Friday, December 31, 2004

2004 Wrap Up

On the last day of 2004, it’s appropriate to remember the significant events of the past 365 days. Having the Patriots win the Super Bowl in February and the Red Sox the World Series in October put sports at the top of my list. It’s also the year that John Kerry lost a close presidential race. At the registry, 2004 will be remembered for the precipitous drop in the number of documents recorded. Our 2003 total was 146956 while 2004 slid to 96204, a decrease of 35%. This decline was due in large part to a 32% decrease in the number of mortgages recorded (41800 in 2003 versus 27841 in 2004). The number of deeds recorded, however, was statistically the same (9099 in 2003 versus 8990 in 2004). Even though the overall number of deeds was about the same, a comparison of the two-year totals of deeds by towns within the registry district shows quite a bit of variation:
Number of deeds recorded in 2004 compared with 2003
Billerica down 5%
Carlisle up 2%
Chelmsford up 17%
Dracut down 6%
Dunstable down 19%
Lowell up 3%
Tewksbury down 6%
Tyngsboro down 16%
Westford up 10%
Wilmington down 20%

Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Spamming in the USA

Happy New Year! With the end of 2004 comes a dubious distinction for the United States. The USA is far and away the world’s biggest “Spammer”. No…we are not talking about food. Yes…we are talking about those annoying emails that indiscriminately plague computer users throughout the world. Spam mail has become one of the Internet’s biggest problems. A report published by Sophos, an anti-virus/anti-Spam specialist, states that most of the world’s Spam originates right here in the good old US of A. But we are not alone. Many other countries are big offenders as well: South Korea generates 13% of the world’s Spam, China 8%, Canada 6% and Brazil 3%. Still these figures are nothing compared to the whooping 42% generated by the United States. That’s three times South Korea the nearest competitor. Over the past three years, Spam has grown rapidly. In 2002 Spam comprised 25% of all emails. In 2004 that figure swelled to 40% and by mid 2004 Spam represented 60% of the billions of emails sent each year. In the Netherlands action is being taken. Last May the Dutch government instituted a ban on unsolicited e-mail to consumers. This week they proved they are serious. On Tuesday the Dutch government issued three separate fines against Spammers. The fines ranged from $61,000 $27,000. The stop Spam movement is expanding. Eight other European countries have agreed to cooperate with the Netherlands and share information about Spammers.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Googling Electronic Recording

Today we've been working on the details of our plan to implement electronic recording. We've thoroughly tested the software on a practice database, but until we actually load it onto our main system and start using it, we really won't know the issues that we will have to resolve. Over the next few weeks we will begin experimenting. Our intent is to proceed slowly and methodically and we will use the blog to keep everyone posted. Just out of curiousity, I searched the phrase "electronic document recording" in Google and found a large number of press releases posted by counties across the country (Wisconsin, California, Washington, Florida, for example) announcing their entry into the world of electronic recording. Each of them seemed to say that electronic recording will "improve the operational efficiency and better serve our customers." That sound pretty good to me.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

It Is Interesting

It is interesting how things seem to change in the registry of deeds business.
Five or six years ago December 31 and June 30 were the busiest days of the year. The reasons …June 30 was the end of the fiscal year and December 31 the end of the tax year. In anticipation of high volume we would pay close attention to staff scheduling, move equipment and wear comfortable shoes. In the past few years this has changed. Our recording totals have not significantly changed, but our ability to handle large numbers of documents has dramatically improved. There is no question that the new computer system has made recording documents faster. It is on days like 12/31 and 6/30 that is really shows.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Online Security

The FDIC is pressuring banks to make online banking more secure. Right now, a customer establishes his identity with a user ID and a memorized password. This level of security is apparently vulnerable to hackers who can then “hijack” the bank account. The FDIC was banks to use a “two factor” security system consisting of the memorized password and some type of hardware security device. One device under consideration is a small plastic box, about the size of your automatic car starter. This device contains a window that displays a six digit number that changes every minute. Presumably this random, ever changing number is synchronized with the computer that controls access at the bank so that the combination of your user ID, your unique password, and this random number would authenticate you. Because this random number changes each minute, it’s next to impossible for a hacker to guess the number at the precise time it is in effect. Of course, it’s unclear what would happen when the customer lost this device or had it stolen. Still, it will be much more secure than the current password system which often relies on words or numbers that are designed to help the user remember them. Unfortunately, linking a password to some personal information also makes the password much easier for a hacker to predict. This type of online security issue is of great interest to us at the registry since we will soon be recording documents electronically. One of our major concerns with electronic recording is knowing that the person submitting documents for recording is who they purport to be.

Friday, December 24, 2004


Christmas shorts:
Do you think Pedro Martinez feels Christmas has become too commercial??
I like Christmas Carols but…is it really necessary to start playing them the day after Thanksgiving.
What do you call someone who is afraid of Santa Claus?…Claustrophobic
Don’t forget…our 1966-75 Grantor CD set. It makes a great stocking stuffer for the person that has everything.
Hearing Bruce Springsteen sing “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” makes me wonder if Santa was Born in The USA.
I am the only person I know that loves fruitcake.
If athletes get Athletes Foot does that mean Astronauts get missletoe?
The hardest part about working at the registry this time of year is resisting the cookies, candy and other delectable that are EVERWHERE.
Happy, safe holidays to all.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Happy Birthday, Blog

The registry blog is one year old today. Our first entry was posted on December 23, 2003. Back then, we announced "This site will have the latest news about what's going on at the registry and in the real estate and recording business. I hope the blog proves useful and informative." Most people would say that we have followed through on our promise. Sometimes it's tough to come up with a topic every day (when we began, it was seven days per week; now we've reduced it to five), but any time something happens that affects the registry, we write about it in the blog. By reading it, you'll be the best informed registry user around. We're working on a compilation of blog entries for the entire year so we can present it to you as a single document. Now that I think about it, we should include an index that helps locate relevant topics. I guess you'd use a full year of blog entries more like a reference book than a novel (although reading the compiled blog just before bedtime might be a reliable cure for insomnia). Next week will be a series of "year in review" entries recapping 2004 at the registry. Until then, Merry Christmas to all of you who celebrate it.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Electronic Recording Update

Here’s the latest on electronic recording: after January 1st we expect to move the ACS electronic recording software from the test server to our live production system. Next, we will electronically record several fictitious documents to test how it works with our regular recording system. We will use fictitious documents in case there are any problems; we don’t want to jeopardize real documents. We’re also testing this stage because every other time we’ve added a new feature to our regular recording system there have been unintended consequences (the military calls this “collateral damage”) that must be rectified. Once the first phase of testing is successful, we will advance to recording individual documents such as mortgage discharges or assignments from a selected national mortgage company. This will allow us to test the fee payment mechanism (electronic bank transfer at the end of the day). The document types that we will accept at this stage are not particularly time sensitive. We really are unable to develop procedures for electronically recording time sensitive documents such as deeds and (some) mortgages without the type of practical, hands-on experience that these earlier stages of testing will provide. That’s our plan. Once we start executing the plan it might undergo some drastic changes, but we’ve found that it’s easier to alter an existing plan than it is to just make things up as you go along.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

1951 to 1975 Index on CDs

Now that we’ve distributed dozens of sets of CDs containing the 1966-75 Grantor Index in PDF format with excellent results, we’re ready to make even more available. After January 1, we will have a 5-CD set available that will contain the following: 1951-60 Grantor Index (2 disks); 1961-65 Grantor Index (1 disk); and the 1966-75 Grantor Index (2 disks). So, for the investment of just five blank CDs, you can have 25 years of the Grantor Index on your home or office computer. The material’s not copyrighted, so you can copy the files to as many computers as you wish. We plan to include a bonus CD in this set. This sixth disk will contain a variety of documents related to the registry that might be of use to you such as the Deeds Indexing Standards, filing fee and excise tax charts, and anything else we can think of that might be useful. If you have any suggestions about the type of information we might have that you could use, please let us know. I’ll be writing more on this topic next week, so if you’re interested, please check back.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Never Heard of a Talking Blog...Well Listen to This

By now most people are familiar with a Web Log or Blog as it is commonly called. But as is always the case, technology is bringing something new. It is an iPod Broadcast or a Podcast. An iPod is an MP3 player that can hold up to 5,000 digitized songs. They are by far this years “hot gift”. The idea behind a “Podcast” is simple. Instead of using portable MP3 players such as Apple’s iPod for only listening to music, new software called iPodder allows one to download from websites prerecorded audio on various topics. Anyone with a microphone and a computer can Podcast. Podcasts are a means of delivering highly specialized content to a narrow audience. Sounds like a “Blog” doesn’t it? Well, in its simplest form it’s a blog with audio. But it goes beyond that…some Podcasts are taking a form similar to radio shows. Already there are Podcasts that specialize in politics, comedy, history and biographical information. In addition there are literally millions of cellphones with MP3 capability and a network connection… and millions more being sold each month. This means Podcasts can be heard directly from cellphones. The Podcast may represents the next generation of the “Blog”…Maybe I should start working on my diction.

