking Hedge


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    House of the Day with bowling alley in Dallas

    We've seen homes with private bowling alleys before, but this one's something else. This Dallas home doesn't just have a bowling alley, it has a "bowling center." And it's 5,000 square feet, boasts neon signs, a four-lane alley, flat-screen televisions and even a 1950s-style diner! You've gotta be kidding, right?

    Crazy bowling alley aside, the home -- where legendary oil tycoon H.L. Hunt and his family lived -- is pretty swell. Dubbed the "Dallas Landmark Estate," it's a 10,500-square-foot replica of Mount Vernon (George Washington's former home). The five-bedroom, six-bathroom mansion boasts a climate-controlled 10,000-bottle wine vault, putting green, ballroom, tennis courts and a swimming pool among other luxury features. According to the listing, the "Dallas Landmark Estate is Texas."

    Well, it certainly is big. See for yourself.

    %Gallery-168802%
    Clayton Andrews of Christies International Real Estate has the listing.

    Click on the images below to see more homes for sale in Dallas.



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    Idaho governor's mansion

    It's a stunning, 7,100-square-foot mansion -- "visible for miles," some have said -- sitting on a grassy hilltop in Boise, Idaho, with views over the scenic Boise Valley. The magnificent, Mediterranean-style structure commands 37 green acres and boasts a library, a boardroom, two kitchens and ample entertainment spaces. A dream home, it seems -- so why is it so hard to get someone to take it?

    You'd think people would be fighting to lay claim to Idaho's majestic governor's mansion, but nothing could be further from the truth. As a matter of fact, the state's governor doesn't even want it -- and never did.

    Idaho governor's mansionAfter being elected governor in 2006, Clement Leroy "Butch" Otter politely declined to occupy the State of Idaho's Executive Residence. Instead, Otter chose to live on a much humbler riverside ranch in western Idaho. So the Idaho governor's mansion, also known as the Governor's House and the Idaho House, has remained empty, aside from the occasional state function.

    But it sure does cost a lot to let a house like that sit vacant. Keeping up with the maintenance of the home continues to cost Idaho taxpayers at least $125,000 a year -- more than the median price of a Boise-area home. And just this year, the maintenance price tag was even higher: $177,400.

    Angry residents have demanded that the empty, 32-year-old home be returned to the Simplot family, the founders of a potato-farming empire who donated the hilltop mansion to the state in 2004 for the sole purpose of it being the governor's residence -- something that didn't become official until 2009. Yet Gov. Otter, whose marriage to a Simplot ended in divorce in 1993, has never moved in.

    "It's inappropriate to continue funding this mansion on the hill," Boise resident Barbara Kemp said during a public hearing held by the Governor's Housing Committee on Oct. 2. Kemp told the committee that potato magnate J.R. Simplot himself, who is now dead, would have seen the mansion as a "waste of money" and financial drain on a state that's already "tapped out."

    Kemp's thoughts are echoed by former Boise legislator John Gannon, who said at the hearing that Idaho's governor's mansion program (which includes a maintenance fund that has plummeted from $1.5 million in 2005 to $900,000 in 2012) is both costly and outdated.

    "There is nostalgia for a governor's mansion, probably based upon the beautiful century-old homes that many other states have. But I think many Idahoans are frustrated that the idea just hasn't worked in Idaho," Gannon told AOL Real Estate. "After 25 years, many expensive plans, and a costly, empty mansion for six years, the governor's mansion program has failed."

    %Gallery-169267%
    Despite pressure from Boise residents to hand the keys back to the Simplot family, the heirs to the Simplot estate have said that they have no intention of taking it back.

    "It's a special piece of property that the Simplot family intended to be used for a special purpose, and being utilized as the official residence of the governor would fulfill that intent," Simplot spokesman David Cuoio said in a statement to AOL Real Estate. "We are satisfied with the agreement we made with the state."

    A proposal was made in February to sell the mansion in order to save Idaho's drowning state parks system, but it was rejected by lawmakers.

    An 'Outdated' Program?

    According to Gannon, the very idea of having a governor's mansion is becoming "obsolete." The traditional, hierarchical ideal of having a governor "watching over" his or her people and the necessity of designated housing for the chief executive (conventionally meant to symbolize the "grandeur of government") is backward and does not cater to a "modern-day" governor with his own family, tastes and preferences.

