Thursday, March 31, 2005

Electronic Recording Moves Follow

We reached a milestone in electronic recording yesterday by recording a test document in our real database. Mechanically, the system worked fine. The indexing data and the document image that we entered and scanned at a remote location appeared almost instantly on the designated recording terminal. At the recording counter, all we have to do is confirm that the document image created by the customer is legible and complete and then compare the data entered with that contained within the image. If all is in order, we click on the “record” button and the document is immediately on record. Instead of a bar code label showing the recording information (book, page and instrument number, date and time of recording), the electronic recording system generates a cover sheet for each document. The cover sheet contains all recording information and becomes part of the document (so if you electronically record a three page document, it becomes a four page document once recorded). To see how the two test documents appear on the Internet, go to “Search Land Records” and search for the name “Borrower.”

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Housing Sales

According to an Associated Press story published in the Boston Globe this week, rising mortgage rates will have only a marginal effect on the nations hot real estate market. Even though mortgages rates are expected to continue rise during the year, most economists believe the increase will be gradual leaving the housing market in good shape. In February sales of previously owned homes fell slightly but new home sales leaped by close to 9.5%. Many analysts feel rates could hit 7% by the end of the year. Doug Duncan, chief economist at the Mortgage Bankers Association said, “For me, it’s the speed at which rates rise that is important. If rates were to go up rapidly and pass 7.5% that would bother me”. In the final analysis, any cooling seen this year shifts the real estate market from “hot” to “very strong”.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Planning for the Future

Yesterday we launched “Sounds of the Registry” – recorded interviews stored as audio files that can be heard by anyone visiting our website. While I expect the inevitable anonymous email comment complaining about us wasting money and acting unprofessionally, the truth is that we’re propelling the registry into the future. Maybe it would be slicker and more professional looking if we spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on “consultants” – that’s standard procedure in government – but we don’t have hundreds (never mind hundreds of thousands) of dollars in extra money to spend. And in the age of computers, the best way to do something is to try to figure it out yourself. That’s how you learn about technology and grow comfortable with it. When you eventually do hire an expert, you know what to ask for and what to monitor, so you end up getting a better product. As for our vision of the future, it’s nothing unique. Glance through the Business section of yesterday’s Globe and notice the headlines: “Web radio quickly finding niche markets” “As Verizon hikes 411 cost, rival offers a free tryout” “Online kitchens a recipe for the future” “Newspaper creates Web town square.” The Internet has revolutionized the way to deliver information to people, but all kinds of businesses – newspapers, telephone companies, radio stations, grocery stores, and yes, registries of deeds - have to figure out what works and what doesn’t. And that’s what we’re doing. Your comments, even the negative ones, help us the most.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Sounds of the Registry

This morning Register Richard Howe and I recorded three audio interviews concerning registry related topics. These files have been uploaded to our website and are available to the public. In the first interview the Register talks about the basics of the Homestead . The second interview deals with the hot topic “Homesteads and Refinancing”. And finally the third discusses making changes on a deed. In the coming weeks more audio files will be added to our website, each dealing with an interesting relevant topic. As always your feedback is welcome. And please feel free to let us know if there is a particular topic you would like to hear the Register discuss. The easiest way to respond is through our “Contact Us” link located on the lower left hand corner of our webpage.

Sounds of the Registry

This morning Register Richard Howe and I recorded three audio interviews concerning registry related topics. These files have been uploaded to our website and are available to the public. In the first interview the Register talks about the basics of the Homestead . The second interview deals with the hot topic “Homesteads and Refinancing”. And finally the third discusses making changes on a deed. In the coming weeks more audio files will be added to our website, each dealing with an interesting relevant topic. As always your feedback is welcome. And please feel free to let us know if there is a particular topic you would like to hear the Register discuss. The easiest way to respond is through our “Contact Us” link located on the lower left hand corner of our webpage.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Homesteads on the Radio

Media interest in the Declaration of Homestead continues. This morning I was a guest on WUML, the University of Massachusetts Lowell radio station, to explain Homestead basics. Fortunately, the discussion didn’t get bogged down in the “should you record a new homestead after refinancing” debate. I don’t mind talking about that, but that’s all most of us can do is talk. Until the Appeals Court or Supreme Judicial Court decide this issue in a case or until the state legislature clarifies the existing statute, we’re left to speculate. Because there is no consensus, I suspect either option will protect the family home. After explaining all the benefits of the Homestead, one of the radio hosts asked “If it’s so good, why isn’t it automatic?” I can think of a couple of reasons: The credit card and banking industry have much more powerful lobbyists than homeowners do. You only have to look at the new bankruptcy law for evidence of that. Another reason the homestead might not be made automatic is that every homestead that is recorded gives the state $35 in revenue. In Lowell, which is in the middle of the state’s 21 registries size-wise, we record about 5000 homesteads per year. That translates into $175,000 per year for the state just from Lowell. Speaking of radio, we’ve been experimenting with a new method of providing you with information – recorded sound. We’ll be recording some short (5 minute) discussions on registry topics that will appear as links on our website. All you have to do is double click, and you can listen to us talk about electronic recording, homesteads, and other registry topics.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Computer Glitch & WIFI in the Registry

