Thursday, January 27, 2005

Governor's Budget Recommendation

Governor Romney filed his FY2006 budget recommendation yesterday. Known as House 1, this bill starts the budgetary process for the next fiscal year which begins on July 1, 2005 and ends on June 30, 2006. The Governor’s proposal is really just a recommendation to the state legislature, because the House of Representatives and the Senate create the final state budget. (The Governor certainly retains his veto authority, so he continues to play a role in the process, as well). Now, the House and Senate will both formulate their own budgets. If both of these bodies agree on the funding for a certain entity, then that agreed amount will be in the final budget. But because the priorities of the House and Senate sometimes differ, any items that don’t agree (that is, if the House recommends one amount, but the Senate recommends another) that item must go to a Conference Committee. That committee is made up of a handful of key members from both houses. They work together to resolve the differences. The report that ultimately is issued by the conference committee most likely becomes the final state budget. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that we’ve been anxiously awaiting the governor’s budget to see if this registry’s funding was increased sufficiently to allow us to lease space for a new registry in the coming fiscal year. The governor did recommend a 12% increase in our budget which presumably is intended to begin funding the movement process. If the legislature concurs with the governor’s strategy of moving registries into leased space, perhaps this extra funding will carry over into the final state budget. You can see the governor's recommendation for each state registry by following the "What's New" link on the home page of our website (

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

High Housing

An interesting poll conducted by the University of Massachusetts' Donahue Institute was released in this morning’s newspapers. A survey of 509 people found that roughly 46% of Bay State residents reported they or an immediate family member were considering moving out of Massachusetts. The report was commissioned by a non-profit housing advocacy group called the “Citizens Housing and Planning Association”. The report sites high housing costs as a main consideration for re-location. In 1999 a similar UMass poll found that 11% were considering re-location, 19% in 2001 and 32% in 2002. Aaron Gornstein, Executive Director of Citizens Housing and Planning Association believes a large segment of the state’s work force is finding itself priced out of the housing market. Of course, the many benefits offered in Massachusetts are part of what is fueling the strong housing market. But one can not deny that these statistics show an overwhelming need for affordable housing in the state.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Notaries and Recording Copies of Documents

An attorney raised an interesting question today. She pointed out that Governor Romney’s Executive Order of last year regarding the duties and responsibilities of notaries included a section (5g) that states “A notary shall certify a copy by using substantially the following form: ‘On this 25th day of January 2005, I certify that the preceding document is a true, exact, complete, and unaltered copy made by me of the Affidavit of John Doe, presented to me by John Doe.’ Signature and seal of notary.” The question was: does the preceding section of the Notary Order allow copies of documents so certified to be recorded at the registry of deeds? It seems, not surprisingly, that some registries permit this practice; others do not. For the time being, the Lowell Registry will be with those that reject such a document, the notary certification notwithstanding. The copy versus original issue is much broader than the specific question posed above. I think that UETA (the Uniform Electronic Transaction Act), by stating that any law that requires an original document or an original signature is satisfied by the electronic equivalent of the document and signature, actually allows a photocopy of any original document to be recorded, even without any notary certification. What is a photocopy but an electronic image of an original duplicated on another sheet of paper? Don’t get me wrong, we’re not allowing photocopies to be recorded here in Lowell, but I think that is a reasonable interpretation of UETA. Anyone have any thoughts on this?

Sorry if anyone was inconvenienced by the registry being closed yesterday because of this past weekend’s big snowstorm. Several of us actually showed up at the registry yesterday morning ready to open for business, but the courthouse had been ordered closed and building safety and security dictates that the public cannot enter the building without the security checkpoint being staffed. So, when the courthouse is closed, the registry must be closed as well.

Friday, January 21, 2005


All standardized tests, the MCAS, the GRE and the LSAT included, need adjustments from time to time. And so I feel no embarrassment when I say our presidential trivia quiz is no different. The initial quiz results seem to indicate that it too needs a little tweaking (Hey, I put the thing together and I could only answer nine of the fifteen questions correctly).
People seem to have enjoyed taking the quiz so I have made a few changes below. I have substituted some of the more obscure questions and added hints. Remember "keep your eyes on your own computer". As before the answers are in the comments section below. Good Luck!

Question number 13, (Who was the only bachelor president), substituted with
Which president played the saxophone? Hint: He sometimes acts like a bachelor.

Question # 5 (Who was the first president to give a radio speech), substitute with
What was Dwight Eisenhower’s nickname? Hint: If you put a “B” before it you could ride it.

Question # 8 (Who was the first president to move into the White House), substitute with
The newspapers erroneously declared this president a loser to Thomas Dewey. Hint: He was from Missouri

Question # 4 (Who was the only president not elected by the people?) substitute with
This president congratulated the astronauts when they landed on the moon? Hint: His middle name was “Milhous”.

