Saturday, April 30, 2005

Three Set Rule Revisited

The “last day of the month” has always been the busiest time at the registry of deeds and that was certainly true yesterday. Despite recent average recording numbers of about 300 documents per day, we processed more than 700 documents on April 29. While we are certainly capable of handling 700 documents (that was our daily average two years ago), our recording line got jammed up late yesterday when three separate customers reached the recording counter, each with multiple sets of documents. By set, I mean a group of documents related to the same transaction. For example, a MLC, 6D certificate, deed, mortgage, second mortgage and homestead would make up a typical “set.” When a customer arrives at the counter with nine sets of documents (as was the case in at least one instance yesterday) that means we must index and cashier about 45 different documents which takes quite a long time. And when three people do it at once, that ties up all of our primary recording stations causing the unfortunate customers behind these high volume recorders to wait for a lengthy period of time. We’ve already addressed this problem during our reduced-staff lunch periods by imposing a three sets limit between noon and 2:00 p.m. But in the aftermath of this past Friday’s situation, I’m contemplating extending this rule to the entire day. This rule does not impose an outright prohibition on the number of documents one person can record, it just means that you might have to make several trips to the recording counter. During your first trip, you could record three sets of documents, but if you had more and anyone was in line behind you, you would have to move to the back of the line and start over again. Since the vast majority of our customers only record documents for one or two transactions at a time, this rule would only benefit them since it would prevent them from having to wait behind someone who was recording so many documents at one time that they tie up a recording station for 30 or 45 minutes.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Condo Conversion in Lowell

Our colleagues at the Suffolk County Registry of Deeds have often spoken of the widespread conversion of many of Boston’s traditional three family homes into condominiums. This Sunday’s Globe real estate section corroborated this phenomenon with a front page story about such conversions and how they are driven primarily by the high cost of real estate. While many middle income families cannot afford $600,000+ for a home, single family or otherwise, many can afford the $300,000+ that one of these condos sell for. It seems that a similar trend has arrived in Lowell. While most of the condominium-themed publicity in this area has been of downtown office buildings being converted to expensive residential condominiums, there has also been a significant number of small-in-number-of-units condominiums created recently. The following statistics are based on the number of Master Deeds recorded in the recorded land section of the registry (the first step in creating a condominium is to record a Master Deed). From 1996 to 2000, we recorded a total of six – yes, only six – Master Deeds. That five year total was exceeded in 2001 when seven were recorded. A spike occurred in 2002 with 22 while 2003 saw a slide to 15 Master Deeds. Last year was the breakthrough year, however, when 41 Master Deeds (an average of 3.4 per month) were recorded. The pace this year is more intense. To date, 17 Master Deeds have been recorded, a pace of 4.5 per month. Of these 17 condo developments, one has 31 units, one has 27 and another has 12. Ten of the developments only have two units (one has three units, one has four, and two have six). Certainly with the large number of 2-unit condo developments, there is a clear indication that the trend of converting multi-family homes to small condominium developments has arrived in Lowell.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

MAR stats

More statistics. Yesterday, a day after national reports, the Massachusetts Association of Realtors released their March statistics. This state’s figures are staggering when compared to the nation. In March 2005 the median home sale price in Massachusetts was $350,000. This figure is up 12.7% from March of 2004 ($310,000). The national median home price for March was $195,000…44% lower than Massachusetts. The median price for Condominiums in Massachusetts is $265,000, an increase of 10.9% over last year’s $239,000. Even thought Condo prices have skyrocket in the past few years, the rate of increase actually slowed last year. Median Condominium prices in March 2005 fell $5,000 from February. Experts feel that Condos may be cooling due to an increase in inventory. In the first quarter of 2005, 8,654 single families homes were sold in Massachusetts. In 2004 this figure was 8,288. Of course low interest rates continue to be the biggest factor in this strong market. According to Steve Andrews, Vice President of capital markets for Sovereign Bank, “mortgage rates have remained low because the bond market has felt the Fed has been successful in containing inflation”.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Guarding Your Identity

