Sunday, February 29, 2004

The registry was busier than usual on Friday. It was the last day of the month and a Friday which usually means an increase in recordings. Lately, however, things have been quite slow, especially compared to last year. In February 2003, for instance, we recorded 12,353 documents. This February, the total was only 6,588. The reduction is due almost entirely to the collapse of the refinance market that began last fall. Property sales remain constant. Despite a nearly 50% reduction in overall recordings from February 2003 to February 2004, the number of deeds recorded remained almost the same with 406 in 2003 and 385 in 2004.

Friday, February 27, 2004

Late this afternoon we added February sales to the website. We've received such a good reaction to this new feature that we plan to add sales data for all of 2003 to the website in the near future. At least one user has reported trouble connecting with the "search records" page and we have found that the Window's Explorer back arrow does not work to escape from the "search records" screen. We have some theories on what's going on and will try to correct it next week. If you're having similar difficulties, please let us know.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Now that the new website is online, our next project is to begin updating the Massachusetts Deed Indexing Standards. Enacted on January 1, 2000 by the Massachusetts Registers of Deeds Association, the Indexing Standards have played a very important role in bringing predictability to indexing practices from registry to registry (at least at the registries that follow them). In the three years since their implementation, however, we have discovered a number of ambiguities and situations not covered by the existing standards. For example, the standards state that no punctuation shall be used in the index. But now, we have names such as E*Trade and 1-800-East-West-Mortgage in which punctuation marks are an integral part of the name. We hope to have supplemental standards ready for publication early in the summer. This is an area where reader comments would be especially welcome. So, if you have any pet peeves about indexing, please let us know.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Late this afternoon we activated the new webpage for the registry. Please send me any comments you have. I'd especially welcome suggestions for other links that might be useful to you. There are a few minor problems for us to correct. For instance, when you get done with the "search records" page, the "back arrow" on your browser (assuming that you are using Microsoft Explorer) does not return you to the previous page. I'm not sure why not; it just doesn't. On the menu bar on the top of "search records" screen you can select "county home" to get back to the lowelldeeds front page. There are also a couple of "local links" that we have to fix in the morning. But please let me know what you think - click HERE to send me an email.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

We spent most of today constructing the new website. We've added many more links than the existing site, so that's been taking some time. Our plans to put sales data on the website have had mixed results. Right now, we've succeeded in creating a report that includes the street address, sales price, date of sale and book and page number of all deeds recorded for each town for the month of January. This is intended for casual users who would like to keep track of sales prices within their town. For users who desire more information, specifically the names of the parties involved, we're still experimenting with a variety of formats. Right now, we'll probably present all the data in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. That way, people can view the data as is or can import the data into their own database program. We should be on the air by close of business tomorrow (Wednesday).

Monday, February 23, 2004

We spent today putting together the new website. There are a few more pieces to put in place in the morning and then we'll load it onto the Internet for you to test. One part that might be delayed is the sales data reports. We are able to extract information about sales from our database, but putting it in a format that will be available over the Internet and that will be useful to those who visit our website is proving to be quite a challenge.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Several years ago, we thought the registry of deeds would move into the GIS field. GIS, stands for Geographic Information System, is a sophisticated mapping system, all done on the computer, that applies all types of data in the form of electronic map overlays. One of the essential elements of a registry of deeds related GIS system is to have all land records available on the Internet. We have made great strides in doing this (all records from 1950 to the present are currently on the Internet), but we still have more to do. Much work is being done by other agencies, particularly "Mass GIS" the official state agency that oversees GIS efforts. Click HERE to see a sample of what's now available.

Friday, February 20, 2004

A new law gives registries of deeds the power to refuse any document that should - but that does not - contain a tax stamp. This statute was a reaction to a few instances where large transfers (shopping malls, baseball parks) occurred without any transfer tax being paid. Since there are many valid reasons why tax stamps might not be required, many lawyers are concerned that registries will wield this new power unwisely, refusing to record deeds that should be recorded, thereby plunging the effected real estate deals into chaos. I can only speak for the registry in Lowell, but it's highly unlikely that we'll refuse documents because tax stamps are not affixed. In questionable cases, we will do what we've always done: accept the stated explanation of why no stamp is required, but then forward a copy of the deed with an explanation of our reasons questioning whether a tax stamp is required to the Department of Revenue and let the DOR do what they're supposed to do - assess and collect taxes owed the Commonwealth.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

We've started working on a new design for the registry website. The "search records" section will continue as is. The changes we're contemplating are to the rest of the site. We think the new design will provide you with more information in a format that is easier to use. One new feature will be deed reports that will make information on home sales available to everyone at no charge. We'd like to hear your suggestions on things we should do differently or that should be added to our website.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