Friday, December 17, 2004

More on Our Move

Early in the new year we should have a good indication of whether the registry of deeds will be moving to a new location. If the governor’s budget recommendation for the coming fiscal year (July 2005 to June 2006) gives us the money that would be necessary to rent space, we will probably proceed with advertising for proposals. Of course, the final version of the budget is up to the state legislature, but if the governor recommends funding this proposal, it will be easier for our legislators to try to keep the money in the budget than it would be to add it afterwards as a budget amendment. The registry will require 15,000 square feet of space somewhere in Lowell (as required by Massachusetts General Laws chapter 36, section 1). Right now, the placement of different registry functions is driven more by the space available than by the most efficient layout we could imagine. A new space would give us the flexibility to better organize our operations. When it comes to designing the new space, the state has certain criteria for what can and cannot go into a new registry. An area for title examiners and visitors to eat lunch (which was a comment to a previous blog entry on this topic) most likely won’t be allowed, but closing rooms will. Even though moving is by nature disruptive, this will be a great opportunity for us to improve our operations. Stay tuned.

Computer Grinch

Warning to all the Whos in Who-ville: From high up in his cave on Mt Crumpit the Computer Grinch has stuck again. This time the curmudgeon has cooked up a new virus especially for the holiday season. It is called “Zafi” (where do these virus names come from?). Zafi pretends to be an e-mail with holiday greetings. The worm appears with “Happy Holidays” in the body of the e-mail accompanied by a phony link to a holiday postcard. You think… “how nice… someone with a dog named Max sent me a Seasons Greeting card…I hope it is a musical one”. Wrong! When the user clicks on the postcard link the virus infects the computer. Oh yes, he's a mean one Mr Grinch. But the Computer Grinch isn’t happy ruining just one Whos holiday. “Zafi” spreads using e-mail addresses from the computer it infects. To quote Cindy Lou Who … “enjoy the holidays, but be on the look out for Zafi”.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Googling The Library

The Internet giant Google is getting into the library business in a way that will revolutionize our ability to access information. Google has entered into agreements with a number of major libraries across the country – Harvard, the University of Michigan, Stanford and the New York Public Library – by which Google will scan the non-copyrighted holdings of these and other libraries and make the material available on the Internet. There is no cost to the libraries for this service nor will anyone be charged for using this material online. Google will derive its revenue by selling ads, just as it does on its current search screen. The libraries get their holdings scanned for free. Because the Internet business is characterized by a certain follow the leader mentality, it is almost certain that other major Internet information providers such as Yahoo, Microsoft and Amazon will embark on similar projects. While scanning books and documents is still a labor intensive activity, the continuously dropping cost of electronic storage, advances in scanning technology, and the widespread use of broadband, DSL and other high speed, high capacity information pipelines makes this effort to make all of the world’s information freely and readily available to anyone with a computer close to becoming a reality. Why do I write about this? Because it’s exactly what we’re trying to do here at the registry with regard to land records. Every day, we add more data and images to our computer system. The ultimate goal is to have every record freely available over the Internet. Unfortunately, a number of people in the registry of deeds business are big advocates of charging for access to this information. That’s a very bad idea as far as I’m concerned. While the provider might realize a few dollars from such a service, it’s backwards thinking that runs counter to this ever growing effort to democratize access to information by making it freely available to anyone who can use it.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004


We are moving along steadily with the Registered Land back scanning project. You can now access registry documents 58,000 to present both on-line and at the registry. As expected the older documents are in worse condition than the later ones. Obviously, this means more time and manpower is needed for document preparation. To prevent a slow down in production we have re-assigned an employee who will work full time preparing documents for our scanners. To get a document ready to scan means unfolding it, re-writing faded instrument numbers, making copies of colored pages and/or anything else needed that will make the document create a better image. This project is very high on our priority list. The Registered Land microfilm viewers are becoming increasingly unreliable. Even when working properly they are painstakingly slow to use. Many people to say the least will be happy when this project is finished.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Origin of Species, Registry Style

Here’s a story that describes how condominiums are handled in Registered Land and how that process has changed over the years. Of course, this account might be more myth than fact, but it’s the best I can do. If you know otherwise, please use the comment feature to clear things up. When condominiums first became popular in the late 1960s, the Land Court decided that certificates of title for condominiums should be placed in separate certificate books with each condominium complex in a separate book. That was certainly a logical approach: the master deed that created the condominium would be the first certificate in the book. As each unit was sold or resold, a unit certificate would be placed within the same book. At some point, probably in the mid-1980s when the Wang computer system was installed, the Middlesex South Registry in Cambridge received court permission to handle condominium certificates differently. In the Wang system, all master deeds were placed in separate certificate books that contained only master deeds. These certificate books became known as “C” (for condominium) books. Then, certificates of title for individual condominium units would be placed in another set of books, known as “U” (for unit) books. When the Wang system spread to Lowell, Worcester and Greenfield, those registries all adopted the Cambridge way of organizing registered land condominium certificates of titles. Most of the remaining registries, however, retained the original “separate book for each condo complex” method. When ACS arrived in Massachusetts in the spring of 2002 with instructions to duplicate the existing registered land method of operation, ACS duplicated the Cambridge system since four of the five registries that first received the ACS system all were operating Wang computers. Now, as more and more registries switch to the ACS system, they must transition to the Cambridge system of organizing registered land condominium certificates of title. That’s where we now stand. If anyone has a different version of events, please share it.

Friday, December 10, 2004

New York New York

Over the past twenty years, computer technology has radically changed day-to-day operations at most Registries of Deeds. Undoubtedly, there will be a time when it will be commonplace to do searches and document recording from the convenience of your office. Registries are organized similar to public libraries. The “Indexes are our “Card Catalog” and the “Records Book” the materials libraries store. In some ways, large,
well-funded libraries may be developing models that Registries will copy in the future. An example is taking place right now in a neighboring state. The newest books in the New York public library don’t take up any shelf space. They are electronic books. Card- holders simply point and click through the library’s collection ( The
E-book inventory includes best sellers; nonfiction, romance and self help guides. Patrons borrow a book for a set period, downloading them for reading on a computer. When the book is due the files are automatically locked out and returned to circulation for another user. Although only a month old, the idea is very popular. In the first eight days of operation over 1,000 digital books were checked out. E-books are freeing institutions from the limitations of physical location. Obviously, an electronic based library is less expensive to operate and more convenient for the consumer. Books can be borrowed 24/7 from anywhere with instant access. Over the past five years the implementation of technology in registries has taken a path that parallels that of the New York Public Library, remote use through digitalization. This seems to be wave of the future.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Disaster Planning

Here’s a comment posted last week regarding our blog entry about a problem that occurred with the computer system at the Middlesex South Registry of Deeds:

“I was discussing the registry and computers with a client the other day. I always tell clients they will get their original back, but the copy recorded at the registry is the more important one. I tell them the only time they would need the original was if the registry burned down with all its records. So, we wondered what sort of back-up the registry has now that everything is on computers. What happens if they crash? Is there a backup copy (or several copies) in a drive under a mountain somewhere?”

At this registry, we are always concerned with disaster recovery, especially since we stopped producing printed document record books back in November 2001. Now, our primary method of storage is by electronic images that were created by scanning original documents. These electronic images reside on our computer server which is here at the registry. Everything on that server is duplicated and stored on the state’s Internet server which sits at a distant location. If anything were to happen to this building and its contents, everything stored on our computer system here is duplicated on this other server. Besides that, we copy these electronic images to magnetic tapes which are rotated out of the building on a weekly basis to an offsite storage facility. Finally, all documents are also microfilmed. The microfilm is stored offsite at a secure storage facility that was built to withstand a nuclear attack. So with all of that, we’re confident that at least one copy of our records would survive just about any scenario. Although our records would survive, we’re not exactly certain how long it would take to make them fully accessible to the public once again. That’s why we still spend a great deal of time on disaster planning. This is an important topic, so we’ll probably have more to say about this type of preparedness next week.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Phase One

We completed the first phase of the plan re-scan project last Friday. This phase dealt with plan books one to eighty. Our quality check included missing and bad images. Most of these plans are Blue prints. The heavy material and dark color of our Blue Prints make them difficult to scan well. During the next project phase we will quality checks Plan Books eighty-one to present. Although this range is much larger, it should go faster. Almost all of these plans are on Mylar, a material that is easy to scan and produces excellent images. The check will focus mainly on missing images since the vast major of these plans display fine. We keep tight control over daily plan scanning, but some plans were inadvertently named incorrectly during the re-scan process. As always we depend on public feedback to help make our operation run well. If you see a plan problem please let us know so we can make the appropriate change.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Remember Pearl Harbor

Today is the 63rd anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The Lowell Veterans’ Council held a commemorative ceremony at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium at noon today. One of the attendees was Henry Champagne who enlisted in the U.S. Navy in January 1940 and was assigned to the destroyer U.S.S. Phelps in August 1941. The Phelps was present at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Mr. Champagne told of standing on deck, waiting for the 8:00 a.m. liberty boat to bring him and his shipmates to shore for a relaxing Sunday. At about 7:55 p.m., the sky filled with planes and the air was filled with the sound of explosions. The crew went to their battle stations and defended their ship as best they could. Hearing the story of this now 84 year old eyewitness to history was very moving. But why should we continue to remember Pearl Harbor? The heroic acts of those who were there that day are certainly worthy of remembrance, but more importantly, December 7 serves as a lesson, now reinforced by September 11, 2001, that we live in a dangerous world, something we can never afford to forget.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Deeds Excise Tax - Historic Charts

We’ve added charts showing the amount of Deeds Excise Tax charged through the years to our website (follow the “Regular Users” link). We have four: 1940 to 1967; 1968 to 1969; one effective July 1989, and another from January 5, 1993 to the present. We will add Deeds Excise Tax charts for other time periods as soon as we get them. What’s the use of having outdated tax charts? Older deeds often do not state the sales price of the property, but they do have clearly visible tax stamps. If you can read the cost of the tax stamps (which you usually can), you can use the tax chart for the time the deed was executed to calculate the approximate sales price. If anyone has a copy of Deeds Excise Tax charts for past years, please fax us a copy at 978/322-9001.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Massachusetts Residency Test