    "This is fundamentally why the modern Simplot mansion has been empty," Gannon told AOL Real Estate. "No person should live in a home chosen by others."

    And it's not just Idaho's Gov. Otter who thinks so.

    Governors from several other states have also declined to move into official residences or only occupy them part-time, including Colorado's John Hickenlooper, Michigan's Rick Snyder, Indiana's Mitch Daniels, New Jersey's Chris Christie, New Hampshire's John Lynch, New York's Andrew Cuomo and Ohio's John R. Kasich. In some cases, governor's mansions have been transformed into museums or wedding mills just "to make ends meet."

    The future of the Idaho House is now being questioned in a series of public hearings taking a look at how to fend off some of the state's fiscal problems. Though there is a case to be made for preserving historic structures and landmarks, "I can't believe we would let this symbol of Idaho go to some developer," Boise resident Michael Costanecki said at one public hearing.

    But the costs involved in maintaining a governor's mansion is hard to justify and "not worth the expense," according to governors from Arizona, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont, which don't have governor's mansions, as well as California -- where the governor's mansion long ago was turned into a state park.

    "A governor has the right to choose a residence and receive a housing allowance as part of the compensation package," Gannon told AOL Real Estate. "In Idaho, it's time to end a program that has failed."

    Whether they live in the state's official Governor's Mansion or not, some governors have pretty incredible personal digs. So some governors' plush pads in the gallery below.

    %Gallery-169337%
    See also:
    Live Where John F. Kennedy Planned His 1st Political Campaign
    Former NFL Star Rod Kush's Huge Mansion to Be Burned Down

    Mary Kennedy's Home, Where She Committed Suicide, Up for Sale in Bedford, NY


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    Alicia Keys and Eddie Murphy's home

    Funnyman Eddie Murphy's stunning Englewood, N.J., mansion has been on the market for a while, at a serious asking price of $14.9 million. We've had our eye on this sweet piece of real estate for years -- what with its two-lane bowling alley, racquetball court, indoor swimming pool pavilion, wooden spa and elevators. (Whew!) The majestic brick manse, set upon 3.91 acres, even has its own full-sized recording studio! (Because, in case you weren't aware of his 1982 hit, "Boogie in Your Butt," Murphy is also a recording artist. Though not necessarily a good one).

    Which brings us to our next point. Rumor has it that one Miss Alicia Keys -- an actual Grammy-winning recording artist -- is actually buying Murphy's pad at a discount price of $12 million. A friend's rate, perhaps? Keys, her husband, hip-hop recording artist Swizz Beats, and their brand-new baby, Egypt, are allegedly in the process of closing on the pretty home. AOL Real Estate called the Realtor representing the listing, who declined to comment.

    Hey, if you don't want it, Alicia, we'll take it...

    %Gallery-169253%
    Dennis McCormack of Sotheby's International Realty has the listing.

    Click on the images below to see more homes for sale in Englewood, N.J.



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    By AOL Real Estate and The Associated Press

    Flooding from Hurricane Sandy's storm surge may cause $90 billion in damage to nearly 300,000 properties in the superstorm's path, says the analytics firm CoreLogic.

    Eight of the most populous metros in the Northeast are projected to bear the brunt of flooding from Hurricane Sandy, a huge, nearly 1,000-mile-wide Category 1 hurricane that could mix and intensify with two other weather systems coming from the north and west. Those cities include Washington, D.C., New York and Boston.

    CoreLogic's estimate did not include the damage that Hurricane Sandy could inflict directly through wind and rain. Torrential downpours associated with the storm can cause flooding that is not part of a storm surge.

    "This is a large, slow-moving, persistent and dangerous storm. Its impacts are going to be far-reaching and no doubt very costly," said Dr. Howard Botts, vice president and director of database development for CoreLogic Spatial Solutions.

    Related: How to Prepare for Hurricane Sandy

    Hurricane Sandy bore down on the Eastern Seaboard's largest cities on Monday, forcing the shutdown of mass transit, schools and financial markets, sending coastal residents fleeing, and threatening a dangerous mix of high winds, soaking rain, and a surging wall of water up to 11 feet tall.

    Sandy strengthened before dawn and stayed on a predicted path toward Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York -- putting it on a collision course with two other weather systems that would create a superstorm with the potential for havoc over 800 miles from the East Coast to the Great Lakes. About 2 to 3 feet of snow were even forecast for mountainous parts of West Virginia.