The Sunday newspapers were filled with stories about identity theft. The lack of any action by our state or federal government leaves me wondering if the respective governing bodies are just slow to act or is this simply a manufactured crisis, a kind of media (and blog) stoked hysteria that really is not such a big problem. But since I’m not yet sure which is the case, I’ll take some steps to try to protect my identity. The Boston Globe recommends three things in particular: shred all sensitive information such as credit card bills and copies of tax returns since most identity theft is done by so called “dumpster divers” who steal the information by going through your trash. If you have a wireless network at home, use all a real password (not the name of your child or pet) to get onto the network. Unsecured wireless networks apparently broadcast the electronic equivalent of a “Please Steal My Information” sign high tech thieves. And get copies of your credit report annually to ensure that no unauthorized transactions have taken place. The story also says consumers should not worry about using credit cards to shop online since that information is encrypted while the transaction is accomplished (of course, if the company saves all your credit card information on a computer server that’s unprotected, it might get stolen from there, but that’s true whether you buy online or in person).

Monday, April 25, 2005

March Stats

The National Association of realtor has released its report on the sales of
pre-owned homes and condominiums for March 2005. Sales rose to 6.04 million units. This figure is up 1.2% from February’s total of 5.97 million units. This marks the third best sales month in history. The median home price in the US rose to $195,000, up 11% from March of 2004. Fueled by low interest rates, housing prices and sales have remained strong over the past several years. Some Realtors are predicting a slow down in the market in the upcoming months. Last week a report was released showing a 17% plunge in new construction starts for March. According to NAR Chief Economist David Lereah, “the market is very strong. The problem in this country is housing supply. It is very lean”.

Friday, April 22, 2005


Google, the search engine giant, released a controversial service on Wednesday. “My Search History” is a service that stores a user’s personal Internet search history. The service also analyzes your search history and suggests other related webs sites and searches. “My Search History” is not available until you register for the service. Once signed up, it displays a calendar which lists the your report showing your activities. The service does allow you to suspend the feature or delete past searches. But…Google keeps all records (including deleted ones) to help them target advertising. In coming weeks it will be interesting to see just how many people opt for the convenient service “My Search History” offers vs. the protection of the privacy.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Plan Indices

In the past few weeks I have been asked a couple of time about our plan indices. You can search the plan back to 1933 on the computer back. Earlier information is kept on 3X5 index cards in the lower record hall. These cards are arranged in alphabetical order by Street name. There is a second set of cards listing plan owners alphabetically. Last year we tried to input the card information into the computer. It sounds simple but we ran into a technical problem. In order to make the plan images available a false index was created when the ACS system was installed. The new entry we added caused a second entry without overriding the first. One entry provided the image, the second the index information. I am sure it will not be long before this problem is solved.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Computer Enabled

The expanded uses and capabilities of computers is pushing the creation of gadgets into the world of the incredible and sometimes “unbelievable”. I recently stumbled across a website ( which listed some of these newer computer enabled devices.

Clocky- This is a clock for people for have trouble getting up in the morning. Listen to this…when you press the snooze alarm…Clocky rolls off the table and finds a hiding spot. It keeps ringing until you get out of bed and shut it off…I’m not kidding.
Auto Charge Flashlight- How many times have you reached for the flashlight only to fine the batteries were dead? I know…you don’t even have to answer…Well, that won’t happen with the T-100 Dynamo. T100 is ready when you need it. It contains an electric generator that converts mechanical energy into electricity… No light?…just squeeze
T-100 for one minute and presto…”let there be light”.
Hokey Spokes- Hokey Spokes attaches illuminated blades to the spokes of your bicycle wheels. “What’s the big deal?”…Hokey Spokes has a mini-computer inside its blades that produces modulated strings of LED displays. You can program Hokey Spokes to display text messages on you bike’s wheels as you ride.
SensorBin- Calling all clean-niks…SensorBin is a hands free automatic lid opening waste bin. It uses a “smartchip” which allows you to get the trash into the bin without touching it. Place your hand near the bin and it opens automatically. Drop the trash in…7 seconds later the bin closes.
Eye Ball R1- This is a compact wireless display system designed to take 360 degree pictures. It is shaped like a ball and very rugged. You can throw it, toss it etc. Who would use Eye Ball R1? Law Enforcement Officers…before officers enter a building, R1 could be projected inside and transmit wireless pictures on demand.

Ah computers…they are amazing aren’t they?

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Have you Heard?