It's Friday and the registry is relatively quiet, so here's something a little different. Are you really a Massachusetts resident? Take this test and find out. You're from Massachusetts if:

You think crosswalks are for wimps
If someone is nice to you, you know they either want something or they’re from out of town
You call Coke and Pepsi “tonic”
You know that a yellow light means that at least five more people can get through and a red one means two more can
You could own a small town in Iowa for the cost of your house
There are 24 Dunkin Donuts shops within 15 minutes of your house
If you stay on the same road long enough it eventually has three different names
Someone has honked at you because you didn’t peel out the second the light turned green
You’ve honked at someone because they didn’t peel out the second the light turned green
You cringe every time you hear an actor imitate a “Boston accent” in a movie
At the ice cream shop, you call chocolate sprinkles “jimmies”
You miss the smell of burning leaves
You know how to pronounce Worcester, Haverhill and Leominster
You know what they sell at a “packie”
You’ve never been to “Cheers”
You’ve slammed on the brakes to deter a tailgater
You keep an ice scraper in your car all year round
You’ve pulled out of a side street and used your car to block traffic so you can make a left
You’ve bragged about saving money at The Christmas Tree Shop
You know what “regular coffee” is
You have been to Fenway Park
You use the words “wicked” and “good” in the same sentence
You know what a frappe is
St Patrick’s Day is your second favorite holiday
You always say “the Cape” never “Cape Cod”

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Pennsylvania's Step Backwards

Back on September 1st we wrote about the city of Philadelphia’s project to provide wireless Internet service to all residents, predicting that more cities will soon do the same. Well that won’t be happening, at least in Pennsylvania. That state’s legislature just passed a law prohibiting cities from building their own high-speed Internet networks. Who’s the beneficiary of this legislation? It’s the big telephone companies, particularly Verizon. The “good government” fig leaf that it’s governmental supporters hide behind is a requirement that the dominant telephone company of every region must provide region-wide high-speed Internet service throughout their territories – but they have a decade to do this. If cities could build their own taxpayer-financed networks, it would be a lot cheaper for users and would therefore cut into the phone company’s profits. We hope this anti-consumer, protectionist mentality does not descend upon the Massachusetts statehouse. High-speed Internet service in 2004 is the same as sewage, running water, and paved roads were in 1904. If municipal government had been barred from providing this basic infrastructure, we’d still be using chamber pots and drawing water from a well in the backyard. Today, having government provide Internet service is the best way to bridge the “digital divide” that deprives the less affluent of a prime ingredient for upward mobility. Hopefully, this shortsighted move by the Pennsylvania legislature won’t start a national trend.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Blog on Blog

Today the Blog talks about “blog”, well, the word “blog” that is. Dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster has announced that the 2004 word of year is “blog”. The “word of the year” distinction goes to the word that is most often looked up on the Merriam-Webster website. Since July “blog” has consistently been among the top fifty words people search on the dictionary's website. According to Merriam-Webster spokesperson Arthur Bicknell “blog” is looked up tens of thousands of times per month. It wasn't even close. "Blog" topped other old standards like “incumbent” (second place) and “electoral” (third place)by a wide margin. need for registry aficionado’s to look up “blog”. We know it is “a shared on-line journal where people can post diary entries about their personal experiences and hobbies”…and let’s add “interact with the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds”. But there’s more…congratulations are in order. The word “blog” will be added to the 2005 edition of the Collegiate Dictionary. When is Microsoft going to catch on? Spell Check underlines in red every time I use the word “blog”(there it goes again). Don’t look up “blog” in your Thesaurus, you won’t find anything. What's the favorite word of Merriam-Webster website visitors?… Right…”defenestration”. What does it mean?… Don’t bother looking it up. You can find out right here in the registry…”blog”.
Defenestration- The act of throwing someone or something out of a window (I thought that was called murder). What's next?...Who knows… maybe teenagers wearing T-Shirts with “BLOG ON MAN” across them.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Friday's Outage Revisited

As we move closer to the paperless registry, the need for a workable disaster recovery plan becomes greater than ever. While we undergo this slow transition, anytime a computer problem does occur, it's important to use it as a learning experience to make our system better for the future. Last Friday, our Middlesex South Satellite Office shut down along with the entire Middlesex South computer system when the computer server in Cambridge - the key to all recordings and public searches - malfunctioned. It appears that the power supply inside the server overheated and was damaged. Once the power supply was replaced sometime on Saturday, things were restored. Power supplies do not overheat very often, but when they do, there are dire consequences, so we must be ready to react to such a situation. Theoretically, we had prepared for it: if anything happens to the computer server within a registry, the registry is supposed to be able to quickly switch from the damaged local server to the functioning Internet server and to continue recording documents on it. As is the case with most computer operations, when you go from talking about it to actually doing it, things become vastly more complicated. That's one reason that recording was not restored on Friday - the backup plan didn't work as intended. Now we have to find out why and correct it so that the next time a problem occurs, we'll be better prepared to deal with it.

Monday, November 29, 2004

South Documents Recorded

On Friday around 11:00AM the Middlesex South computer server in Cambridge went down for the remainder of the day. In turn this shut down our South Satellite office also. Fortunately, Friday was the day after the holiday and business was rather light at the registry. This kept the inconvenience caused by the outage to a minimum. Had this been the end of the month it would have been a disaster. Of course, minimizing inconvenience does not excuse the problem. In fact, information will be collected so corrective measures can be taken to either prevent a
reoccurrence or provide a better backup if there is one. Most “would be recorders” who came to the Satellite Office in Lowell during the outage left their documents in our “drop off basket”. Early Monday morning our staff recorded all documents left on Friday.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Day After Thanksgiving

As is usually the case on the day after Thanksgiving, there is not much activity here at the registry of deeds. Most customers and many employees were able to take the day off and enjoy a four day weekend. The day became even slower when the Middlesex South computer system suffered a major outage at about 11:30 a.m., forcing our Middlesex South satellite office to shut down. From our vantage point here in Lowell, it's still not clear what exactly happened, just that it's been out, it's still out, and it might not be back in operation until Monday. We have made a few adjustments to the website, adding a more prominent link to a recording fee table and writing an explanation of what data and documents are on the website called, fittingly, "What's Online?" As always, we welcome your comments and suggestions.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

What's Online?

Next week we will add a new link called "what's online?" to our website. This will explain what data is currently available on the "Search Land Records" link. It will also describe our plans to add more data to the site and will include a "helpful hints" section. For example, one of the most common reasons people fail to find documents is that they add too much information to the search screen. Each thing you enter is one more restriction on the search, so the more fields you populate, the greater the chance that you will exclude the document you are looking for. When searching by name, for instance, just enter the last name and the first few letters of the first name. Forget middle initials, document types, towns, and date range. If your search returns hundreds of documents, then you can methodically start limiting the search. Unless it's a big land owner or a developer, however, the entries returned should be a manageable number. Entering a town in a search may cause a big problem, because documents such as attachments and federal and state tax liens apply to all property, so the registry enters "none" for the town code. If you limit your search to documents that have "Lowell" as the town code, you would not find an attachment or tax lien. Sorry if this is the first time you're hearing this. We don't mean to ruin your Thanksgiving, but this is just an example of the type of information that will soon be readily available on the website.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

About an Hour

Many people are asking how long it takes to get the CD copies of the 1966-75 Grantor Index. We can usually accommodate most requests in about an hour. As stated in an earlier Blog, the copies are free but you must provide us with 2 blank CD’s when making your request. Requests can be made by mail. There have been a large number of requests and the feed back has been excellent. People say the CD’s are easy to use and helpful. So remember, when making your request gives us about an hour in most cases.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Plans "yes", Plot Plans "no"

The Registry of Deeds does not have plot plans. Many, many Blogs ago this topic was discuss in detail. Still, a day doesn't go by without some poor homeowner calling or visiting the registry's Customer Service Department asking, "can I have a copy of my Plot Plan?". Even as this blog is being created a young women is standing at the Customer Service counter asking for the plot plan for her house. We politely tell people the registry has "Plans of Land" not Plot Plans. Of course, the difference is Plans of Land usually show many lots, not just one, and they seldom depict foundations. Most customers are not very happy when they ultimately find out they have to "pay" a professional to have a Plot Plan drawn. Most requests relate to boundary disputes (fences, shrubs etc) or building permits. A Plan of Land is little help in either of these cases. The registry's Plans are readily available. Also they can be viewed on the internet.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Website Operational This Weekend

The most important news is that the website (which includes all Middlesex North data and images) will remain in operation this weekend. The electrical upgrade that was to have caused the site to be down from later this afternoon until Monday morning has been cancelled.