    The tempest could endanger up to 50 million people for days.

    "This is the worst-case scenario," said Louis Uccellini, environmental prediction chief for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

    Many workers planned to stay home Monday as subways, buses and trains shut down across the region under the threat of flooding that could inundate tracks and tunnels. Airports also closed, with thousands of flights canceled, and authorities warned that the time for evacuation was running out or already past. Utilities brought in extra crews, anticipating widespread power failures.

    The center of the storm was positioned to come ashore Monday night in New Jersey, meaning that the worst of the surge could be in the northern part of that state and in New York City and on Long Island. Higher tides brought by a full moon compounded the threat to the metropolitan area of about 20 million people.

    Canals around Long Island's Great South Bay area were brimming at two hours before high tide. Water was about a foot deep on some streets in Lindenhurst, N.Y., by 7 a.m. Monday.

    As rain from the leading edges began to fall over the Northeast on Sunday, hundreds of thousands of people from Maryland to Connecticut were ordered to leave low-lying coastal areas, including 375,000 in lower Manhattan and other parts of New York City, 50,000 in Delaware and 30,000 in Atlantic City, N.J., where the city's 12 casinos shut down for only the fourth time ever.

    "I think this one's going to do us in," said Mark Palazzolo, who boarded up his bait-and-tackle shop in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J., with the same wood that he used in past storms, crossing out the names of Hurricanes Isaac and Irene and spray-painting "Sandy" next to them. "I got a call from a friend of mine from Florida last night who said, 'Mark, get out! If it's not the storm, it'll be the aftermath. People are going to be fighting in the streets over gasoline and food.' "

    President Barack Obama declared emergencies in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, authorizing federal relief work to begin well ahead of time. He promised that the government would "respond big and respond fast" after the storm hits.

    "My message to the governors as well as to the mayors is anything they need, we will be there, and we will cut through red tape," Obama said. "We are not going to get bogged down with a lot of rules."

    Authorities warned that New York could get hit with a surge of seawater that could swamp parts of lower Manhattan, flood subway tunnels and cripple the network of electrical and communications lines that are vital to the nation's financial center.

    Major U.S. financial markets, including the New York Stock Exchange, Nasdaq and CME Group in Chicago, planned a rare shutdown Monday. The NYSE closed on Sept. 27, 1985, for Hurricane Gloria. The United Nations also shut down and canceled all meetings at its New York headquarters.

    New York called off school Monday for the city's 1.1 million students and announced it would suspend all train, bus and subway service Sunday night. More than 5 million riders a day depend on the transit system.

    "If you don't evacuate, you are not only endangering your life, you are also endangering the lives of the first responders who are going in to rescue you," Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned. "This is a serious and dangerous storm."

    New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was typically blunt: "Don't be stupid. Get out."

    Wary of being seen as putting their political pursuits ahead of public safety, Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney reshuffled campaign plans as the storm approached.

    In Virginia, one of the most competitive states, election officials eased absentee voting requirements for those affected by the storm. Early voting was canceled Monday in Maryland and the District of Columbia.

    Sandy, a Category 1 hurricane with sustained winds of 85 mph early Monday, was blamed for 65 deaths in the Caribbean before it began traveling northward, parallel to the Eastern Seaboard. As of 8 a.m. Monday, it was centered about 310 miles south-southeast of New York City, moving to the north at 20 mph, with hurricane-force winds extending an unusual 175 miles from its center.

    Gale-force winds blew overnight over coastal North Carolina, southeastern Virginia, the Delmarva Peninsula and coastal New Jersey.

    Sandy was expected to hook inland Monday, colliding with a wintry storm moving in from the west and cold air streaming down from the Arctic, and then cut across into Pennsylvania and travel up through New York state.

    Forecasters said the combination could bring close to a foot of rain in places, a potentially lethal storm surge of 4 to 11 feet across much of the region, and punishing winds that could cause widespread power outages that last for days. The storm could also dump up to 2 feet of snow in Kentucky, North Carolina and West Virginia.

    FEMA administrator Craig Fugate said the agency's teams were deployed from North Carolina to Maine and as far inland as West Virginia, bringing generators and basic supplies that will be needed in the storm's aftermath.