Yesterday, we took some steps to increase the security of our computers. Unfortunately, we made them so secure that we were unable to log on any of our public access terminals this morning. It took about two hours to get the problem resolved, but with so little recording activity, hardly anyone seemed to be effected by it. Our internal computers continued to work and the Internet was not disrupted at all. I apologize to anyone who was inconvenienced by this. Speaking of computer security, one morning last week while walking through the record hall, my passing glance at the screen of a title examiner's notebook computer caught a glimpse of something that looked like our website being displayed. Curious, I asked the title examiner if he was accessing our website with a wireless Internet connection (I could already see that he wasn’t plugged into our network – that really would have gotten my attention). Without identifying the WIFI connection he was using (we don’t have one), he explained how useful it was to have Internet access on his own computer while here at the registry, especially for saving document images that could be printed later back at his office. That’s certainly cheaper than paying us $1 per copy for stuff he would otherwise print from our public access system. Several months ago, we purchase a very inexpensive wireless hub to do some experimentation, but that made the security folks very nervous (that’s there job), so we shelved the project until appropriate safeguards can be established. Still, within the next year, I see us activating a registry-based, free WIFI connection that will allow registry users with their own notebook computers access to our website from within the registry.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Spam Slayer

Have you ever been so frustrated and angry about junk email that you wanted to scream? Well relief has arrived…(or so they say). IBM is “spamming spammers”. That’s right on Tuesday, Big Blue announced the release of software that identifies computers that originate unwanted email then bounces it back to the sender…(”Here’s right back at you” )“Spam the spammer”. The software is called FairUCE (Fair use of Unsolicited Commercial Email). This is how IBM’s explains it:
“Technically, FairUCE tries to find a relationship between the envelope senders domain and the IP address of the client delivering the mail, using a series of DNS look ups” (I don’t know what that means either, but I think it's good). “For the vast majority of legitimate mail from AOL to mailing lists to vanity domains, this is a snap. If such a relationship cannot be found, FairUCE attempts to find one by sending a user-customizable challenge/response”.
In other words FairUCE ID’s the email sender then checks its address against other known spammers. If FairUCE can’t verify the sender’s address it sends a “challenge” email. The sender must reply to the challenge to prove that it is a “live” person and not an automated spammer. If it identifies a certain machine as a source of spam… Bam...FairUCE bounces the messages back. The the intent is to clog the spammer and hence slow it down. It’s a great idea, but it's not perfect. IBM estimates that about 20%-30% of spam will slip by its new system. What would you pay for this "spammer slayer"? $100?…how about $200?… maybe $300? Well how about FREE…yes free…IBM is making the software available free on its Web site. You know what they eye for an eye...and a spam for a spam. Sounds FairUCE to me.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

E-Recording Is Back

After a wait of several months (due to a variety of reasons), we're about to re-commence our journey into the brave new world of electronic recording. Later this week, we're supposed to move the software from the test system onto our live recording system and do more testing. We will continue to use the blog to keep everyone abreast of what's happening. My sense is that E-Recording is spreading around the country, but it's also evolving quickly as most new technologies (or uses of technology) do. For that reason, I continue to think that we want to proceed slowly and deliberately with this. Everyone embraces the concept of electronic recording, but the more you know about it, the more you realize you don't know about it. So we're entering an educational phase right now. More on this later in the week.

Monday, March 21, 2005


This summer the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds will celebrate its 150th anniversary. In anticipation the wheels have already begun to turn looking for ways to highlight the registry’s rich history. It is obvious that tremendous changes have taken place over the years. I would guess that the changes in the registry's first 130 years were minor in comparison to the last 20 years. Governor Henry Joseph Gardner approved the act establishing the Middlesex North Register on March 24, 1855. “Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representative in General Court assembled and by the authority of same as follows: Sect1. The city of Lowell the towns of Dunstable, Tyngsboro, Dracut, Tewksbury, Billerica, Chelmsford, Carlisle, Wilmington and Westford in the county of Middlesex are hereby constituted a district for the registry of deeds, which district shall be known as the Northern District of Middlesex and for all things relating to the register or registry of deeds or other instruments, shall be deemed to be a county and all provisions of law concerning such office shall apply to that office except as is hereinafter provided; and the office of said registry shall be kept in the court-house in the city of Lowell. If you were wondering, the first Register of Deeds in the Middlesex North District was Asahel B. Wright. He served from 1855-1868. In the coming months you will hear more about our plans to commemorate this milestone. And as always…your suggestions are welcome.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Homesteads & Refinancing