In response to customer comments we have made some changes to the "new" website. Besides a new look, we also had hoped to add more flexibility to the site which is why we tried the "frames" format. "Frames" divides a webpage into sections that are then filled with separate pages. In our case, that allowed you to view three different pages at the same time. Like the screen within a screen concept on a TV, this would make more information available to you. But everyone's computer is different, and the finished product that looked great on a computer here at the registry could become mangled beyond recognition on someone else's machine. Because of this, we have dumped the frames format but have retained the new look. As always, your comments will be very helpful. Over the next few weeks we hope to add a considerable amount of new material to the website. Through the years we have accumulated a wide variety of memos, charts, and other documents that might prove helpful to our users. We will continue to use the blog to announce the posting of new items, so please visit often.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Incredible Numbers

As a former real estate agent I find Home Sale data fascinating. I must admit, I still can't believe the record pace of the local market. The Massachusetts housing market continued its climb during the July to September period of 2004. Once again, the third quarter brought new sales records for Condominiums and single family homes(well, records were meant to be broken). According to the Mass Association of Realtors, prices rose for the 45th consecutive quarter. Let me write that again 45 consecutive quarters. This is an incredible statistic. Most of the talking heads feel low interest rates are the force behind the high prices. During the third quarter sales of single family homes rose six percent over last year and condominium sales rose 29 percent. Are you ready for this...the statewide median sale price for a single family home is $350,000 (wait a second...I need to pick myself up off the hardwood floor). This is an 11% increase over 2003. The average condo price is up 15% to 268,000 (wait a second...I need to pick myself up off the common floor).
Food for Thought (Low Carb of course): Think you've had it with email spam??? How about this... Bill Gates, the owner/founder of Microsoft, gets over 4,000 emails a day...most of them spam...Now that's a lot of deleting. Spam is Low Carb, isn't it?

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Website Down This Weekend

We just learned that the entire website, which includes all data and images from the Middlesex North registry will be out of action from 5:00 p.m. on Friday, November 19 until 8:00 a.m. on Monday, November 22. Why?: a much needed electrical system upgrade. So, be sure to get all of your title work done before the weekend. The site will stay online, but no data will be available. Sorry for any inconvenience.

More Website Design Talk

There hasn’t been much feedback on our new website. One blog reader did leave this comment: “Aside from the website not being very user friendly, it lacks the professional look I would expect from an institution such as the Registry of Deeds.” Thanks to the author of this remark for taking the time to share these thoughts. We welcome all comments, positive and negative, because we think the website should be interactive, something that encourages a dialog between the registry staff and registry users. For that reason, we strive for a casual, conversational look and tone for the website. So, while the “lack of professional look” comment is an accurate observation, that look is purposeful on our part. Creating and maintaining the informational portion of the website with our own personnel and computers saves us an enormous amount of money and gives us the flexibility to update the site quickly and easily so it reflects changes and important occurrences here at the registry. (The “search records” part of the site is created and maintained by ACS, our computer company). I’m more concerned about the “not very user friendly” comment because I know the site could be better. That’s why we are continuously trying new things. But it’s difficult for us to know how it could be more user friendly without input from our users. So I encourage everyone who uses the site to give us very specific comments and suggestions about how we can improve it.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Keep Your Eye on the Blog

Over the next few days there will most likely be minor changes to our new webpage. The Blog is the best place to keep up with what is happening on our website and at the registry. A few days ago the Blog addressed a problem accessing some multi-page plans on the Internet. These plans can be imaged using the "Plan Images-Old System" link on the web. This link is still available on the new website but there is a different procedure to locate it. Log on to the registry's website ( There is a "links" column on the left side of the page. The third item on the column is a hyperlink labeled "Regular Users". Double click this. "Regular Users" has six categories. One of these is "Plan Images (Old System)". Double clicking this will bring you to the pre-ACS plan program. This program will display "all" plans up to March 31, 2004 (Plan Book 213). This is just a minor change, but as Johnny Damon would say "keep you eye on the Blog".

Monday, November 15, 2004

New Look For Website

We activated the our new website at about 10 this morning and have not received any reports of problems either by phone, by email, or in person. That's a good sign. Of course I'm at home now and the links to "search records" won't do anything. I don't know if it's a function of my computer which is a never ending battleground of viruses and other bad things versus my virus protection software. (I'm often not sure which is worse). Anyway, if you are having any difficulty or have any suggestions, please send me an email ( and if you have stuff to look up, go directly to Thanks in advance for your comments.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Redesigned Website

The registry website is about to get a makeover. We hope the new design is easier to navigate and more flexible so we may update it often. The switch over will occur on Monday, but all of you BLOG readers may preview the new site by visiting - please check it out, navigate through it, and either post your comments here on the BLOG or send me an email with your thoughts.

Regarding the 1966-75 Grantor Index on CD, we're handing out three to five copies each day and received some excellent feedback via email from a registry user who got his copy of the index late Wednesday afternoon, just before Veterans Day. Here's the email: "Sorry I missed you yesterday here at the office. Thanks very much for dropping off the 1966-75 Grantor Index CDs. I am using them today for some title work that I otherwise could not have done with the Registry being closed for Veterans Day, so I really appreciate your "same day service." To get your copy, just send us 2 blank CDs and a return mailing envelope.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Book repair.

We are doing some in-house work on damaged Grantor indexes. Just recently the first twenty-five pages of the 1961-1965 (C-D) index were replaced. Fortunately, we have electronic images of these books which can be printed. Still, it is a labor intensive process. But we need to keep these "book" indexes usable until all are available to public in an electronic format. Some indexes have been removed from the shelf because of their poor condition. These have been stored in our copy room and are immediately available to the public. If you see an index or record book in bad condition please let our Customer Service department know. We will do our best to repair it and get it back on the shelf.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

More on Old Indexes

We've already distributed a half dozen copies of our 1966-75 Grantor Index on CDs. If you'd like your own copy, just send us 2 blank CDs and a return mailer. So far, we've had same day service. The 1951-60 Grantor Index should be finished in another week and the 1961-65 version by mid-December. Unfortunately, the 1961-65 images have some shading in one corner. We tried using several different software tools to "despeckle" the images, but we have yet to find an easy way to do it. But the images are still completely legible, so rather than delay the project, we're going forward with production despite the shading. Certainly by the end of the year we will have fifty plus years of an electronic index to go along with the same coverage of images. If you have any comments or suggestions about this project, please use the comment feature to share them.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Internet Plan Problem

Recently we discovered that a few multi-page plans do not display on "ACS's Internet database. Their computer experts explain that the file is too large to open. Before accepting this explanation and pursuing a solution based on it, we want to do more investigation. In the meantime there is a way to image most of these plans on the Internet. Log on to the Registry's website. On the left side of the front page there is a column named "Links". Two-thirds down is a hyperlink titled "Plan Images-Old System". Double click this link. It brings you to the Registry's pre-ACS plan program. This program will display "all" plans, including those that do not display on ACS. Unfortunately, this system only contains plans up to March 31, 2004 (Plan Book 213). Sorry for this inconvenience. We hope to have a solution to the problem in the near future. Of course, you can always call Customer Service if you need further assistance.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Electronic Info Inventory

Now that we've added the 1966 to 1975 Grantor Index to our computer system (see more below), we should remind everyone of just what is available electronically here at the Middlesex North Registry:

Recorded Land
-automated Grantor Index from Jan 1, 1976 to present
-images of bound Grantor Index from Jan 1, 1966 to Dec 31, 1975 in PDF format (this became available only this week - it's not yet on the Internet, but if folks give us 2 blank CDs, we'll give them their own copy at no cost)
-document images from 1950 (Book 1139) to present

Registered Land
-automated Grantor Index from Oct 16, 1987 to present
-images of documents from 1973 to present (we're back-scanning about 800 per week and expect all to be digitalized by Feb 2005)

-automated Plan Index from 1933 to present
-images of plans from 1855 to present

As I mentioned in yesterday's blog, the new index is more like an electronic book than a searchable database. But it's quite useful and it only took six weeks of effort to get it done. In contrast, when we added the 1976 to 1985 index entries to the computer system some years ago, it took ten employees nearly eighteen months to finish. To obtain your own copy of the 1966-75 Grantor Index, just drop off or mail two blank CDs (plus a self-addressed, stamped return mailer) to Middlesex North Registry of Deeds, 360 Gorham St, Lowell MA 01852. Copying the data to the CDs only takes a few minutes, so the turn around time should be quick.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Grantor Index 1966-75

We've complete our work on the Grantor Index from 1966 to 1975. It's not in a searchable database like the index from 1976 to the present. Instead, it's a type of electronic book. We simply scanned the pages of the existing bound index books for those years and saved them as Adobe PDF files, with one file per letter. Some letters have more than 1000 pages, though, so we constructed a simple table of contents for each letter. The table of contents consists of the first name that appears on each page and the corresponding page number. To find a name, you open the correct letter-file, browse through the pages of the table of contents until you find a name close to the one you're researching, and then use the "Go To" function to jump to that page. Just as with a book, you can flip pages forward and back to check for spelling variations. There's no direct link to the document images (yet), but once you get the book and page number, you can switch to the program that contains our document images (which go back to 1950) and then view or print anything. These PDF files tend to be on the large size, so using them on the Internet really won't work. Instead, we'll provide the complete set of these files to anyone who wants them, free of charge. All you have to do is supply us with 2 blank CDs and we'll copy everything for you. You can then use the CDs on your own computer or, if you have enough free disk space, copy them right to your computer's hard drive.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Sleepy Macbeth

The Presidential Election, up until 1:00AM (and no final results)...The Red Sox/Yankees little sleep... The World Series, even less sleep...Day light savings (gain an hour, lose an hour, whatever). Who thought of this "fall back"/"spring forward" thing anyway, an insomniac? The last two weeks have given me a better understanding of Shakespeare... "Methought I heard a voice cry 'Sleep no more! Macbeth shall sleep no more..."