    "I have not been around long enough to see a hurricane forecast with a snow advisory in it," Fugate told NBC's "Today" show.

    Pennsylvania's largest utilities brought in hundreds of line and tree-trimming crews in anticipation of several days of power failures or intentional shutdowns in areas with heavy flooding.

    In New Jersey, where utilities were widely criticized last year for slow responses after the remnants of storms Irene and Lee, authorities promised a better performance. Hundreds of homes and businesses were already without electricity early Monday.

    About 90 miles off the coast of Cape Hatteras, N.C., 17 people abandoned a replica of the tall ship made famous in the film "Mutiny on the Bounty" after the vessel began taking on water, said Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class David Weydert.

    The Coast Guard is trying to determine whether to use cutters or helicopters to rescue the crew, who are in two lifeboats and are wearing survival suits and life jackets, he added.

    Airlines canceled nearly 7,500 flights and Amtrak began suspending train service across the Northeast. New York, Philadelphia, Washington and Baltimore moved to shut down their subways, buses and trains. Those cities shut down their schools, as did Boston. Non-essential government offices closed in the nation's capital.

    On Sunday evening in Rehoboth, Del., only a few cars rolled along Route 1, an artery that is often bumper-to-bumper in summer.

    "We were told to get the heck out. I was going to stay, but it's better to be safe than sorry," said Hugh Phillips, who was one of the first in line when a Red Cross shelter opened Sunday afternoon in neighboring Lewes.

    Despite the dire warnings, some refused to budge.

    Jonas Clark of Manchester Township, N.J. -- right in Sandy's projected path -- stood outside a convenience store, calmly sipping a coffee and wondering why people were working themselves "into a tizzy."

    "I've seen a lot of major storms in my time, and there's nothing you can do but take reasonable precautions and ride out things the best you can," said Clark, 73.

    The storm threatened to drench areas still recovering from last year's deluges.

    In Pompton Lakes, N.J., where record flooding inundated homes a year ago, some residents were already putting belongings out near the curb in advance of the storm.

    "They're figuring, divide and conquer," said resident Kevin Gogots. "They'll take the stuff they want to save and put the rest out. Of course, if the street floods again, we'll just have things floating around."

    See also:
    'Superstorm' Hurricane Sandy Power Outages: Should You Buy a Standby Generator for Your Home?
    Apartment Emergency Plan: Where to Go When Natural Disaster Strikes
    Homeowners Insurance 101: What You Need to Know


    Hurricane Sandy: National Weather Service Update



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    Calvin Klein's former duplex penthouse, New York

    The New York City duplex penthouse formerly owned by designer Calvin Klein has hit the market for $35 million. The apartment, currently owned by ex-record exec Steve Gottlieb, overlooks iconic Central Park and has been largely unused for years.

    The glass cube home has undergone several changes, most notably when Klein knocked out all of the interior walls and installed a hot tub on the roof -- to the chagrin of the co-op board. The four-bedroom, 4.5-bathroom, 5,000-square-foot pad also has an additional 2,000 square feet of terraces. According to The New York Times, the views "leave nothing to the imagination."

    There's also a "double-height" tower room and a glass-enclosed garden room that opens up to an "expansive" corner terrace. The bottom floor has a formal dining room, a media room and an eat-in kitchen.

    Raphael De Niro and Howard Margolis of Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate have the listing.

    %Gallery-169575%
    Click on the images below to see more homes for sale in New York City.



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    hurricane recovery homeowners

    As Hurricane Sandy showed us this week, the widespread devastation wreaked on cities and communities by natural disasters can be significant, costly and debilitating. Homes often suffer severe structural damage caused by wind and flooding, and a lifetime of personal possessions can go missing forever. Hurricane Sandy alone caused the evacuation of more than a million homes in the Northeast and an estimated $10 billion to $20 billion in damages (including $7 billion to $10 billion in insured losses) -- a costly and long cleanup process that for many homeowners looks seemingly insurmountable.

    But making it through a hurricane and tackling the cleanup, repair and renovation of one's home in the midst of catastrophe can be achieved, though challenging. Houston homeowner Vanessa Wade survived Hurricane Ike in September 2008, a monstrous storm that claimed 112 lives in the U.S. and caused an estimated $29.6 billion in damage. Wade said that in the case of extreme natural disasters like Ike and Sandy, the pooling of neighborhood resources and an attitude of cooperation among neighbors is vital to a smoother recovery.