Question # 6 (Which president loved peas?) substitute with
This president was a fighter pilot who was shot down during WWII? Hint: He got rescued

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Clarifications Forthcoming

Two recording-related areas have created some confusion recently: multiple documents and subdivision plans. We are working on clarifying our policies regarding both. I've written about multiple documents in the recent past, so I'll try not to repeat myself. The latest question arose over a document that appointed a successor trustee and then had the successor trustee sign to indicate he accepted the appointment. Is that a single document or is it two? Because I tend to come down on the side of charging customers the less rather than more, my preference is to treat it as a single document, to index it that way, and charge the fee for a single document. I'm trying to compile a list of all document types that could possibly be seen as "multiple documents." Once we have our list, I will post it in a way that will clearly indicate how the document is to be handled here. That should help our users correctly calculate the recording fees due. The other area we hope to clarify are the requirements for recording plans. Several areas of Massachusetts law, especially chapter 41 (subdivision control law) are quite explicit in telling registers of deeds what plans can and cannot be recorded. While I think we are substantially in compliance with the requirements of the law, we are reviewing our procedures to ensure complete compliance. Once we have finished our analysis, we will produce a document that states the various requirements. That document will be made available to all of our users. This may also mean that subdivision plans that have previously been accepted for recording under our liberal reading of the rules might, in the future, be rejected for noncompliance. But, as I said, we will keep you posted.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Presidential Trivia

How about some Presidential Trivia on the day before George Bush takes the oath of office for his second term? OK…Let’s go… I have rated the questions on a difficulty level from 1-5 with 5 being the most difficult. For the answers click the "comment section" below.
1.Difficulty Level 4: Besides George and George Bush what are the names of the other father son presidents?
2.Difficulty Level 5: What was the name of the New Hampshire poet that recites one of his poems during the JFK inauguration?
3.Difficulty Level 3: Who was the oldest person ever elected president?
4.Difficulty Level 4: Who was the only president not elected by the people?
5.Difficulty Level 5: Who was the first president to give a radio speech?
6.Difficulty Level 10 (that’s tough on a scale of 1-5): Which president’s favorite vegetable was peas??? Hint he grew his own in Virginia?
7.Difficulty Level 4: Let’s keep this Registry related. This president was a Land Surveyor by trade.
8.Difficulty Level 4: Who was the first president to move into the white house?
9.Difficulty Level 8 (it’s a tuffy): Who was the first president that was born a US citizen?
10.Difficulty Level 5: Which President served only one month in office?
11.Difficulty Level 3: Which president is pictured on the $50.00 bill?
12.Difficulty Level 3: Who served as both the 22nd and 24th president?
13.Difficulty Level 5: Who was the only bachelor president?
14.Difficulty Level 3: Who was the first modern president that did not wear a hat during his inauguration?
15.Difficulty Level 3: Which state is considered the mother of presidents with eight presidents born there?

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The KISS Principle

When it comes to managing computer projects, I’ve learned to follow the KISS principle (which stands for “keep it simple, stupid”). While computer systems seem complicated by nature, asking them to do too much, to be all things to all users, almost guarantees that the computer system won’t satisfy anyone. I was reminded of this last week when I saw “FBI May Scrap Vital Overhaul of Its Outdated Computer System” as the headline on the front page of the newspaper. The article states that the Bureau has already spent $170 million dollars searching for a customized replacement system for the obsolete and ineffective system now in place, but that the effort thus far is about to be scrapped as unworkable. I vaguely recall something similar happening with the Massachusetts Trial Court a number of years ago. The court spent millions of dollars to develop a “one size fits all” computer system that would serve all of its departments, but the effort never yielded a workable system. Here are my observations, for what they’re worth: Because computer technology changes so quickly, a custom built system for a governmental entity is doomed to fail since by the time it is ready to be installed (remember, governmental entities work at their own pace), it will already be obsolete. It’s much better to go with an existing system that’s modified to best fit your needs. Also, many people who don’t have a good understanding of how computers work look to them as the solution to all of their problems. The reality is that the computer is just one more tool you can use to improve the way you do your job. If you ask it to do too much, you will be very disappointed. But that’s enough pontificating for today . . .

Full Bubble Mode

According to a report by Michael Youngblood of the investment-banking firm Friedman Billings and Ramsey, the Massachusetts real estate market is still in “ full bubble mode”. This comes as no surprise to anyone that is looking to purchase real estate, sell real estate or just follows the market. But an interesting conclusion stated by Youngblood is that the bubble “won’t burst anytime soon”. Of course, this is great relief to those of us who have recently purchase real estate (it makes waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat…shall we say…a little less necessary). But…the scary part of the report states that the ratio of median home prices to per capita income is as high today as it was in the late 1980’s. Unfortunately, anyone associated with the real estate market during the late 80’s and early 90’s (yours truly) remembers that it was the beginning of a multi-year downward cycle. But those were the days of 12% interest rates. The fact that consumers are willing to spend a large percentage of their income on housing expenses is a strong indicator of their high confidence in the real estate market. The thinking is simple…”if I pay $300,000 for a house today, it will be worth $330,000 in a year”. Youngblood predicts that the bubble is not going to burst in the immediate future. His report says that the economy would have to shrink for a minimum of four straight quarters before housing prices begin to fall. The report was based on data collected in July, August and September of this year. During this period sales of single-family homes increased 6% while prices soared 11 % to a median statewide average of 350,000. .