Monday, November 01, 2004

October stats

Here is some end of the month information for your digestion. On Friday which was the last business day of October we recorded 630 documents. In 2003 we recorded 621 documents on the last business day of October, obviously, this is not a significant difference. It becomes more market revealing when we compare the October '03 totals with '04's. In 2003 Middlesex North recorded 11,222 an in 2004 only 7562 documents. Obviously, a huge difference. These numbers reflect a decrease of over 32%. Interestingly, this percentage is close to the overall decreased the registry has seen this year. Once again the Middlesex South satellite Office was very busy on the last day of the month. Cambridge recorded a total of 1,667 documents last Friday. Our satellite Office recorded 388 of these. That is over 23%. Pretty good considering no one waited more than fifteen minutes.
Enough has been said about tomorrow's presidential election to fill two years of blog entries. The important thing is vote...I personally know two people that were in elections determine by one vote.

Friday, October 29, 2004

World Champion Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox victory in the World Series certainly deserves a blog entry. As you can see if you visit our website ( and check out the “photo gallery,” registry employees supported the team by wearing Red Sox outfits all week. The Halloween 2004 photos also have a baseball theme. Personally, I don’t feel the same euphoria I experienced when the Patriots won their first Super Bowl back in 2001. This is more a sense of relief; of disaster avoided. My earliest baseball memories are of the Impossible Dream team of 1967 and, while great catches and timely hits by Carl Yastrzemski are certainly prominent, so is the beaning of Tony Conigliaro and Jim Lonberg’s post season broken leg suffered in a fall while skiing. Both injuries cut short their talented careers. Then it was on to 1975. Dramatic home runs by Carlton Fisk and Bernie Carbo in game six are most memorable, but if Jim Rice hadn’t broken his hand late in the season, the addition of his offensive production to the World Series team might have been enough to beat the Reds. Then there was Bucky Dent’s playoff winning home run in 1978. Enough said. The closest one had to be 1986 where the world championship was cut short when Mookie Wilson’s ground ball rolled through Bill Buckner’s legs and Calvin Shiraldi, the Red Sox “closer” just couldn’t nail it down in game seven. After the game, some Mets said Shiraldi looked like a “deer in the headlights” and they knew they would win. And so the long awaited victory in 2004 has, for me, an aura of disaster avoided. Maybe like the Patriots, the Red Sox will quickly win a second world championship. That, I am sure, will feel more like winning than like not losing.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

World Series Thoughts

If the Yankees wait as along as the Red Sox just did to win their next
World Series it will be 2090 before the New Yorkers celebrate again.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

One Down... One to Go

One of the reason we are back scanning Registered Land documents is our microfilm machines have seen better days. Although not very old, their technology is out dated. It really is amazing. When these machines were purchased they were "state of the art", now they are cumbersome and slow. It is simpler to explain the way they work than use them. Each "page" must be individually scanned, that's correct, not the entire document. This means that a twenty page mortgage needs, well...twenty scan actions. Printing the mortgage requires twenty print commands, one for each page also. The reader/printers we used before, printed directly from the microfilm. A simpler concept, but the machines just didn't work most of the time. They jammed constantly. I would call the maintenance company, stamp my foot, jumped up and down, yell, beg, cry and eventually pull my hair. The machines still wouldn't get fixed(it really does take more than meets the eye to keep a registry properly running). Presently, enough Registered Land documents have been scanned to allow one of the "newer" microfilm machines to be taken out of service(one to go). This saves maintenance money, counter space and the little hair I have left...and of course, makes life easier for the public.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Registered Land Developments

We've started the planning process for scanning all of our registered land certificates of title and memoranda of encumbrances. Certificates created since July 2002 all exist on paper and on the computer system, but all earlier ones really only exist in the books maintained in the registered land department. Historically, these books have been updated on a daily basis. As new documents get recorded, annotations are made on the appropriate certificates. There are two reasons we should scan these books. First, that will make the contents of the books readily available on our computers and the Internet. Second, there is no real backup for these books. If we ever had a fire at the registry and these were destroys, there's no ready replacement. I guess the theory is that we could recontruct all of these certificates and encumbrances from the recorded documents (they are all backed up off site on microfilm), but that would be a near impossible task.

Monday, October 25, 2004

"It wasn't me...I swear"

Recently, two interesting articles related to home computer security were published in prominent periodicals. Last week the "Boston Globe" wrote about the vulnerabilities of wireless Internet access. The opening sentence is a real grabber..."If you have wireless Internet access at home, your next door neighbor could have it as well, without paying for it. He can just use yours". Some wireless systems can connect up to 300' with signals strong enough to penetrate brick walls. You may be thinking... "Who cares...It's nice to share...the only one getting hurt is the Internet provider". Wrong! If some shady character parks outside your house and downloads illegal material guess who the authorities are going to question first? Right! If this does happen try... "It wasn't me...I swear". However, it seems easier and more effective to "lock down" your wireless technology. This process is readily available, inexpensive, but better explained by an expert. In a second related topic, a study funded by America On-Line and the US National Cyber Security Alliance revealed that 80% of home PCs had been infected with spyware. And the users have no idea. Spyware can allow your internet usage to be tracked: what sites you visit and for how long, what you bought online and from whom. The study states that most users are unprotected from online threats and largely ignorant to the dangers. According to the findings 60% of home computer owners do not know the difference between a Firewall and antivirus software. In addition the large majority of PCers using antivirus software do not updated it regularly (that would be me). But back to more pleasant topics, two down...two to go...Go Sox

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Sports Memories

As a youth I grew up watching the Boston Celtics dominate the NBA. Thirteen World Championships in a row. Something like that. But it was the 1968-69 season I remember the most as a kid. The most vivid sports memory I have came from that post season. It is of Bill Russell, the Celtic's legendary center. The Celtic only won 48 games that year. Sam Jones was 35 years old and Bill Russell 34, both about to retire. They barely made the playoffs and were huge underdogs. Against all odds they did win the 68-69 Championship. I can't remember who they were playing...the 76ers, the Knicks or the Lakers. But I can visualize Russell as if it were yesterday. The Celtics had come from behind and locked up a crucial post season victory. No one could believe it. This aged team with just 48 wins was doing it again. During a time out, Russell stood slightly slouched with both hands on his thighs. His head tilled looking up toward the basket. I could see the character in that face. It didn't matter that most doubted him and his team. He gave his all. I thought, "this is a real Champion". Not because he won...but because of intensity with which he played. I can still see that image. Through the years I turned off on professional sports... the agents, the money and the wining. Last night I watched a hurting Curt Schilling fire 94 mile an hour fastballs from the mound in Yankee Stadium. No excuses. I was impressed. Then the TV camera zoomed in on his foot. It was bleeding. You could see the blood seeping through his sock. The same feeling I had thirty five years earlier came rushing back to me. For Schilling, like Russell, it isn't about the money. I thought...this is a real Champion.
Go Sox!

Mortgage Debt

The "New York Times" ran an interesting article on Tuesday. Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board Alan Greenspan recently defended the big increase in homeowner debt over the past five years. Greenspan acknowledged that consumer debt has risen sharply in the last five years but feels that family finances are still in reasonably good shape. Mortgage debt and housing prices have both soared since 2001. Some economists worry that rising interest rates will increase monthly payments for homeowners with adjustable first mortgages or equity lines. This could spell trouble if housing prices fall. Critics feel that the Feds contributed to an artificially high housing market by keeping interest rates at record low levels. Greenspan disputes this thinking. He feels the fears are exaggerated since people do not buy and sell homes as easily as stocks. In other words, housing doesn't lend itself to being a bubble since it is harder to buy and sell. Greenspan also notes that while mortgage rates increase so have housing prices. At this time there is not a decline in housing prices. On the other hand "according to Federal Reserve data, homeowner's equity was equal to 66% of the value of their real estate during the 1970's. That share declined to an average of 56.8% in the 1990's and is now 55%".

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

When to Record a New Homestead

More thoughts on the confusing and unsettled law surrounding the Massachusetts Declaration of Homestead. A married couple with both spouses under the age of 62 (and not disabled) may only file a single homestead. Since the purpose of the law is the protect the family home, the filing exempts $300,000 (soon to be $500,000) of the equity of the home from creditors of either. But what happens if both spouses are jointly liable? Does the $300,000 exemption get apportioned between them? That's probably what happens. Now assume one of the spouses attains the age of 62, should that spouse now file a new homestead under the "Elderly and Disabled" section of the law? Like most lawyerly answers, it depends. It depends on which spouse filed the original homestead. If it's the one who has now turned 62, then no new homestead should be filed by that spouse because that would just void the earlier one. But what if the younger spouse had filed the original homestead. Once the older spouse reaches 62, he can file a second homestead. The original homestead would stay in effect for the debts of the younger spouse giving that spouse the full monetary protection of the homestead, and the older spouse would receive full protection from the new homestead. Sound confusing? That's because it is. Rather than go through these intellectual gyrations each time a homestead question arises, we should just amend the statutes and clarify all of these ambiguities. If anyone has any suggestions for language for such an amendment, please send them along.