The past two Sundays, the Lowell Sun has run a column by Attorney James Haroutunian of Billerica on the Declaration of Homestead. Both the newspaper and Attorney Haroutunian would be impressed with the influence they wield over their readers – this we’ve been flooded with homeowners wanting to record homesteads. Those that we’ve asked have cited the newspaper column as the reason for their visit. Besides acquainting people with the general homestead provisions, the most recent article plunges into the “should you record a new homestead after you refinance” controversy. The article is unambiguous: the headline reads “Record new homestead after refinancing loan.” I’m still not convinced that a new mortgage requires a new homestead. Without a Supreme Judicial Court decision or a clarification of the statute, I’m not sure there’s much point in debating this issue. I suspect that as long as there is a homestead, whether it predates the new mortgage or was recorded afterwards, courts will liberally apply the homesteads protection and not get bogged down in legal technicalities.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

St Patrick's Day

The story goes… Merrimack Mills agent Kirk Boott donated a plot of company land for a Catholic church to be built to establish “stability” within Lowell’s new Irish community. In 1831 St Patrick’s was completed and marked the permanent settlement of the Irish in Lowell. This section of land encompassing the “Acre” grew rapidly in the 1840’s as Irish immigrants streamed into Lowell to escape the poverty of their homeland. The original Irish settlers lived on the out skirts of the town in an area called “Paddy Camp Lands”. A copy of a map depicting “Paddy Camp Lands” in 1832 was recently discovered here at the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds. You can view this map by following the links on the registry’s home page. The deed that transferred the property donated by Boott for the construction of St Patrick’s is also viewable at this registry. Unfortunately, all ethnic groups have suffered discrimination and injustice when settling in a new land…the Irish were no exception. The following are excerpts from actual deeds recorded over one hundred years ago in the Lowell registry. They bring these harsh realities back to us. These deeds can be seen in their entirety at the registry.

May 27, 1889
I, Charles D. Wald in consideration of $37.00 paid by Henry W. Copp do hereby grant to Henry W. Copp the land in Wilmington …subject to the following restrictions,viz: That said premises are not occupied or conveyed to any Negroes or Irish…

May 5, 1881
We Susan B. Butters and Eleanor P. Butters of Lowell in consideration of $3,000 grant to Abel T Atherton of Lowell the land on the Easterly side of Fairmont street… the said premises being deeded under the express agreement and condition that the land shall never be deeded or conveyed to any person born in Ireland.

Happy St Patrick’s Day

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

More on Privacy

Today’s mail brought a tax lien from the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office that prominently displayed the taxpayer’s social security number. In yesterday’s blog entry, I explained that in most cases we will not record documents containing social security numbers. State and federal tax documents, however, are the exception. About a year ago I raised the identity theft issue in relation to social security numbers on state tax liens with an official from DOR. The response, to paraphrase, was “if they paid their taxes they wouldn’t have to worry about it.” More recently, I’ve seen a recognition by some at DOR that this is a problem, but the social security numbers continue to appear. It’s probably time to set up a meeting. The IRS also routinely puts social security numbers on liens that are recorded here. The challenge we face at the registry is not just for future documents. We have thousands of previously recorded tax liens (and other documents) that contain social security numbers. Removing this sensitive information from these records on such a large scale requires some kind of formal legal authority I believe. Even if we obtain that, the task of finding then redacting this information will be a huge project. But, no matter how much we try to ignore it, it’s not going away, so we might as well start to address it now.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Identity Theft Revisited

A blog entry last week discussed identity theft and the need to do something about it. Well, as the old saying goes, “be careful what you wish for because it might come true.” Today I came in contact with a concerned citizen from another part of the state who had some very tangible and disturbing observations about registry of deeds records. This person had stumbled upon several land records that contained the social security numbers of the individuals involved. He pointed out to me the broader vulnerability of our system to wrong doers intent on stealing personal information. (Since further details would increase the odds of this actually happening, I’ll omit them). Here’s our current policy regarding social security numbers. We will not record a document that contains a social security number (except for state and federal tax liens which warrant their own discussion, probably tomorrow). We give the customer the option of crossing out the social security number or of not recording the document. We haven’t had a problem with this yet. Unfortunately, that hasn’t always been the registry’s policy, so there are documents on record that contain social security numbers. When someone brings such a document to our attention, we have altered the document image to obscure the social security number. This, of course, is contrary to a record custodian’s every instinct – altering an existing record is very serious business. But I’ve concluded that the risk of serious harm posed by publishing a social security number on the Internet outweighs the problems that might arise by this limited alteration. That’s enough for today. Check back tomorrow for part two of this discussion.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Press, Press, Pull