We had a meeting with our computer company (ACS) to review the events that resulted in the two week long disruption of our Internet records search capability. If this were the investigation of an airplane crash, the cause would be human error not mechanical failure. The design of the system is actually very good and there is much redundancy to guard against foreseeable and unforeseeable problems that could disrupt service. But the best system in the world will fail if the human beings responsible for it don't follow the correct procedures and that's pretty much what happened here. Enough said about that. From the registry's perspective, this was a valuable learning experience that will help us avoid the type of complacency that tends to creep up on you when everything's going well. Thank you all for your patience and understanding.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

The website seems to be working just fine. Tomorrow night we should have some details about what happened to cause our recent outage. In the meantime, a tip for users of the website. Often we have people tell us they can't find something on the Internet that is on the registry's computer. Usually, the sought-for-record is there all along. When searching the website, you should start with the broadest possible search. For example, enter the person's first and last name, omitting the middle initial and see how many records are returned. You can always limit the search to reduce the number of records returned. Here's where refining a search too much can be a big problem: Let's say you're searching the name "Susan Smith." You know she lives in Lowell, so you limit the search to records just from Lowell. Here's the problem. An attachment is against all of the person's property, so we put "None" in the town code field. When you only search for entries with "Lowell" in the town code field, you won't find the attachment. And no one wants to miss an attachment - so leave the town code field blank and get all possible records.

Monday, February 16, 2004

Happy Presidents Day. We actually worked yesterday (Sunday) for a while, adding some new features to the computers at the registry. Use the above link to send us an email and we'll tell you what those features are. But, enough of work. Today I saw the new Disney movie, Miracle, the story of the 1980 gold medal winning U.S. Olympic hockey team. Overall, it's a very good movie although some parts of it seemed to drag - it's hard to sustain two hours of edge-of-the-seat excitement when you already know how the story ends. There was no lack of excitement in the hockey scenes, however, as most of the actors are also hockey players. The PG rating must have been earned by the heavy body checks since there wasn't much swearing. It's certainly a movie you can take your kids to see. And for anyone born after 1980, it's a great history lesson about what life was like back at that time, with Ford Pinto's and Dodge Darts waiting in line to buy 5 gallons of gas, max, not to mention the Soviets seemingly on a path towards world domination. I guess we know how that ended, too.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

The registry of deeds website wasn't the only computer operation that experienced problems last week., the enormous online bookseller, embarrassed many people when a computer glitch replaced the anonymous names used by those who wrote book reviews (such as "a reader from Concord") with their real names. Turns out a number of authors had written glowing reviews of their own books, urging readers to buy immediately. Many negative reviews, it seems, are the work of rival authors seeking to trash the competition. This story is a good reminder that the apparent intimacy of email as a means of communication - it's just you and your computer - is disarmingly deceptive. Far from being intimate, email always retains the potential to be infinite, as in the number of people who may end up reading it.

Saturday, February 14, 2004

Yesterday's Boston Herald ran a story about missing mortgage discharges. It detailed how major lenders routinely mail discharges to customers without a clear explanation of why the document must be recorded at the registry of deeds. Inevitably, the discharge is lost and a future sale or refinancing is delayed. Even if the lender mails the discharge directly to the registry, that's no guarantee it will be recorded. Close to thirty percent of all discharges received by mail in Lowell cannot be recorded because they belong at a different registry or they are not accompanied by the correct recording fee. We hope that big national lenders, who are the biggest offenders when it comes to getting discharges recorded, will embrace electronic recording once it is implemented. This method of recording is perfect for the high volume, multi-state business model now followed by so many lenders.

Friday, February 13, 2004

Even though it's Friday the 13th, we received good news today. The search records portion of the website seems to be functioning very well with search results and document images popping up quickly. We still don't know exactly what happened. There's supposed to be a formal debriefing on Wednesday, so the blog entry for that day will certainly provide whatever info we have at that time. At the registry, we've already started a comprehensive review of our own disaster recovery plan and computer backup procedures. When the system sails along month after month and year after year without serious difficulty, it's easy to be lulled into a false sense of security. The problem with the Internet over the past two weeks was all the reminder we needed to get more serious about this stuff.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

The website is still under repair. A few weeks ago we embarked on a new mission: to make electronic recording a reality in Massachusetts. We've made some significant progress with our planning. To resolve many of the practical questions that arose when we first met with the potential users, we've decided to set up a test system within the registry. This will include a mock law office that we can use to record documents electronically using a test data base which will allow us to test the system and our procedures, all under the observation of potential users who visit the registry. Unfortunately, our enthusiasm for electronic recording has been tempered by the current problems with the website. The two must go hand-in-hand, so until we repair the website, fully investigate what happened, and put better preventive measures in place, we'll be moving slowly with electronic recording.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