Monday, October 18, 2004

On the Move

We have begun to do some space analysis in preparation of the possibility of moving the registry. Currently the registry occupies slightly over 10,000 sq Ft in the Superior courthouse in Lowell. Our three record halls account for about forty percent of the space. This includes record books, work tables and some computers. Thirty percent is used for internal work areas. This would contain functions such as the recording counter, registered land, the South satellite, scanning stations etc. In addition there are large spaces inaccessible to the public that are used to store: plans, microfilm, Registered land, consumable supplies and other miscellaneous items. Hallways and public computer stations occupy the remaining twenty percent of our area. The present registry is not laid out well. Departments are scattered about, some registry work area are too close to public areas and the basement level is not handicapped accessible. A few years ago we stopped printing record books. In spite of this, the registry still has about 1,500 linear feet of 7' book shelves. We did our first space analysis about seven years ago when the registry was still part of the now defunct "Middlesex County". We were running out of room and hoped the County would finance a move(boy were we naive). Middlesex County ended up going broke which yielded significant benefits for the registry. When the Commonwealth took over, it provided financial resources that we never had with the bankrupt county. We used the new funding to install Cat 5 wiring and to purchase several computer servers with huge memory capacity. These upgrades allowed us to store fifty years of images (approximately 7 million) and make them available to the public both here and on the internet. The moving plan conceived under Middlesex County provided for twenty years of needs. It required massive amounts of space for record book expansion alone. Today we are designing a much different plan. In the past record book storage determined spaces needs, today technology leads the way.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Disaster Recovery

The Secretary of State's office takes Disaster Recovery very seriously having hired a private company to assess the preparedness of the various state registries to respond to a disaster. This type of planning requires a tremendous amount of effort, so it is often overcome by events. There always seems to be something more pressing - another customer, another phone call - than spending the time necessary to come up with a Disaster Recovery Plan. One reason so much effort is involved is that there are so many things that can happen. Scenarios range from the failure of a computer server to the outright destruction of the building from fire, natural disaster or some other means. We have good reason to take this all very seriously in Lowell since our building was the site of a terrorist bombing back in 1976. Back then, it was a radical group called the Weathermen, but their explosives were just as devastating as those used by today's terrorists. Yesterday we had an all day planning session in Boston to begin updating and improving our existing plan. As the experts say, "No one plans to fail, but if you fail to plan you will fail" or something like that. Enjoy the weekend, and if you're in Lowell on Sunday morning, stay away from the Merrimack River. The Baystate Marathon will cause the closure of many of the city's bridges until well after noon.

Thursday, October 14, 2004


Some brief thoughts for today.
* Last week we began posting the last document number completed in our Registered Land back scanning project. Obviously, people need to know what documents have been scanned to switch from microfilm to computer use.
* For the past two months our Middlesex South Satetille Office has increased its recording percentages. On some busy days, such as the first and last day of a month, Lowell has done up to 25% of Cambridge's total documents.
* Three 90 minute Presidential Debates is plenty.
* With half of October gone we have recorded approximately 77,000 documents. Chances are we will not break 100,000 documents this year.
* The response to our website is great. This includes both professional and casual users. Homeowners are especially thrilled when they find out they can get deed copies online rather than travel "all the way to Lowell".
* How about the Red Sox, huh. Don't forget "it aint over til it's over". That's what Yogi said. Oh, yeah. He was a Yankee.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Debt Consolidation Loans

A recent Federal Reserve study estimated that at least 25% of those who refinanced during the past two years have done so to consolidate their debts. Rising home values and low interest rates can make this an attractive option. Why pay 18% interest on your credit card debt when you can simply refinance your home mortgage and lump the balance on your credit cards in with the amount you owe on your home and pay it all off at a relatively low interest rate. The problem with this approach is that it makes it twice as likely that you will lose your home to foreclosure. It seems that most people who consolidate large credit card debts as part of a home refinance just run up more credit card debt which, when added to the higher monthly payment of the new mortgage, puts incredible strain on their finances. State government and consumer groups are scrutinizing questionable practices in the mortgage industry including inflated appraisals and income statements and the practice of paying a mortgage broker a commission based on the size of the loan which provides the broker with an incentive to get the homeowner to borrow a larger amount than is really needed. Here at Middlesex North, the number of Orders of Notice, our best indicator of how many foreclosures are in process, has remained stable, but we are watching closely for any rapid increases in that type of activity activity.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Red Sox Win

The September Sales and Foreclosure Reports were added to the website today. Business was slow. Many of those who did show up were clad in Red Sox jerseys and hats and even they cleared out before the start of the 4:05 p.m. baseball game. After watching the Sox blow a 6 to 1 lead and then win in the tenth inning on a walk off home run by David Ortiz followed by the 90 minute presidential debate, I certainly don’t have anything useful to say about the registry of deeds. Enjoy the Columbus Day weekend – we will, since the registry will be closed on Monday

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Canal Heritage Days

This coming weekend, the Lowell National Historical Park and the Middlesex Canal Commission Billerica Section will celebrate Canal Heritage Days with a wide variety of interesting activities. For the schedule, directions and more information check out and Canals are an integral part of Lowell’s history with the earliest ones predating the city itself. In America, rivers were the highways of the Eighteenth Century and so the Merrimack was the logical route for transporting timber and furs from New Hampshire to the Atlantic. At one point, however, waterfalls and rapids made the Merrimack impassible for boats. In the late 1700s, a group of businessmen built the Pawtucket Canal in an attempt to bypass these obstacles. This was initially successful, but a rival company soon constructed the Middlesex Canal, connecting the Merrimack to the Charles River and the port of Boston. The company running the Pawtucket Canal soon went out of business. But when the Industrial Revolution in America took off in the 1820s with water power as the primary means of power generation, the existence of the Pawtucket Canal caused developers of the day to chose it as the site for the first planned industrial city in the world. The water flowing through this failed transportation canal went on to power the textile mills that made Lowell famous.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Picture This

For over a year we have been providing town Assessors with deeds on CD. This procedure saves us time, materials and labor. It also allows the local town the opportunity to create an electronic library if they wish. Although, with these deeds are easily accessible. Registry of Deeds are required by law to provide district assessors with copies of deeds. Local Assessors in conjunction with town collectors use ownership records for tax billing and to establish an owners database. As an aside, these CD's have offered us an opportunity to have some fun. A few years back one of our staff members was a local history buff. For a few months we assigned him the duty of scanning pictures of old schools, people, mills, churches and parks in our ten communities. We really weren't quite sure what we would do with them, but they have proven very useful. The Assessor's CD that we send out every month is embedded with a picture of the Lowell Superior Court House, our home. The CD case features an historical picture from the community. Each month we try to pick a theme...schools, parks, gazebo's etc. One community even asked that we forward one of these pictures so they could use it as a screen saver. As I said it's fun.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Comments on Homestead Blog Entry

My September 16 blog entry on a Bankruptcy Court decision on the effect of refinancing on a Declaration of Homestead has prompted some replies from the legal community. Your feedback is terrific - we want this to become more of a dialogue than a monologue. In keeping with that concept, here's the gist of one comment:

I read with interest your recent blog on the Lawyers Weekly article on the DesRoches Bankruptcy case. I agree with you that it is a confusing decision, and one must read it with care, the problem that I have is with your "unscientific" conclusion at the end of the blog. I fear that people, including those who should know better, will read your blog and conclude that they should re-record a homestead when they should not. You have the opportunity to influence because of your position and the presumption that you know about these things. I also think that the percentage of lawyers who say that you should not re-record is significantly greater than 50%. I personally think that in most cases, it is not necessary to re-record a homestead and it is costing people needless money to do so, and possibly hurting them vis a vis creditors. The VAST majority of mortgages contain a release of homestead, including all FNMA/FHLMC mortgage forms, and most HELOC forms. Under DesRoches analysis and its emphasis on the fact that the mortgage did not contain a release of homestead, the court made it clear that if there were such a release, the mortgage would act as a subordination. In either case the result would have been the same for the DesRoches, release or subordination since they had no equity in the property beyond the mortgages. They were really looking for a benefit that most would not expect them to have received.

If you have any thoughts on this topic, please use the "comment" feature below to respond.

Monday, October 04, 2004

City and Town Taxes

The "Average FY04 tax bill" for each town in Massachusetts is listed in the September issue of "City and Town". "City and Town" is a publication of the Department of Revenue's Division of Local Services. The tax chart provided in the publication also compares "average property value" for the past two years and lists the percentage change. According to "City and Town" the average tax bill in the Middlesex North District towns were as follows: Billerica-$3,162; Carlisle-$9,016; Chelmsford-4,212; Dracut-$2,752; Dunstable-$4,675; Lowell-$2,216; Tewksbury-$3,143; Tyngsborough-$3,911; Westford-$5,396; Wilmington-$3,108.
I know what you are wondering. Well here it is...the top five towns in Massachusetts with the highest "average tax bill" (according to City and Town) are Weston-$11,238, Sherborn-$9,591, Lincoln-$9,394, Carlisle $9016 and Dover-$8,412.
There are three towns in Massachusetts that "City and Town" lists with average property value over $1 million: Chilmark $1,524,515; Weston $1,162,135; Lincoln $1,022,243. Chilmark? It is a small town on the Island of Martha's Vineyard with a year round population of 931. This swells to 6,000 in the summer time.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Technology Committee Meeting

