Thursday, December 31, 2009

Top Registry Events of 2009

As this very interesting year draws to a close amidst cold temperatures and heavy snow, here are some of the top events of 2009:

The state’s financial crisis caused mid-year cuts and a reduced budget for FY10, curbing our ability to implement new technology and registry-related applications.

Despite the slow overall real estate market, there was a surge in electronic recording this year. The total number of documents recorded annually since we implemented the system are as follows: In 2005 – 1057; in 2006 – 1871; in 2007 – 3491; in 2008 – 3956; and in 2009 – 8100.

Using existing equipment and our employees, we completed several scanning projects. The last of our older record books were disassembled and scanned replacing and improving the existing images of those documents which were derived from microfilm; all “county layout” plans were scanned; all registered land books back to book 183 were taken out of service after they were fully scanned.

The Middlesex South Satellite office was reorganized in March, then closed at the end of June, but immediately re-opened by the Secretary of State’s office which continues to operate the Satellite Office at the end of the year but announced that it will close permanently on January 22, 2010.

As soon as 16GB flash drives became affordable, we allowed customers to bring us their own drives and obtain a free copy our entire 1630-1975 PDF grantor/grantee index which was previously available only on in-house registry computers.

Since all books have been taken out of service and all document images are available online, the registry turned in the last of its coin operated photocopiers.

Hollywood occupied the courthouse for a few days this summer to film some scenes from “The Fighter”, the story of Lowell’s Micky Ward which stars acting heavyweights Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale and Amy Adams.

This fall, the registry made hand sanitizer and tissues available for staff and customers in an effort to minimize the impact of the H1N1 flu.

The Registered Land section was relocated from the rear of the building where it had been located for more than ten years to the former record hall which allowed us to consolidate all recording functions in one place. The former registered land office was transformed into a public closing area but was then pressed into service as the Middlesex South Satellite Office while that function was controlled by the Secretary of State’s office.

The registry tried to maximize our use of “new media” as a means of communicating with our customers, shifting our six-year old blog to the Blogger hosting service; we also created a fan page for the registry on Facebook; and began using our Twitter account regularly.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Live and Learn

"Live and Learn" as they say...well we did just that. Yesterday, the power went out at the registry of deeds for about an hour. The outage taught us a lesson. We operate two main terminals for recording documents. They are located on the counter in the Recording Hall. When the power went down yesterday, so did these "essential cashiering stations". Fortunately, an employee had only "just" begun to record on one of these when the lights went out, so no information was lost. But a lesson was learned...these terminals need a battery back up. This morning we took action...we connected both terminals to a small UPS. We know UPS's provide power for a limited time. We do not expect to continue long term recording during a power outage. That's not the plan...rather, in the event of another power fail we now have the capability to finish a recording in process, then do a soft computer shut down. This was a good lesson learned with no harm done.

Cashiering Terminal

Newly Installed Battery Backup

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Top Ten of 2006

I've recently re-posted our Top Ten lists for 2003 and 2005 (don't know what happened to 2004), so here's our list from 2006:

10 Seven new registers of deeds will soon take office across the state in the following districts: Berkshire Middle, Berkshire South, Franklin, Worcester North, Essex North, Nantucket and Bristol North. With much registry-related policy now being established by the Massachusetts Registers of Deeds Association, a turnover of a full one-third of that organization’s membership (there are 21 registries in the Commonwealth) will have a major impact across the state.

9. On December 23, 2006, the LowellDeeds Blog celebrated its 3rd birthday, making it one of the oldest blogs of any type in the area.

8. Statistics became an item of greater interest at the registry this year. For example, early next week we will add a chart to our website that shows thirty years worth of recording data and associated information such as the prime rate and unemployment stats in an historical context.

7. The Middlesex South Satellite Office moved from the rear of the Superior Courthouse to former Record Hall in the front of the building.

6. The electronic images of all pre-1855 documents (the old “Middlesex South” books) were digitized and have now been added to the registry’s website where they can be retrieved by book and page number.

5. The marginal reference data capture project was completed. Employees went through every existing record book to locate all marginal references. These were then entered into a database that will soon be imported into the registry’s primary computer system. With these references captured electronically, the last reason to retain printed books on the shelves was eliminated.

4. Two thousand record books that were created during 1999, 2000 and 2001 were taken out of circulation and placed into storage to allow us to recapture more of the Record Hall for work space. (We stopped making paper books entirely in November 2001).

3. The informal partnership between the registry and MassGIS (the state’s online mapping agency) advanced with Middlesex North participating in GIS Day at the statehouse on November 16 and with both agencies making significant progress in our efforts to integrate our documents with MassGIS’s maps and overhead photos.

2. The slide in the real estate market continued with our overall volume of documents recorded down by 17% from the amount recorded last year. The number of foreclosure deeds recorded this year (165) was a 300% increase from last year, but still not close to our historic high of 761 in 1992.