In case you haven’t noticed… we have three new audio files on our website. In the first Register Howe talks about some basic concepts related to Registered Land. The Register’s second interview is a two-part discussion dealing with “Lowell in the Civil War”. This interview focuses on the tragic events that took place in Baltimore on April 19, 1861. Three soldiers from Lowell and one from Lawrence were killed by Southern sympathizers during a riot as they were being transported across the city. The death of Luther Ladd, Addison Whitney, Charles Taylor and Sumner Needham (Lawrence) were the first of the Civil War. They became the first martyrs of the great rebellion and became symbols for the country to rally around. If you have any suggestions for topics you would like to hear the register discuss feel free to let us know. You can do this using the “Contact Us” button on the Website.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Website Problems

Late yesterday (Friday) we received an email informing us that the building that houses the masslandrecords computer would be having electrical work done this weekend and would be closed until at least Sunday night. The message specifically stated that the masslandrecords site would remain in operation. Unfortunately, I suspect that was incorrect since I'm already receiving many emails about the site being down. So, if you cannot access our database and you do happen to read this, sorry for the inconvenience, but it's beyond our control right now. Things should return to normal Sunday night.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Son of Internet

I’ll bet you heard of Terminator 2 and Godzilla 2...but have you heard of Internet2? Internet2 was established in 1996. It is a high–speed network that connects 200 universities and 60 corporations for the purpose of research and testing. It is not connected to the main Internet and therefore not open to the public. When I say high-speed…I am not kidding. Recently, Internet2 has hit the news in a big way. This lightning fast communication network can download a movie 1,000 times faster than today’s Internet. One computer expert stated that every song ever recorded by Aerosmith could be downloaded in 5 seconds. It is kind of like today’s Internet on steroids. At issue is the music industry’s decision to pursue users of Internet2 who are downloading pirated music. At this time only students of participating universities can connect to Internet2. Students access Internet2 using i2hub and share files at an incredible rate of speed. thei2hub.organization states that it is a “platform for students from colleges, universities and institutions globally, providing instant access to an academic community built on collaboration”. Sounds great…the only thing is RIAA (The Recording Industry Association of America) thinks i2hub is being used illegally to share music and movies. The Question…How long will it be before the consumer industry (the rest of us) demand the same access? All of us want to download files (legally of course) 1,000 times faster with this souped up "Son of Internet”? Just when I thought I had “dial up” figured out they throw this at me.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Top Five Privacy Issues

While exploring privacy issues, I came upon an interesting article from the Computerworld website. Dated December 28, 2004, this article discussed the “Top Five Privacy Issues for 2005.” In general, people are very concerned about privacy, but the majority would be willing to take “significant information sharing risks for small benefit.” For example, consumers will provide enormous amounts of personal information to an airline or the federal government if it allows them to get through airport security faster. The five specific issues identified were (1) the need for a universal ID credential, probably one that uses biometrics such as fingerprinting or voice recognition for authentication. (2) Companies should actively pursue people and entities that spoof the company’s web identity. Cybercriminals target major companies with counterfeit Web sites and emails. Companies must find ways to protect their brand identity from such attacks. (3) Customers prefer to view Internet ads that are relevant to them but are concerned about the security of the information that’s used to target them. (4) When it comes to traveling, people are more concerned about their safety than their privacy. (5) Companies that are trusted perform better. Earning a customer’s trust may be a prerequisite to achieving a more profitable relationship. At first glance, these items may seem to be more relevant to corporate America than to a registry of deeds or a small law office. Still, I suspect that the general principals apply to everyone.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

More on Identity Theft

Yesterday’s news that LexisNexis had exposed the personal information of 310,000 people to criminals (not the 32,000 LexisNexis initially reported in March) has caused the simmering issue of identity theft to reach a low boil. I’ve been carrying on an off-line debate with several prominent attorneys on this issue. One took issue with my recent criticism of the IRS and the Massachusetts DOR for continuing to put social security numbers on tax liens that are recorded at the registry of deeds. The argument in favor of including social security numbers on tax liens is that access to this absolutely unique identifier gives the conveyancing attorney the certainty required in determining that a lien does (or more importantly, does not) relate to the party involved in the pending real estate transaction. And, as between this need for certainty and the likelihood of public disclosure of the social security number of a tax delinquent, well, just pay your taxes on time and you won’t have to worry about it. I see two flaws in this approach. First, as another of my corresponding counselors points out, you can usually do the same thing using the last four digits of the social security number rather than the complete number. It is highly unlikely that the last four digits of your innocent client’s and the tax delinquent’s social security numbers would match. Why, that’s as inconceivable as the Red Sox winning the World Series. But I digress. In the unlikely event that the four numbers do match, then the attorney could inquire further. The second problem is that today’s tax delinquent is tomorrow’s upstanding citizen. People, especially those who dabble in real estate for a living, tend to experience wide financial swings. While their economic status changes over time, their social security numbers always stay the same. More on this tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Loose Document Pages