The Registry of Deeds Technology Advisory Committee met yesterday in Boston to discuss several topics. I gave a PowerPoint presentation on the ACS electronic recording system (which we hope to have posted for public viewing on early next week). We’ve been testing the system here in Lowell for the past six months and have found it to be a very interesting product that has the potential to revolutionize the way recordings are done in Massachusetts. While the Committee had many questions, two issues predominated the discussion. The first issue dealt with the mechanics of how users will enter names into the system: in a multiple document transaction, all names from all the documents are entered at the same time. The label attached to each name tells the system which document it belongs to. For example, in a sale with a mortgage, the buyer and the borrower on the mortgage are typically the same person. Rather than type the name twice, the system takes whomever you identify as the buyer and makes that name the grantee on the deed and the grantor on the mortgage. Most committee members seemed to think that because of the wide variety of names and documents in a typical transaction, this approach wouldn’t work all that well. The other issue involved the speed with which electronically recorded documents would go on record and the ways by which a submitter could do a final rundown prior to the documents going on record. Nothing final was decided other than to continue testing and discussing the proposed system. Check back tomorrow for a report on another meeting topic – document formatting standards.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Homestead Seminar

We held a Homestead seminar at the Tewksbury Senior Center on Monday night. The registry was invited as part of a comprehensive program dealing with "retirement planning". About forty people attended. The seminar began with a Power Point presentation on Social Security. It was very informative and interesting(you can tell I'm getting older). About thirty of the people in attendance filled out a Homestead. Some younger people, not yet interested in "retirement planning" came just to fill out the Homestead. A few that came had older forms which had been taken off our website a few years ago. It shows the Homestead is something people "absolutely have to do", but never find the time. It's enjoyable to do these seminars and its a nice service. Especially, knowing how busy people are today.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

New Judicial Center for Lowell

Last night’s Lowell Sun contained a legal notice from the state’s Division of Capital Asset Management (DCAM) requesting interested parties to submit their qualifications to construct a new judicial center in Lowell. Past newspaper stories have indicated that this proposal will be a “design/build” project where the developer will construct the building and then lease it back to the state. This is intended to get the new building up much more quickly than by using the traditional state building methods. How does this impact the registry of deeds? It’s unlikely we’ll find a new home in the judicial center. Courthouses are extremely expensive to build and the registry really doesn’t need a courthouse-type setting to operate. There is a good chance that we’ll move, it’s just unclear where that might be. To prepare for this possibility, we will start planning now. If you have any suggestions about what features should be included in a new registry of deeds facility, please share them with us.

Monday, September 27, 2004


I love gadgets! At home I have a talking meat thermometer. A female voice pleasantly tells me "your entree is ready" (it even tells me when it is almost ready so I can begin to salivate), then there's the HDTV(the best thing since sliced bread), wireless internet(why can't they make a wireless toaster? I'd buy one), an electric envelope opener (no more paper cuts). I'm starting to sound like a spoiled brat. But one of the "gadgets" that I couldn't get to work correctly at the registry of deeds was "video help". Here's how it worked...or didn't. We installed an inexpensive minicam on a PC in our lower record hall and one on a PC in Customer Service. The computers were connected through the internet. You're in the lower record hall. You need help. No need to run all the way upstairs to Customer Service. Just "ring"...instantly you "see and hear" someone. I imagined this working similar to a supermarket "information phone"(hello, can you tell me what aisle the LaSeur peas are on?) It just didn't work right. The audio quality was horrendous. It sounded like Charlie Brown's teacher...whha, whha, whhawhaa. After about a month we scrapped the idea. This was about fours year ago. Since that time there have been major improvements in audio and video computer equipment. The equipment is better and less expensive. And as I said... I do love gadgets.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Electronic Recording Update

Our computer company (ACS) has made some refinements to the electronic recording system. Many of the terms, labels and document types available in drop down menus on the Internet-based customer side of the system have been modified to reflect Massachusetts practice, culture and law. The same "look back" feature that exists on our walkin recording terminals is now operational in electronic recording. Anytime a name is entered with a new recording and that name has already been entered in the grantor index within the past 45 minutes, the registry clerk gets a popup box on the recording screen identifying the book and page number of the document where that name appears. When a customer is there in person, we simply say "Do you know about document XYZ?" and the customer either says "yes, proceed with recording the documents" or "no, give me back my documents until we check this out." Because the customer won't be standing there with an electronic recording, our plan is to call the submitter and ask if we should proceed. The alternative is to "reject" the recording until we receive more definite instructions. This is one area where customer input would be very valuable. Anyway, we're having a big meeting on electronic recording next Wednesday in Boston. I'll be doing a PowerPoint presentation explaining in words and pictures how the new system will work. Sometime during the week I hope to put the presentation on our website so everyone can take a look at it.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

1966-75 Grantor Index Soon Available

We’re making great progress in our quest to make older indexes available to you electronically. The 1966-75 Grantor Index should be available by the end of next week. Here’s how it will work: All of our old index books have been microfilmed for disaster recovery purposes. We’ve taken that microfilm and scanned it, creating an electronic image of each page of the index books. While these images (and the original microfilm) are usually quite clear and readable, they contain a lot of extraneous stuff – wide margins, portions of facing pages, for example. Right now, six of our employees are trimming each image to maximize their visibility. As each “letter” is finished, we’re creating an Adobe PDF file containing all of the pages with entries that start with that letter plus a table of contents to help you find the right page. Each letter will have its own file. Tomorrow we hope to put a sample on our website.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Meet George Jetson

A few weeks ago the blog addressed the installation of wireless Internet connections throughout the entire city of Philadelphia. Since that time local periodicals have addressed the possibility of wirelss Internet in Boston and some communities in the Merrimack valley. The installation cost is minor in comparison to the benefits that come from providing high speed Internet connection on a mass level. Most computers are now being sold with internal wireless network cards. A "Jettson like" view of the registry of deeds, has users moving freely around the registry, perhaps searching registry Internet records with their own laptops. People working at a convenient table or study carrell anywhere in the building, free from the restrictions posed by wired public access terminals that are available in limited numbers. Maybe "Jetson like" is not the right phrase. The way technology is advancing this could be possible sooner than one thinks.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Variations in Recording Fees

If you bring the exact same document to several registries of deeds, you should pay the same recording fee, right? Well, such is not the case in the Commonwealth. The biggest culprit (document-wise) seems to be a document that discharges a mortgage and an assignment of rents. At this registry, we would charge you $75 to record the document and make marginal references to both the mortgage and the assignment of rents. At another registry, you would be charged $150 because that one piece of paper would be treated as if it were two different documents (at those registries, it is called a "multiple document" and is indexed twice, just as though it were two separate things). It gets even more complicated when that same document also discharges a Financing Statement. Is the correct fee still $75 with three marginal references, or is it $195 ($75 + $75 + $45)? Who's right? Since there's really no need to index such a discharge several times as long as you make marginal references to the appropriate documents (an act that takes about 5 seconds per reference), I don't see the point in doing it. It just creates more work for us and confusion and additional expense for the customer. Still, it's gotten to the point that users want a uniform interpretation on this issue, so I might have to go along with the higher fee. This will be discussed next Wednesday at the Registry of Deeds Advisory Committee meeting. You'll be among the first to know the results of that discussion.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Taxes & the Sox

It's true...some things are inevitable...Taxes and the teasing Red Sox are two of them.
First the Taxes:
A recent article in “City and Town” a publication of the Department of Revenue lists some fascinating facts about assessed values and tax rates in Massachusetts' communities. The camparisons use "fiscal year" information from the largest residential category, the single family home. Below is a chart comparing the average tax rate, assessed value and tax bill over the past ten years.

FY Avg Tax rate Avg Assessed Val Avg Tax Bill
1995 14.21 $153,572 $2,182
1996 14.55 $156,159 $2,272
1997 14.76 $159,838 $2,359
1998 14.92 $165,050 $2,463
1999 14.73 $173,576 $2,557
2000 14.48 $185,009 $2,679
2001 13.67 $206,789 $2,827
2002 12.76 $236,229 $3,015
2003 12.03 $266,350 $3,205
2004 11.10 $307,417 $3,413

A quick analysis shows that the average statewide "assessed value" doubled in the past decade($153,572 to $307,417) and the average statewide "tax rate" has decreased in recent years as the assessed value has grown. The current year's 15.4% increase was the largest single year increase in the past ten years.
A future blog entry will list some specific information regarding assessed values and average tax bills in FY04 for the ten communities in the Middlesex North District as supplied by "City and Town".
Now "How about them Sox"! I think Pedro needs to cut his hair. He looked better and pitched better before. I am 53 years old. I was about 5 when I became cognizant of the baseball world around me. That means 48 years of waiting. Well as they say there is always next...weekend. Go Sox!