Last week California Judge, James Kleinberg ruled that three Apple Website bloggers must reveal sources that provided them with Apple trade secrets. These bloggers published information on their Web sites that had been leaked to them by Apple employees. Apple demanded that the three bloggers, ThinkSecret, AppleInsider, and PowerPage, provide the names of the sources of the stolen information. The case attracted national attention when the sites representatives claimed to be “journalists” and were protected by Federal and California law from disclosing their source. The journalist protection privilege in California is known as the “shield law”. The judge did not agree. He ruled that the subpoenas lodged by Apple against the bloggers were legitimate. According to The Blog Herald many observers are judging Apples actions as an attack on blogging, an assumption that has troubled Apple. The judge noted that what constitutes a journalist is “murky” in the online age, but refused to address whether Web site writers, or bloggers are journalist. Kleinberg cleverly avoided the issue. The judge ruled that protecting Apple’s trade secrets out weighed the publics right to information about Apple, as well as the bloggers right to publish it. Since the defendant’s claims would have been rejected even if they were journalist the judge was silent on whether a blogger is a journalist with the same protection rights. This is probably only the first of many cases we will see that will seek to define the responsibilities and standing of blogging and bloggers. I guess I'll have to wait a while for that Pulitzer Prize.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Identity Theft

Every day, it seems, the newspapers carry another story about a security breach at some company whereby sensitive personal information for tens of thousands of people was either inadvertently disclosed or allowed to be hacked. In the latest incident, the Lexis/Nexis Group disclosed that names, addresses and social security numbers of 30,000 people have fallen into the hands of thieves. Most of us know Lexis as one of the pioneers in the electronic legal research business but the company has obviously branched out. This latest breach occurred when the passwords of legitimate users were somehow obtained by unknown individuals who prospected the supposedly secure database. Of course, this all invites the question, why do the “legitimate” users need our social security numbers in the first place. But back to the unauthorized use of this information: Congress has to pass legislation prohibiting these companies from packaging and selling our personal information without our consent. Otherwise, confidence in and acceptance of electronic commerce will fade and years of progress and innovation will be lost.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Indexing Update

We continue to add new material to our website. To see the latest addition, follow the “Indexing” link on our website which now contains a Quick Reference Guide for Indexing documents. Seven or more years ago, when it became obvious that registry indexes were destined to reside on computers and not in paper books, we began to emphasize indexing standards. Common indexing methods are critical to standardizing registry computer systems. Even if all registries used identical computer systems, user searches would still yield different results unless registry employees enter data into their respective computer systems in the same way. As a step towards this necessary indexing standardization, the Massachusetts Association of Registers and Assistant Registers of Deeds adopted the Massachusetts Deed Indexing Standards in January 2000. These standards are excellent, but they only go so far. Issues that are not covered by the standards are constantly arising, so we have created local rules to supplement these standards. Hopefully, these local rules will lead to a statewide discussion on updating the January 2000 Standards. We will keep you posted on that effort. In the meantime, please check out our Indexing Quick Reference Guide and send us you comments and suggestions.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005


How about a short quiz to brighten up a wintery Wednesday. This time it’s real estate related “acronyms”. An acronym is a word formed from the initial letters of a name, such as FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) or ASAP (As Soon As Possible).
Now that you’ve got it… let’s give it a try? What do the following Acronyms stand for?
For the answers check the comments section of this blog entry.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

New Bankruptcy Law

Indications are that the US Senate is about to pass a bill that will toughen existing bankruptcy law. The new version will make it more difficult for ordinary citizens to dig themselves out from debt. The credit card industry (the prime proponent of this legislation) maintains that these changes are necessary because people have been abusing the bankruptcy laws by living recklessly on borrowed money and then walking away from their obligations. Others say that most bankruptcies are the direct result of some personal crisis – an unforeseen medical condition, divorce, an extended period of unemployment, for example – and that providing the opportunity for a fresh start financially is the right and fair thing to do. Ironically, liberal bankruptcy laws were much preferred by our Founding Fathers, many of whom were farmers who relied heavily on credit and who could be wiped out financially by one bad crop. They saw the wisdom of affording a person the opportunity for a fresh start. What’s this all got to do with the registry of deeds? For the ordinary Massachusetts homeowner, the Declaration of Homestead now becomes more important than ever. A watered down bankruptcy law that just stretches out your payments rather than allowing you to start over doesn’t provide much protection. Please check out the Homestead link on our web page ( which has been updated with some new information.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Registered Land By Town 2004