Thursday, January 13, 2005


Update on our Marginal Reference project: We just completed our 7th day of working on the project. Up to this point we have finished entering marginal references from over fifty record books. The books being entered in this second project phase are in the 2000 series. Most of the books in this series are approximately 700 pages long. A quick look at the data reveals that each book contains around 350 marginal references. Most documents have one or two references, but we have come across some with as many as twenty. Many of the Record Books in the first phase of the project dealt with the Condo boom years. During these years some Master Deeds had as many as eighty marginal references. The marginal references project is our number one information enhancement project. We’ll keep you informed.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Multiple Documents

Multiple documents continue to cause confusion. The latest instance was a Scrivener’s Error Affidavit. Massachusetts General Laws chapter 183, section 5B states “an affidavit made by a person claiming to have personal knowledge of the facts therein stated and containing a certificate by an attorney at law that the facts stated in the affidavit are relevant to the title to certain land and will be of benefit and assistance in clarifying the chain of title may be filed for record and shall be recorded in the registry of deeds where the land or any part thereof lies.” Is this merely an affidavit (with a recording fee of $75) or is it a multiple document, a combination of an affidavit and a certificate (with a recording fee of $150)? Personally, I would treat this as a single document and charge one fee, but I understand that even within this registry, we might handle it either way. If we can’t even be consistent within this same office, it’s doubtful that all registries are doing things exactly the same. It’s exceedingly difficult to formulate an easy to apply rule that distinguishes between single and multiple documents. Some documents are clearly multiples – today we recorded one that assigned four different mortgages from four different borrowers on four different properties with four different book and page references. Based on our indexing practices, this has to be treated like four different documents even though it was all contained on a single piece of paper. But other documents, such as the Scrivener’s Error Affidavit, create a less compelling case to be treated as a multiple document. I’ll be returning to this topic in the near future since it certainly requires some clarification. In the meantime, I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts on this topic, so please leave some comments.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005


We broke fifty thousand, instrument number fifty thousand that is. Well instrument number fifty thousand of our Registered Land back scanning project. The first 12,000 Registered Land documents were previously scanned. This means we only have 38,000 documents left to complete the project. It may sound like a lot, but it is not when you considered that we have already scanned 122,000 documents. This is truly an impressive accomplishment by our employees. We hope to finish scanning the remaining documents by spring. Instruments 1-12,000 & 70,000-80,000 were scanned a few years back using an in-house program called “Image Inquiry”. These images are available to the public but not on our ACS computer system. This is sufficient for now but not the ideal sitauion. The plan for the future is to move these images from “Image Inquiry” to the ACS system. We are hoping this is an easy procedure.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Look, That Computer Has A Dry-Cycle

As I have mentioned before I am a gadget lover. The Consumer Electronics show took place in Las Vegas this week. This is the biggest “gadget show” in the US. Many of the items displayed this year were digital hybrids. Today's Tech world is bringing the interconnection of digital devices limited only by the imagination. A company called Aigo offers watches that store music, photos and computer files. Coming in April Taiwan’s BenQ will debut a mobile phone disguised as a digital camera (“Hey, why do you have that camera pointing in your ear?” ). Of all these new gadgets, the one I love the most is BenQ’s latest computer monitor. It has five adjustable arms that can be arranged around the screen. One offers a mirror, another a light, one a Webcam, another a microphone and I think the fifth is a can opener. After I finished reading Reuters’ article on the electronic show I started thinking… maybe next year the registry of deeds could participate. How about a Grantor Index book that is also a cellphone? It might be a little heavy but look how convenient it would be for calling the office. And what about a public access computer terminal that is also a High Definition DVR. You could watch your favorite soaps while running down a name? And what about a watch that stores ALL Middlesex North’s images and indexes? If it did that I'll bet people wouldn't even care if it told time. How about a Recording Terminal that is also an audio player that holds 1,000 songs in MP3 compression format and…also allows the user to listen to 20 preset FM radio stations. Wow…wouldn’t that be useful? Since the registry doesn’t have any of these gadgets yet and the conference is next January…I better get to work. Anyone seen my hammer?

