Thursday, May 27, 2004

An employee of the Registry recently observed that the upcoming Democratic National Convention in Boston during the last week in July will present a great opportunity for the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds to attract new users to our Middlesex South Satellite Office. The convention is expected to create a traffic nightmare, especially for those heading towards the greater Boston area (especially Cambridge). If registry users normally bound for Cambridge know that they can avoid convention-related traffic hassles by coming to Lowell, they undoubtedly will. I expect we will heavily promote the availability of the satellite office and have extra staff available to handle the increase in business. Perhaps we'll get some promotional literature about Lowell from the Chamber of Commerce. If people come to Lowell to record documents, maybe they'll stick around for a while. If anyone has any ideas or suggestions, please send me an email.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

With the end of the month upon us, we expect the next few days to be busy at the registry. Otherwise, the number of documents being recorded continues to be well below last year's historically high volume. We are using this lull in business to add to the information already on our computers. For example, we have been scanning registered land documents that were only available on microfilm. We are also finalizing what we call the "index image viewing" program which takes the microfilm of our pre-1976 indexes (which are not on the computer) and scans the index into the computer system. Although you will not be able to do a computerized name search, you will be able to flip through the pages of the index on the computer, just as you now do with the actual book. We are also scrutinizing our current computer index, looking for entries that do not comply with our indexing standards. Any corrections we make are dated and recorded in case that ever becomes an issue in the future.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

We continue testing the electronic recording system. This system has only been in operation in other states for less than a year and much of its design was heavily influenced by large banks and title companies in other parts of the country. Consequently, the customer interface is a bit foreign to the typical Massachusetts conveyancer. Recording a residential sale - an MLC, deed, mortgage, assignment and homestead - can be done, but it's a bit tricky. That's the type of transaction we're still looking at, trying to make it easier to use. In the meantime, filing individual mortgages, assignments or discharges couldn't be easier, so it looks like we might transition to live recording in phases, inviting national banks and mortgage companies that send most of their documents through the mail to use the electronic recording system first. We hope to start that, at least, soon after the start of the fiscal year on July 1.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Today's newspapers carried stories about the recent plunge in the number of mortgage applications. While interest rates have risen to only about 6.2% (a very low rate if put in the context of the past several decades), that increase has caused new mortgage applications to drop by two-thirds. Economists predict that this will cause a slight slow down in home sales and will begin to depress the value of real estate. The rationale here is that, the lower the interest rate, the more the buyer can afford to pay for a new house.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

The ACS Users' Group met in Lowell today and was introduced to the ACS electronic recording system. The registry half of the system works very well. With just a couple of clicks, an electronically submitted document is fully recorded. This process completely eliminates data entry at the cashiering counter, handling checks or cash, and scanning. What else is left? Not much. Just verification and that's really done by the registry clerk at the recording counter. All the registers agreed that the half of the system that will be used by the customers - the "submitter interface" as we call it - needs some more work to make it "Massachusetts' friendly." But I suppose that you, our customers will be better judges of what you are willing to use or not use, so please contact me for to arrange a demonstration of the capabilities of this new system.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

The five registries that use the ACS computer system (Lowell, Cambridge, Worcester, Greenfield and Northampton) also form the ACS Users' Group. We meet periodically - usually every six to eight weeks. Our biggest accomplishment thus far is agreeing to a standard set of document codes. Lowell switched to the new codes last month. The Users' Group will meet at the Middlesex North Registry tomorrow with the main topic being electronic recording. We've been using the electronic recording system in a test environment for three weeks now and have a pretty good feel for how it is designed to operate. The other registers will get their first look at the system tomorrow and will have an opportunity to offer their input. Feedback from the meeting will be the topic for tomorrow's blog entry, so if you're interested in electronic recording, check back on Wednesday evening.

Monday, May 17, 2004

There's an interesting amendment to this year's state budget. If enacted, it would specifically authorize the use of "electronic books" (aka computers with imaging systems) in place of traditional paper-based books. The same would be true for indexes. In Lowell, we stopped printing paper-based record books back in November 2001 when the tardily passed state budget took an enormous and unexpected chunk out of our operating funds. And although Chapter 36 of the General Laws does talk about reproducing recorded documents in books, I have considered the law to be flexible enough to encompass technological advances, so having document images available on computers did, in my view, comply with the existing statute. Nevertheless, this proposed legislation is welcome - I wonder if it will apply to Registered Land? Wouldn't that be a revolutionary development?

Thursday, May 13, 2004

We're meeting with the Department of Revenue again tomorrow to continue our discussions about statewide recording of all DOR liens - child support, medical assistance, and tax. The easiest way to do this would be through an electronic transfer of data from the DOR to each registry. That data could be organized in a way that would match our computerized index fields, so there wouldn't have to be any data entry at the registry. And the entry in the index would be it - there'd be no corresponding document recorded. This is a radical departure from the way registries have worked for the past 350 years, so it will require a lot of thought of discussion before any serious effort is made to implement it.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

We continue to look closely at the procedures that will be used with electronic recording. The portion of the proposed system that operates within the registry seems to work very well, allowing data, images and financial information to flow directly into our database along with documents recorded in the traditional way. This system will eliminate about 90% of the work done at the registry on each document recorded electronically. Besides these operational concerns, we must scrutinize the legal implications. We're confident that the Uniform Electronic Transaction Act allows electronic recording, but there will still be many questions. If anyone has any questions or concerns about legal issues related to electronic recording, please send them to me by email so we can begin addressing them now.