    Wade admitted that the most difficult part was jump-starting the initial cleanup and recovery efforts -- especially overwhelming due to lack of power and heat, coupled with low morale.

    hurricane recovery homeowners"I was not prepared for an image that's seen in movies: a huge hole in the roof, missing windows and a breaker box ripped from the side of the house. It was overwhelming because you simply don't know where to start the cleanup process," Wade told AOL Real Estate. "But we all worked together and shared tools, food and words of encouragement. Since power was out for more than two weeks, everyone kept watch when others went to work."

    Wade's own home was struck by a large tree knocked over by powerful winds (picture at top). The tree fell and damaged Wade's roof. (Another large tree growing in Wade's yard fell and "mangled" her neighbor's vehicle, she said.) Debris and fallen branches littered her front and back yards. Wade, like millions of other people affected by Ike, lost both power and water for weeks. The initial surface cleanup, Wade said, took two weeks.

    Fortunately, Wade added, she had stocked up generously on essentials such as water, flashlights, canned goods, a portable battery-operated black-and-white television (to monitor weather) and batteries prior to the hurricane. Wade also pre-emptively prepared a list of trusted contractors that she knew would perform high-quality damage repair and renovations at non-inflated rates.

    "So many people were ripped off by those looking to profit from vulnerable homeowners and renters," Wade said. "Check to make sure [contractors] are licensed and can perform the work, without causing more damage or changing the price. "

    Disaster recovery specialist Paul Purcell, author of "Disaster Prep 101," added that in many post-disaster situations such as Ike and Sandy, immediate protection from the elements is the biggest concern for many homeowners who have had their roofs punctured, windows and doors blown out, or are suffering from power outages.

    hurricane recovery homeowners"Late-season hurricanes mean folks are without power, sometimes even windows, roofs, walls, doors or insulation," Purcell told AOL Real Estate. "Keep what doors and windows you have closed, and seal seams with plastic sheets -- think shower curtains -- and any kind of tape you have. Simply cutting down on wind works wonders with keeping warm."

    Purcell adds that the most important consideration for homeowners currently stuck in a post-disaster environment, aside from shelter and protection from harsh elements, is maintaining morale. Keeping a community-wide focus on rebuilding -- rather than mourning what was lost -- can be the most challenging but integral part of a successful disaster recovery process.

    "A few keys: Stay fed and hydrated and take regular work breaks, take vitamins if you have them, and look at 'devastation' as a clean slate and opportunity to build something you'll enjoy even more," Purcell advised. "Remember, the worst is behind you."

    How Homeowners Can Better Protect Themselves

    In Wade's case, as with many of the claims brought on by Sandy and Ike, insurance covered very little of the damage to her home. Though most policies cover wind damage (a tree falling on your home, for example), standard homeowner policies often don't cover damage from flooding.

    The only way a homeowner would have comprehensive coverage for flood-related damage is to have a separate flood insurance policy. In the United States, this is rare: Only 13 percent of homeowners nationwide have flood insurance plans, down from 14 percent last year. Yet annual premiums for flood insurance on a one-story home average about $400 to $450 nationwide and can save hundreds of thousands of dollars in repairs. (The National Flood Insurance Program and some private insurers provide coverage for up to $250,000 of structural damage to a home and $100,000 for personal possessions). Flood insurance is a must for homeowners in flood-prone or low-lying coastal areas.

    Purcell also advised homeowners to take a proper inventory of their home and possessions. The Insurance Information Institute offers a free home inventory app that allows homeowners to download information about where possessions were bought and how much they cost. All the information is stored remotely and can be accessible even if computers or personal devices are destroyed. Keeping digital records of receipts can also save money and lessen costs in the long run, according to Purcell.

    "Half of surviving a sizable disaster is setting yourself up to rebuild," Purcell told AOL Real Estate. "Use your phone's camera and video to document property loss and damage. Insurance companies, after a regional catastrophe, will be more concerned with their bottom line than yours, so work now to get all the info you can to help process your claims later."

    See also:
    Home Insurance: What's Covered, What Isn't

    Hurricane Sandy Mortgage Relief: Federal Disaster Aid to Storm Victims
    How To Protect Your Home From Damage in a 'Perfect Storm'

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