A small but growing group of customers has gotten into the habit of plopping a stack of loose document pages in front of our cashier terminals and standing there while we try to discern whether the pages make up one document or several. Often, the person on the other side of the counter knows less about the documents than we do since we’ve at least looked at them by that point, so asking the customer to sort things out hasn’t been successful. With increasing frequency, we’ve been missing documents at the bottom of the stack. For example, just yesterday we discovered that a 12 page mortgage recorded on Friday was in fact a 10 page mortgage followed by a 2 page homestead. Assignments of leases and rents (or just plain assignments) have been tacked on to the back of mortgages. We try to be careful, but when the standard mortgage comes with several riders, seeing signature blocks scattered throughout a single document is not unusual. To remedy this problem, we’ve instituted a new rule. The pages of multiple page documents must be fastened together with either a staple or a paper clip when presented for recording, otherwise the documents we will reject the documents. And just a reminder, once a document is recorded, no changes may be made to it. So please, scrutinize your documents with extra care before sending them on their way to the registry of deeds.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Peanuts & Cracker Jacks?

Ah, Opening Day…the crack of the bat, the pop of leather gloves…the Red Sox. Nothing says spring more than baseball. I am far from a “FANatic”, but I do enjoy the sport. Admittedly, I am a fair-weather fan. My life became so much simpler once I admitted it to myself and others…the Sox lose…”ah, they stink”…the Sox win…”how about MY Sox”. With this in mind I offer the following Opening Day questions:
Would you, or anyone you know, spend the night sleeping on Lansdown Street for tickets to a baseball game?
If Schilling gave up eleven hits and seven runs to a minor league team last week…What do you think the Yankees are going to do to him on Wednesday?
Do you believe the rumor that the camera crazed Johnny Damon is really Matt’s paternal twin?
Nomar Who?
Do you think the Mets would trade Pedro to us for Wells?
Does anyone buy peanuts and Cracker Jacks at the ballpark anymore?
Can anyone afford to buy peanuts and Cracker Jacks at the ballpark anymore?
Why don’t professional ball players forget the illegal stuff and just start eating their Wheaties again?
Do you think it is possible that Kevin Millar’s great great grandfather was a bad speller?
Do you think the Sox can repeat?

Friday, April 08, 2005

Touch Screen Technology

There’s a real surge in recordings of Declarations of Homestead these days. Each day, homeowners come to the registry, fill out the form, have it notarized and record it, all of which takes less than ten minutes. Because our Homestead form requires customers to exhibit their penmanship when filling in the blanks, we can say that the state of handwriting in America is slipping. In an attempt to improve the legibility of these customer-created Homesteads, we are developing a “Homestead Maker” that uses touch screen technology. Here’s how it works: We’ve taken an old PC and written a program that prompts the user for the information necessary to complete the form such as name, address, town and book and page reference. This program causes a computer keyboard to appear on the computer’s screen. All the customer has to do is touch the letters needed to fill in the blanks and press the “print” button. A fully typed Homestead form will emerge and the customer signs it and we notarize it and record it. The prototype we’ve been experimenting with has yielded very good results, so good that we see the next step has self-contained Homestead kiosks that can be placed in town halls or libraries throughout the district.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Don't Get Hooked