1. To reduce the risk of identity theft, registry employees redacted thousands of social security numbers from previously recorded documents.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Middlesex South Satellite Office to close on Jan 22, 2010

The Secretary of State’s Office announced today that the Middlesex South Satellite Office which has been operated by the Secretary’s staff since July 1, 2009, will close permanently on Friday, January 22, 2010. The practice of recording of Middlesex North documents at the Middlesex South Registry will cease at the same time.

The Middlesex South Satellite Office in Lowell first opened in July 2003 in response to the surge in recordings at the beginning of the housing bubble. The office was operated by the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds until June 30, 2009 when the Secretary of State’s office assumed operation of the satellite office until such time as electronic recording was fully available at both registries. That service has been in place in Lowell for several years and has been available in Cambridge for the past six months. For more information about electronic recording, please see this page of our website.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Jingle Bells

This is one of my favorite scenes from a Christmas program.

Holiday Jokes

Question: What do snowmen eat for breakfast?
Answer: Snowflakes.

Question: What do you call people who are afraid of Santa Claus?
Answer: Claustrophobic.

Question: What’s red, white and blue at Christmas time?
Answer: A sad candy cane!

Question: What do you call an elf who steals gift wrap from the rich and gives it to the poor?
Answer: Ribbon Hood!

Question: Where do mistletoe go to become famous?
Answer: "Holly" wood!

Question: A Christmas thought:
Answer: STRESSED is just DESSERTS spelled backward.

Question: What do you call a snowman party?
Answer: A Snowball!

Question: What did the big candle say to the little candle?
Answer: I'm going out tonight

Question: What did the ghost say to Santa Claus?
Answer: I'll have a boo Christmas without you

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Arrest made in mortgage fraud scheme

Media reports over the weekend told of the arrest of a lawyer from Marblehead for his role in an alleged mortgage fraud scheme. According to a press release from the office of Attorney General Martha Coakley (the office that conducted the investigation and is prosecuting the case), the attorney would find homes that had pending sales and would then record a fictitious assignment of the existing mortgage in the hope that the attorney handling the closing would contact the bogus company listed on the assignment for a payoff figure and instructions. The check would then be sent to a post office box of the non-existent company instead of to the company that actually held the mortgage. Presumably, sign that something was amiss would be when the original lender began sending foreclosure notices for non-payment of that mortgage. Somehow the scheme was discovered and last Friday, when the lawyer showed up at the bogus company’s post office box to pick-up the first pay-off check, the state police were waiting and arrested him. His case is now pending in Superior Court.

Monday, December 21, 2009


Did you ever wonder...

1. Why do Buffalo Wings taste like chicken?

2. Where do Forest Rangers go to “Get away from it all”?

3. Why does a round pizza come in a square box?

4. Why is the third hand on a watch called the second hand?

5. How did a fool and his money get together in the first place?

6. Why do they call it the Department of the Interior when it takes care of the outdoors?

7. Why do psychics have to ask you your name?

8. What do you call a male ladybug?

9. If a chameleon looked in a mirror what color would it turn?

10. Why do we sing "Take Me Out To The Ball Game” when we are already there?

11. Why do we call seats in a stadium “stands” when they are made for sitting?

12. Why do croutons come in airtight packages when its made from stale bread anyway?

13. Why is it that when you transport something by car it is called a “shipment” but when you transport something by ship its called “cargo”?

14. Why do we park on driveways and drive on parkways?

15. If you pulled the wings off a fly would it be a walk?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Revenue is up

A story in yesterday's Globe reported that state revenue collections are rebounding and show indications of improving even more next year. This news tends to corroborate other reports that the overall economy is improving.

To see if the same thing is happening locally, I've looked at the revenue we've collected here at the registry of deeds this year and have compared it to that collected last year. During 2008, we collected a total of $12,191,884 in recording fees, excise tax and surcharges. Through the end of November 2009, our total was only $11,203,505. Our December collections to date - $436,746 - suggest that we won't meet last year's total. The good news is that our month to month figures for this year have become quite positive. From January through May of 2009, each month showed substantial decreases in collections when compared to the same months in 2008. Since the beginning of July, however, that trend has reversed and we're seeing double digit percentage increases when compared to the same month last year. Overall, every income category but excise tax is up, suggesting that the volume of documents being recorded is increasing. Excise collections are substantially less - $6.3 million in 2008 vs $4.8 million in 2009 - which reflects diminishing property values since the excise tax is calculated based on the sales price of property.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Top Ten Events of 2005

As part of our end-of-the-decade review, here's our list of the Top Ten Events of 2005 at the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds:

As 2005 draws to a close, it’s time for us to review this year’s Top Ten registry events:

10. The procedures at our recording counter were revised, putting more of the responsibility for pre-recording quality control of documents on the customer through the use of a document checklist.

9. Concerns about identity theft and the security of sensitive personal information led the Registers of Deeds Association to establish a prohibition on the recording of documents that contain social security numbers. Thus far, this limitation does not apply to state and federal tax liens and releases.

8. Google Earth, Google Maps and other GIS applications became commonplace and irreplaceable as parts of everyday life. They offered a glimpse of the type of mapping/data integration that will become a core mission for registries of deeds during the next few years.