Thursday, September 16, 2004

The Latest on Homesteads

This week's edition of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly (Sept 13, 2004) has a front page story on a Bankruptcy Court decision that interpreted Massachusetts homestead law. It seems the homeowner had a first mortgage that was used to purchase the property, then recorded a homestead and then recorded a second mortgage. The second contained no language releasing or otherwise addressing the homestead. Now the homeowners are in Chapter 7 liquidation proceedings and the second mortgage holder wants relief from the automatic stay that comes with filing bankruptcy. The homeowners claimed that since the homestead preceded the second mortgage, the homestead protected the home from that particular creditor. The judge ruled that since Massachusetts is a "title theory" state, a mortgage constitutes a deed and since a new deed dissolves the existing homestead, the second mortgage holder is not barred from foreclosing by the homestead. The decision seems a bit confusing. If the mortgage/deed dissolves the homestead, it would seem to be dissolved for all subsequent debts, not just the new mortgage. But the decision seems to suggest that it's only the new mortgage that is outside the homestead's protection. Whatever. The important point is that many lawyers and homeowners ask whether a new homestead must be recorded after refinancing. From my non-scientific survey, I would say a slight majority of attorney's say no, it's not necessary. This decision seems to indicate otherwise.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Catch Up Time

You can tell that mortgage applications have fallen sharply. We usually record mail within two days of receiveing it. Today we are working on... today's mail. Recorded Land and Registered Land documents are scanned within two hours of recording. We have begun focusing on returning documents faster. Our usual return time is thirty days. Recently, this has increased to six weeks mainly due to summer vacations. Before a document can be returned it must be scanned, microfilmed and indexed. Normal document flow has four verification checks on imaging. Even with these safeguards, it still comforts me to know the original is in the building for at least thirty days. Also, during these thirty days the public becomes another set of eyes for us. In the unlikely event we miss something obvious the document is still available to make the correction. As I tell the staff, once an original leaves the building that's it. There is no getting it back (usually). I anticipate the return time will be back to thirty days in the next two weeks.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

More on Electronic Recording of Plans

In response to my earlier blog entry on plans, I've already heard from an expert in electronic recording who tells me that filing plans electronically is feasible although no one in the country is doing it yet as far as we can tell. It certainly is an interesting concept, one that we'll continue to pursue. But I was really talking about something much simpler. My initial idea was to have an electronic version of the plan submitted to the registry in addition to (not instead of) the hard copy. Here's the rationale: the surveyers and civil engineers create the plans on computers. They print a hard copy of the plan on "mylar" a plasticy substance much like super-thick plastic wrap for those of you unfamiliar with it. The mylar version is brought to the registry and recorded. At the registry, we scan the mylar, creating an electronic version for our customers to use on our computers and over the Internet. This electronic file to hard copy back to electronic file process is very inefficient. Why can't we just get the computer file that was used to produce the hard copy along with the hard copy. That way, the electronic image on our computers would be much crisper and easier to read. Just a thought.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Mass Assoc of Land Surveyors and Civil Engineers

This past Friday I was the guest speaker at the 50th annual convention of the Massachusetts Association of Land Surveyors and Civil Engineers (MALSCE) in Plymouth, Massachusetts. (To be fair to MALSCE – that is, why would they want to hear from me? - I was a last minute replacement for the featured speaker who had a scheduling conflict). The topic was “what’s happening at the registry of deeds and the role of the Secretary of State’s Office.” Since the Middlesex North Registry was one of the first in the state to move from county government to the Secretary of State’s office, I was able to recount the history of what has happened and why. We also had a spirited discussion on the future of electronic recording, especially as it relates to recording plans. I suggested that we (the registers of deeds and MALSCE) form a working group that would update registry plan regulations and explore the possibility of filing electronic versions of their plans. The group seemed very receptive to that idea and were a terrific audience. On another note, congratulations to Doris Finnegan who retired from the registry of deeds last week and to registry employee Martha Fallon, who married Attorney Arthur Santos on Friday night. Finally, don’t forget to vote tomorrow in the state primary election.

Plan Indexing

Presently our plan index goes back to 1933. As we approach the completion of the plan re-scanning project indexing back to 1855 obviously becomes the next logical step. In the past we have tried to back index our plans without much success. As I understand the situation, in order to display pre-indexed Plan images ACS created a simple index consisting of a series of sequential numbers. We tried to change this index by substituting the "series" with the actual plan information. Surprisingly, this procedure created a second entry. One entry had the correct indexing information, but no image. The second, the ACS "series" with the image. Hopefully, a little tweaking by ACS will solve this problem. Once the re-scanning project is fully completed this project will move up on the priority list.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Good Plans

As mentioned in earlier blogs, we are cleaning up our electronic plan images. After a “long road” this project is finally coming to an end. Even when the project is finished there will still be images that are far less than perfect. A number of years ago the public used the original plans as an information source. As you can imagine some plans became worn from the heavy use. During the re-scanning process we did our best to fix damaged plans but, obviously, there is nothing we can do about a faded or worn plan. We made a list of those in poor condition. It can be viewed in our copy area. Some plans have dimensions that are so small you need the original to read them. We realize that sometimes there is a need to see an original plan. These plans have been stored away to prevent further damage, but can be readily retrieved with sufficient notice.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

More on Formatting Standards

Earlier today we recorded a mortgage that made a compelling case for Document Formatting Standards. This particular mortgage was printed on a single piece of paper that was 8 ½ inches wide and 28 inches long with printing on both sides. It was folded in half, creating the appearance of four separate pages. But the print just ran through the fold, so when we tore the document in half so we could scan it, several lines of text were torn as well. The resulting margin in other places was miniscule, only 1/32 of an inch. Registries are now totally dependent on scanning to create the permanent, historical copy of recorded documents. With lax standards, we do a disservice to future registry users who will be forced to use records that might be partially illegible. The way to prevent this is by adopting and strictly enforcing statewide formatting standards. While the standards have not yet been established, they will undoubtedly include requirements such as white paper, black print of a certain size, signatures in black or dark blue ink, a three- inch first page top margin, one-inch margins elsewhere, and paper size not to exceed 8 ½ by 14 with 8 ½ by 11 preferred.

More on Document Formatting Standards

We recorded a mortgage this morning that had a top and bottom margin of less than 1/32 of an inch. Although it was four separate pages, when it was presented at the recording counter, it was only a single piece of paper, 8 1/2 inches wide by 28 inches long (folded so it appeared to be only 14 inches long). To scan documents of this type, we must tear them apart along the fold. In this case, the print of the mortgage provisions ran right along the fold leaving us with the miniscule margin I mention above. This is a prime example of why formatting standards are needed. The registries have the responsibility to create and maintain a permanent record of documents of this type, and that record is created by scanning. But many documents are created with no consideration of how they'll scan or how the registry will affix recording information to them. Formatting standards might include things like the following: All paper must be white, print must be black, signatures must be in black or dark blue ink, first page top margin of three inches with all other margins a minimum of one inch; reduced print not acceptable, 8 1/2 by 14 inch paper maximum size although 8 1/2 by 11 preferred. We'd like to hear your comments on this issue.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Sales Reports for August

The sales and foreclosure reports for August have just been posted on our website. The sales report gives you all properties sold for the month within each town. The report is organized by street address, date and sales price. If you want more information, you can do a search in our database, but most people are just interested in what properties in their neighborhood are selling for. I didn't realize how popular this feature is until we delayed loading the July reports until mid-August. There were many inquiries asking "where are the sales reports?" so we'll try to post them in a more timely manner as we have done this time. I was reminded of the importance of this at home on Saturday when I received a "now is the time to sell" letter from a local realtor that included "free information on properties sold in Lowell." The "free information" was a copy of our reports for the city of Lowell for the past couple of months. I was please to see one of the innovative ways that visitors to our website are making use of the data we provide.

Lowell National Historical Park

With all of the cookouts, yard work, and back to school shopping of this past weekend, it was easy to forget the significance of Labor Day. Established as a national holiday in 1894, early Labor Day celebrations featured street parades "to exhibit the strength of the trade and labor organizations of the community followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families." Ironically, the strength of the labor movement through the years may have diluted the importance of the type of union-centered celebrations of earlier Labor Days. Now, most people simply enjoy the holiday as part of an end of summer three day weekend. A great way to reflect upon the accomplishments of labor and to experience the history of industrialization and immigration in the United States is to visit the Lowell National Historical Park. Operated by the National Park Service, the Lowell park has many exhibits and tours that are fun and educational. For additonal information, visit the park's website at

Friday, September 03, 2004

More on Standardization

A reader submitted an interesting comment on yesterday's blog entry which discussed the need for document formatting standards. To the person submitting the comment, formatting standards would be acceptable so long as they applied at every registry in the state. I completely concur. Without that type of predictability, what's the point of having standards in the first place? The reader also discussed the difficulties he faced because of the non-standard practices registries follow when it comes to returning documents. Some registries charge postage, others do not, and still others (like this one) require self-addressed, stamped envelopes. I can't speak for others, but I will explain how our policy came about. Up until the fall of 2001, this registry provided return postage service. Back then, employees in the "data processing" department would enter the return mailing address of each document into our computer system. This usually happened a day or two after recording. Sometime later, we would print mailing labels, affix the labels to envelopes, stuff the envelopes with the correct documents, run the sealed envelopes through our postage machine, and then stuff them all in the mailbox. In 2000, we spent more than $40,000 in postage alone. That doesn't count the cost of envelopes and labels, or the time spent by employees typing return addresses, placing labels and postage on envelopes, and stuffing the envelopes. In the fall of 2001, however, the gigantic and unforeseen deficit in the state's budget drastically cut our funding. Suddenly I was faced with the choice of either cutting our postage costs or laying off two badly needed employees. I kept the employees. And the return document policy we developed works quite well. Since the fall of 2001, if customers want documents returned, they must either provide us with a self-addressed stamped envelope or sign up for a no fee document pick up box here at the registry (the customer picks up recently recorded documents during his next trip to the registry). Documents that don't have an envelope or a pick up box associated with them are placed into storage until someone claims them. The system works great. Not only have we saved an immense amount of money in postage and envelopes, we have eliminated a considerable amount of human effort that was previously expended on the old way of mailing documents. The reason we don't just charge extra for postage is that any money we collect goes directly into the state's general fund. Our budget, which has either been level funded or cut in each of the past five fiscal years, in no way would reflect the extra money we took in. That's why we need the "in-kind" contribution of the self-addressed, stamped envelope. Sorry to make this such a long story, but I wanted to explain the logic behind our system. Other registry's might have different considerations that make our policy unworkable for them. That's why something as simple as a document mail back policy might be the toughest thing of all to standardize throughout the state.