Don't you mean “fishing”?
No…if you haven’t heard of “Phishing” yet, it won’t be long before you do. “Phishing is a technique used to gain personal information for the purpose of identity theft, using fraudulent e-mail messages that appear to come from legitimate businesses”. These messages look authentic and are designed to make recipients reveal personal information such as bank passwords. Here is how it works. An email is sent from what “appears” to be a legitimate company such as eBay, AOL, Yahoo, Citibank etc. These scammers package their email in such away that it looks exactly like the company’s home page (these people are good). The email might inform you that your account could be suspended if you do not re-update your account information. In some cases people have been asked to give credit card information, social security numbers, ATM pins, birth date and mother’s maiden name. Statistics say that because these emails look so authentic, up to 20% of the recipients respond to them and suffer some sort of lose. Popular targets are users of online banking and auction sites such as eBay. In March of 2005, US Senator Patrick Leahy filed a bill called the Anti-Phishing Act. It proposes that “Phishers” (I guess that’s what you would call them) be subject to fines of up to $250,000 and jail time of up to five years. Anti Phishing websites are popping up everywhere: gives daily news from the net about phishing; lists a collection of phishing alerts and reports; and if you would like to see an actual sample of phishing go to . Email is great… but just don’t get hooked by it.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Electronic Recording and the Rundown

As we ease our way into electronic recording, I expect that the earliest documents submitted will not be particularly time sensitive. These will be documents that would otherwise by sent to us by mail and we assume if you are relying on the U.S. Postal Service (as good as it is) to get us the documents, you’re not especially concerned with the half dozen documents that are recorded immediately before yours. Time sensitive documents such as deeds and mortgages are a different story. When a customer brings one of those to the recording counter, he has (usually) just used one of our public access terminals to do a rundown that includes every document recorded up to that moment. To bridge the gap between the end of that rundown and the actual recording – only a few minutes given the low volume of recordings these days – we have an automatic look back feature on our recording terminals. When we enter a name in the grantor index for an about to be recorded document, if that same name has been entered into the computer during the preceding 45 minutes, a pop-up warning box appears stating that the same name appeared in an earlier document, giving the book and page number of that document. The recording clerk then tells the customer about the warning and the customer either tells us to proceed (presumably he already knows about that document) or pulls back from the recording counter to check it out. Since our website is instantly updated with new recordings, the remote customer can do a final search over the Internet just before pressing the “Send to Recorder” button on the electronic recording screen. That mimics the at-the-registry rundown before getting in line at the recording counter. And the cashiering terminals still have the 45-minute look back feature, regardless of whether the name has been typed by a registry clerk or submitted electronically. But the parallels end there. What if we have a name match with an electronically submitted document? The customer is no longer three feet away on the other side of the recording counter. The customer is now miles away on the other side of cyber space. Do we automatically reject the entire submission? Do we record it anyway? Neither of those seem like good solutions to this problem. We have some ideas, but if any of you have suggestions, we would really appreciate hearing them.

Monday, April 04, 2005

The last 1131

Great news! We received the go ahead from the Secretary of State’s Office to scan our final 1131 records books. The project involves digitizing and naming (by book & page) more than 650,000 microfilm images. When completed all Recorded Land documents from Book 1(July 1855) to present will be available to the public electronically. Of course, this includes Internet accessibility as well. Digital Scanning Inc of Situate will do the work. Digital Scanning does 100% visual quality control. While this project is just beginning we are nearing completion on our Registered Land scanning project. Over the past ten months, we have scanned approximately 114,000 Registered Land instruments in-house. There are only about 25,000 left to be done. We can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. We hope to finish this project by July 1. The registry’s 150-year celebration will take place this July. Our objective is to have all our recorded and registered land documents available on the Internet for the anniversary.

Friday, April 01, 2005


What’s the big deal about something very, very small? That was the subject of a presentation on nanotechnology at the University of Massachusetts Lowell last evening. With $1 trillion expected to be spent in this field over the next ten years, universities all over the world are racing to achieve breakthroughs. While everyone else seems focused on experimentation in the laboratory, UML has broken from the pack by focusing on nanomanufacturing which is the act of making nano products of high quality, quickly and on a large scale. A nano product is something very, very small with millions of nanos fitting on the head of a pin, for example. Nano products fall into just about every field imaginable. In the future, cars will be lighter and stronger because they’ll be made of plastic that has been altered through nanotechnology. Hypodermic needles will become obsolete as future medicines made with nanotechnology will be delivered by absorption through the skin. Try as I might, I have not yet imagined an application for nanotechnology here at the registry of deeds. Nevertheless, it’s worth writing about because it is sure to transform much about the way we live our lives in the very near future.