We'll take a break from whining about the website today. When Governor Romney filed his FY2005 Budget last month, he also filed two pieces of "companion legislation." One, called An Act to Clarify Certain Tax Provisions and Improve Various Activities of the Department of Revenue, would cause some dramatic changes at the registry of deeds. To read the full text of the bill, click HERE. The sections effecting the registry are 22, 23, 51 and 67. Under this bill, state tax liens and child support liens would no longer be recorded at the registry of deeds but would be entered in a central registry maintained by the Department of Revenue. Researching a property would require you to check the records at the registry of deeds and this DOR lien registry. This bill also specifies that any lien would attach to after acquired property. Please take a moment to read this legislation. So far, it seems to have slid under everyone's radar. We're anxious to hear your comments about it.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

The piecemeal approach to restoring the website just isn't working. More help is on the way, but it's not likely to make a difference until this weekend. Until then, the site's performance will be slow and erratic. Most searches can be performed, but sometimes -for no reason I can see - some searches are interminable and eventually cause the system to time out. My advice is to be patient and keep trying.

Monday, February 09, 2004

The website is back in operation although it seems heavily sedated. It's working so slowly that a number of users have reported that it takes so long to retrieve data or images that they are forced to exit the program and start again. We are aware of this problem and have told the people who are working to recover the website that they're not finished yet. Please share your experience (good or bad) with us by email (Click HERE).

Saturday, February 07, 2004

The website seems to be working OK although we haven't confirmed that records created since February 3 are available. We will continue to monitor the site's operation through the weekend. Monday morning, we'll extensively test the system to ensure everything is available. As for what caused this problem in the first place, it seems that it was a series of problems which, if taken separately, would not have had a major impact. When taken together, however, they caused a major disruption to the system. Well, we can only apologize so much. Our users are undoubtedly more interested in hearing what we've done to ensure that this (or some similar failure) does not happen again.

Friday, February 06, 2004

The "search records" feature of the website was back in operation at 8:30 this morning. The last document that appears is Instrument Number 7636 which was recorded on Tuesday, February 3. More recently recorded documents will be added to the site over this coming weekend and all should be restored to normal operation by Monday morning.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Despite promises that our website would be back in operation by 4 p.m. today - 6 p.m. at the very latest - here it is 10:15 p.m. and still no service. The wait is agonizing. Once this is over, we'll provide a full report about what caused it and also an explanation of the steps we will take to ensure it does not happen again.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Here's the latest information we have on the website: When the state office building suffered an electrical power surge on Monday, it caused the battery backup on the server to kick in. The battery isn't designed to sustain operations. It's purpose is to provide enough power for the server to shut itself down in a controlled manner when there's a power problem. That way, when the power's restored, the server can be restarted. That is what happened. Unfortunately, the disks that store all the data and images are separate from the server. Somehow, when the server was restarted, something caused everything on the disks to be wiped out. Supposedly, the technicians have restored the connection between the disks and the server. Now the data and images must be loaded from the backup tapes. That should be happening right now, but there's no guarantee when the site will be back in operation. Check back with the blog tomorrow for the latest news.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

The information I wrote last night about the registry website was wrong - it's still down. The cause was a power failure in Boston during the day yesterday. Although the system is supposed to absorb this type of problem without any lasting damage, something didn't work the way it was supposed to. The technicians are still trying to put things back together. They tell us it might be back online this afternoon. We'll see. In the meantime, we've added extra people to our Customer Service office and are able to provide recording information to you over the telephone. Just call us at 978/322-9000.

Monday, February 02, 2004

More problems with the website. We did resolve the Friday-Saturday problem at the Lowell end by Sunday morning. Everything was working just fine today up until about 11:30 a.m. when the recording terminals in the Middlesex South satellite office all locked up and displayed error messages. It turns out there was some kind of power surge or region-wide telephone outage in Boston that effected the state office building at One Ashburton Place (just across from the back of the State House). Everything seemed to bounce back very quickly, everything that is, except for the registry of deeds Internet server. The good news is that as I write this (8:00 p.m.), the website seems to be back in operation. We will try to figure out what happened and will let you know as soon as possible.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

Sorry about the website being down Friday night and Saturday. This time the problem was in Lowell. A computer component went bad on us and it took most of Saturday morning to track it down and bypass it - our maintenance contractor will have to replace it on Monday. But for now, the site seems to be functioning. For future reference, if the Lowell website is down, you still might be able to search our records by going to which gives you access to the databases of several registries. Again, we're sorry about the inconvenience, but pleased it's now working so we can all focus on more important things like the Super Bowl.