Listed below are some interesting statistics regarding Registered Land recordings in 2004. The first column is the name of the Middlesex North Community, the second the number of Registered Land documents recorded by that community and the third is the percentage of a community’s total documents which are registered. Carlisle, Billerica and Wilmington topped the percentage list with double-digit numbers. Billerica, Lowell and Wilmington recorded the highest number of Registered land documents.

Town Total Reg Land % of Total
Billerica 2,202 (16.1)
Carlisle 370 19.4
Chelmsford 504 4.0
Dracut 389 3.6
Dunstable 9 .05
Lowell 1,319 5.1
Tewksbury 922 8.6
Tyngsborough 121 3.0
Westford 295 3.8
Wilmington 1,163 15.7

The total number of Registered Land Recorded for the year was 7,959.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Website "Links" Redesigned

Sorry to be late with yesterday’s blog entry, but I got carried away with a redesign of the “Links” section of the website ( This portion of the website has gone through several evolutions. The initial design from several years ago had only a handful of links that were labeled in a very general way. The problem with this design was that if you were unsure of something’s location, you had to click through several pages deep, but if you guessed wrong, you would have to back out and try again. To counteract that problem, we made the links section very extensive, exhaustively listing topics in alphabetical order. The resulting list, however, proved too long, so we’ve been working on a new and improved version. What’s on the site right now is just an interim measure. Hopefully, the new version will be online by the end of the day (Friday).

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

A Knight to Remember

The Mother Country, England that is…decided it was time to honor a great American. Microsoft Chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates received an honorary Knighthood this morning in Buckingham Palace. Queen Elizabeth awarded Gates the title “Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire”. Earlier today I was telling a friend of mine about Gates’ great honor.
He said: So why should I care?…is my computer still going to freeze when I run two programs at once?
Tony: Well I guess so… He’s only a Knight you know… not a Prince.
Friend: They’re not going to dress him up in a suit of armor and parade him around on a white horse are they?
Tony: No…England is in the modern times now…They’ve got “fish and chips”, beer, lipitor…you name it.
Friend: A President?
Tony: No.
Friend: What do we call Mr. Gates now that he's a Knight?
Tony: It could be one of a several titles…"William Gates CEO, KBE Zillionaire" or "Sir William Gates Zillionaire" or maybe just plain old "Knight Bill Zillionaire".
Friend: Is “zillionaire” officially part of the English title?
Tony: No…that’s the American part. On second thought…Bill is not really a "Sir". They only give that title to English citizens like Paul McCartney…
Friend: He’s not going to perform at the Super Bowl next year is he?
Tony: Of course not!… I heard that during the ceremony Gates (KBE) kneeled before the Queen and said the famous motto of the order of chivalry…“For God and Empire”.
Friend: I thought “Microsoft” was the Empire
Tony: Yeah, right…I guess that's true…the sun never sets on Microsoft does it.
Friend: If I were Bill Gates, CEO of the largest most influential computer company in the world, I would have refused the Knighthood.
Tony: Why?
Friend: Well… I hear the Queen still has trouble playing Pong on Prince Charles’s Atari.
Tony: Did you eat yet? How about some crumpets and tea?
Friend: You pay…I’m no Zillionarie nor Knight for that matter.
I've got to get new friends!

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Fast Profits With Real Estate

It seems that short term real estate investments have replaced the stock market as the vehicle for the average American to quickly achieve great wealth. A story in today’s New York Times (“Speculators Seeing Gold in a Boom in the Prices for Homes”) describes how many folks have plunged into the preconstruction real estate market, buying homes and condominiums that are not even built with the intent of selling them quickly for a fast profit. The website will send you a how to video for just $197 in case anyone is interested. I have attributed the rapid increase in home prices to low interest rates, but it seems like that’s only part of the reason prices have risen and stayed so high. With conservative investments earning only 3% or 4% and many still using their capital loss carryovers from the stock market plunge of just a few years ago, real estate certainly looks like a solid investment. And over time it is. The problem is that the appreciation in property values is neither steady nor constant. At least twice in the past twenty years, real estate prices in the Greater Lowell area have plunged, causing great losses for many property owners. Let’s hope it doesn’t happen again anytime soon.