Monday, May 10, 2004

This past Saturday (May 8) fifty-five visitors toured the Registry of Deeds and the Superior Courthouse as part of "Doors Open Lowell," part of the city's celebration of National Preservation Week. Our guests enjoyed seeing the historic Daniel Webster courtroom and learning how the courthouse is actually two buildings, one built in 1848, the other in 1898. The older building was actually constructed right along Gorham Street, exactly where the new building sits. When it came time to expand, the county commissioners decided to move the old building backwards to its present location. Workers dug under the foundation and used heavy wooden beams and 800 jacks to support the weight of the three story brick structure. Then, using other jacks positioned perpendicular to the side of the excavation, they pushed the building sixty feet at the rate of an inch an hour. A contemporary newspaper account reported that progress was so slow and steady that "work continued uninterrupted as the building was moved." (I don't suppose that would happen today). This and other interesting stories about the Registry of Deeds, the courthouse and the city of Lowell and surrounding towns were all documented for the Open House. In the coming weeks, we hope to convert this material to pages on our website so it will be available to a broader audience.

Friday, May 07, 2004

A regular blog reader sent me an email today asking why Registered Land never seemed to be a topic. Unfortunately, I don't have a very good answer. Two factors that contribute to this lack of attention are the relatively small amount of property that is in the Registered Land system (about 10% of our recordings). The other is that Registered Land is closely controlled by the Land Court in Boston and the Land Court is an institution that embraces tradition and the tried and true way of doing things. So where Recorded Land has made maximum use of the latest technology to streamline the recording process, the Land Court has failed to seize the opportunity to similarly streamline the Registered Land system. We have made a few changes locally (moving more records to the computers; changing the format of the Certificate Books), but our efforts have only been peripheral. There may be a good reason why certain fundamental changes have not yet been made in the Registered Land system, but as far as I can tell, no one at the Land Court is considering the type of long range, fundamental changes that are possible today. Instead, the system continues on as it has existed with no evidence that it is ready to change. During the coming week, I'll try to describe some of my ideas about Registered Land.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

It looks like the issue of "multiple documents" is resurfacing. To refresh everyone's memory (we discussed this several weeks ago), a multiple document is a single piece of paper that does more than one thing. For example, if a trustee is resigning and a new trustee is appointed and accepts the appointment, a document that has "Resignation of Trustee" on the top half and "Acceptance of New Trustee" on the bottom half is often recorded. Some registries will index this as if it's two separate documents, once as a RESIGNATION and again as an ACCEPTANCE. That piece of paper will only get one instrument number, but it will show up twice in the index, once for each document type. Because it's indexed as if it's two separate documents, the fee for two separate documents is also assessed. In Lowell, we tend to index documents only once if at all possible, thereby keeping down the recording fees. Most registries, particularly the larger ones, are more aggressive in designating documents as multiples. Now, it looks like the Secretary of State's Office, in the interests of uniformity, will mandate that all state registries, at least, charge the greater amount for these types of documents. We'll keep you posted on this issue. If you have any questions or comments, please send them along by email.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Someone from an electronic recording company called SimpliFile visited the registry today. Simplifile is based in Utah but has developed a relationship here in Massachusetts with the Hampden County Registry of Deeds in Springfield. In Lowell, we continue to work on electronic recording with ACS, the company that provides our registry computers and software. Electronic recording is still in its infancy and there are a number of companies that provide this service. We want to make certain that the various products all work together. So we in the registry aren't confronted with multiple systems - that would just cause confusion and recording problems. There are really two components to electronic recording. To simplify things, we'll call them the front end and the back end. The front end is what the submitter uses to create an electronic document and transmit it to the gateway of the registry. The back end is the part within the registry - from that gatekeeper to the recording terminal. The registry only wants one company providing its back end, but a potentially infinite number of companies can provide the front end to the customers, so long as everything works together. It's a little like your telephone service. You might have Verizon and I have AT&T, but when we dial our phones, it doesn't matter. We can still talk to each other.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

This Saturday the city of Lowell celebrates Historic Preservation Week with a program called "Doors Open Lowell." More than thirty buildings, including the Registry of Deeds, will be open to the public on Saturday, May 8 from 9 a.m. to noon. At the registry, we will set up an exhibit showing the history of the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds, of the Superior Courthouse, and of other historic events in the area. We will also conduct tours of the building including the Daniel Webster courtroom. Visitors will be able to use registry computers to print copies of their deeds and Declaration of Homestead forms will be available. We hope to create a virtual tour of the building and post it on the website in case you're not able to make it on Saturday.

Monday, May 03, 2004

The Probate Court in Cambridge, the home of the Middlesex South Registry of Deeds, suffered an electrical failure early this afternoon. The power was restored in a relatively short period of time, but not before a number of customers traveled to Lowell to record their Cambridge documents at our satellite office. They were disappointed to learn, upon their arrival, that when Cambridge is down, the satellite office is down. That's not because we share a power supply - we don't - but because we share a computer server. The recording terminals that are physically located in the satellite office in Lowell are connected to the Cambridge registry server. That is how we are able to record documents simultaneously with Cambridge. With the wonders of modern technology, the work station that's 20 miles away performs just as well as the one that's 20 feet away. If Cambridge had stayed down for an extended period of time, say more than a day, we would be capable of bypassing the Cambridge server and recording directly to the Internet server in Boston. All the registries are working on disaster recovery plans right now that address that sort of scenario. Fortunately, the outage was short and we didn't have to improvise. But it was a reminder of the need to get those disaster recovery plans finished.