Friday, January 07, 2005


Snowstorms usually result in many customer calls to the registry inquiring if we intend to close early. Although that hardly ever happens, it’s always wise to call ahead to check. For future reference, here’s a general statement of our policy: if security closes this courthouse because of inclement weather, the registry also closes since the public would be unable to get into the building. Other than that, we typically stay open during our normal hours of operation, regardless of the weather. (When the road conditions deteriorate during the day, we sometimes send part of the staff home early, but we always keep our essential operations open). Every five years or so, we’ve had a major storm during the overnight hours. Such a storm usually results in television reports that the governor has “declared a state of emergency” and that only “essential state personnel” should report to work. As ominous as that sounds, it doesn’t really apply to the registry of deeds. We work for the Secretary of State, so it’s up to him to decide weather-related closures. Besides, the Secretary considers registry employees essential, so we’d have to come to work anyway. If the TV announces that “all state buildings are closed” there’s a good chance that we will be closed, too. It never hurts to call ahead.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Grantor Indexes 1951-60 & 1961-66

We’ve completed scanning the Grantor index books from 1951- 1960 and 1961-1965. People interested in obtaining copies may do so in our Customer Service office. Like the 1966-1976 index, these are electronic books. We scanned the pages of the existing bound indexes and saved them as Adobe PDF files, one file per letter. Then we constructed a table of contents for each letter. The Indexes are very simple to use. The table of contents consists of the first name that appears on each page and the corresponding page number. Open the correct letter file, browse through the table of contents until you find a name close to the one you’re searching and then use the “Go To” function to jump to that page. These electronic books are available free to anyone that wants them. Simply provide us with the necessary CD’s and we will make you a copy. For the 1951-1960 index we need one CD, for the 1961-1965 one CD and the 1966-1975 index requires two CD’s. Since these PDF files are very large, presently there are no plans to make this information available on the Internet. Once again bring your CD’s to Customer Service. Bring two for the new sets (51-60 & 61-65) and four if you would like the entire series. Normally we can provide copies of the Indexes the same day.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Happy Anniversary

Today is the 10th anniversary of my tenure as Register of Deeds. Shortly after 4:00 p.m. on January 5, 1995, Superior Court Clerk Edward Sullivan administered the oath of office to me as Register and to Tony Accardi as Assistant Register. It’s hard to believe that we’ve been here for that long. In 1995, the registry had 35 employees, a budget of $1.35 million, and 60,000 documents were recorded. Now, we have 26 employees, a budget of $1.24 million, and in this past year recorded 96,204 documents for this registry plus another 48,784 at our Middlesex South satellite office for a total of 144,988. In 1995, there were four computer terminals that could, if you were willing to wait a couple of minutes, display one on the handful of document images that had been scanned. Back then, the index began with 1987, so you had eight years available on the computer. Now, every document from 1950 to the present (more than 5 million pages) is available 24 hours per day, seven days per week on our website. The searchable index has been pushed back to 1976 and our “index on CD” goes back to 1951. (That’s right, we’ve scanned grantor index books from 1951 to 1975 and have those books available on a set of four CDs for the bargain price of four blank CDs – more on this later this week). Anyway, thanks to everyone who helped make these past ten years so enjoyable and rewarding. I must single out Assistant Register Tony Accardi for special recognition. Everything that we’ve done has been a complete team effort; without Tony’s help, it would not have been possible.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Satellite Office Statistics

Our satellite recording office for the Middlesex South Registry of Deeds has been open for 18 months now. Customers are able to record any document that would otherwise be recorded in Cambridge (EXCEPT for registered land documents and plans) from 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. Recording is done while you wait and certified copies are prepared immediately. Usually there’s no line and, when there is, it moves very quickly. We’ve kept track of the number of documents recorded at the satellite office since its inception. The monthly totals plus the percentage that the documents recorded here represent of Cambridge’s overall recordings are shown below:

Month Docs Recorded % of Camb total
Dec 2004...........4073.......16%

Dec 2003...........3651..........14%

Monday, January 03, 2005

Marginal References

Tomorrow we will re-start our "marginal reference project". This project's ultimate goal is to electronically capture every marginal references in our record books. Sounds like a massive undertaking? Yes, it is. And it is tedious. Here's the process. An employee flips through a record book page-by-page searching for references. When a refernece is found the employee enters it into an Access Database. When the project is completed all the information will be converted and transfered to our ACS computer system. At that point the public will have access both from the Internet and at the registry. It is a very time consuming, but essential project. Last summer we completed the first phase of the "marginal reference" project. It dealt with book 4216 (September 1987) to book 2179 (December 1976). September 1987 is the year the Wang Computer System was installed in Middlesex North and 1976 is the last year of our computer indexes. The goal of the project's second phase is book 1135 (1950), where our images stop. Both Wang and our present ACS Computer system allow an employee to enter marginal references at the time of recording. The projects value is tremendous. Marginal references must be available eletronically before the next generation of registries can arrive.