7. We established a type of free advertising section called “Our Customers” on our website. Real estate professionals with websites can request a short description of their businesses and links to their websites from a designated portion of

6. The total number of recorded land documents processed this year was slightly less than 88,000, a slight decrease from 2004 but further evidence that a slowdown in the real estate market is upon us.

5. The Registers of Deeds Association published a major revision to the Deed Indexing Standards of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to become effective January 1, 2006.

4. Besides turning two years old, the LowellDeeds Blog received an entirely new appearance in December that provides more functionality and permits greater reader involvement.

3. In the National Lumber case, the Massachusetts Appeals Court issued a decision of great significance to registries of deeds. While the Court did, in fact, literally interpret the registry of deeds statute (chapter 36), the interpretation was greatly at odds with the established and accepted practice. Many of the consequences of this case will not become fully apparent until well into 2005.

2. The Middlesex North Registry has devised a method of presenting pre-computer Grantor Indexes to the public as PDF documents on a multi-volume set of CDs. During the first quarter of 2006, all Grantor Indexes back into the 19th Century will be available in this format.

1. Electronic Recording became a daily event during 2005 with nearly 1,000 documents recorded in this manner. There are many details that must still be resolved, but the technology has proven to be useful and reliable.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Basement Uses

For years the basement of the registry of deeds has been used mainly for storage. And for as long as I can remember two finished rooms in the basement and an unfinished tunnel were used for public record access and research. Once we finished scanning all Record Books and Registered Land documents and made them available to the public these areas were freed up for internal registry use. For the last two years the basement area has been used as a scanning room, a function that served use well. We have completed most of our scanning projects so the need for a large room used solely for scanning no longer exists. This frees up space and of course, brings opportunity.

Here are some of the things we are considering for this space:
1. Moving our 200,000 original Registered Land documents to the long unfinished tunnel area. This will make these documents easier to access and safer.
2. Converting one of the two former lower record hall rooms to store computer hardware. The room and equipment would be secured by building a wall with a locked door. Of course these are the plans but in difficult budget time likes this plans are often put on hold.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Top Ten Registry Events: 2003

As we reach the half way point of the final month of 2009, I've started to review this year's events as part of the process of compiling our annual "Top Ten Registry Events of the Year" list. This has caused me to scroll back to lists from prior years which always make for interesting reading (to me at least). Here's the earliest list I could find, the Top Ten of 2003:

Here are the top ten events at the registry during 2003:
(1) We recorded 146,956 documents, 27% over ‘02, 51% over ‘01, and 105% over 2000.
(2) Middlesex South satellite office opened allowing documents for Cambridge to be recorded in Lowell
(3) Recording fees increased in March - a deed went from $45 to $125
(4) The registry website is now instantly updated - as soon as a document is recorded it appears online
(5) Eight new employees were hired to fill vacancies caused by budget cuts
(6) Uniform Electronic Transaction Act (UETA) became law, allowing electronic recording
(7) From March to June, Lowell recorded mail for Cambridge to help eliminate their backlog
(8) Corporate Certificates can now be obtained at the Lowell registry
(9) Tax stamps are now produced by the computer system, not be a stand alone cash register
(10) The refinancing market collapsed, greatly reducing our daily volume by the end of the year

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Google Phone Is Here

I tell my granddaughter all the time “No one listens to me”.
She agrees.

Here is an example...Two months ago after reading an article in a techie magazine, I told my wife that Google was going to start making and selling its own cell phone.

Here is the conversation that ensued

Wife: Where do you get this stuff? No way...why would Google make their own cell phone? Google is a search company!
Me: No, you're wrong.
Wife: I'M wrong?
Me: What I mean is, you are not completely accurate.
Wife: That's better.
Me: Google is far more that just a search has already developed the Android software that runs Verizon’s Droid cell phone.
Wife: Why would Google want to get into the cell phone business?
Me: Remember when we rented the movie Titanic?
Wife: Yes
Me: Do you remember the scene when Leonardo DiCaprio hangs from the bow of the ship and declares, “I’m the King of the World”? That's what Google wants to be, King of the World.
Wife: Are you sure you are not trying to get me to buy you a new iPhone for Christmas?
Me: No
Wife: So tell me, what is this so called Google cell phone going to be called? The iGoogle? Get it?
Me: Yeah, I get it...but its not funny. Google is calling its new cell phone Nexus One
Wife: Who was Nexus, the Roman god of text messaging or something?
Me: Actually the word is Latin, from past participle of nectere, meaning to bind. So the word Nexus means to connect... as in people.
Wife: When did you become a Latin scholar? Tell me more about it.
Me: The Nexus One is thinner than the iPhone and it is unlocked?
Wife: Hold on, hold on... "unlocked"? What is an "unlocked" cell phone?
Me: It means you do not have to use a designated cell phone carrier. You know, like with my iPhone. I have to use AT&T. With Google's Nexus One we could use any carrier we wanted.
Wife: "WE could use, any carrier WE wanted"...I get it, so you want the Nexus One for Christmas.
Me: I didn't say that, and it won't be out until mid January anyway.
Wife: Does it have a camera?
Me: Yes
Wife: Is it touch screen like the iPhone or scroll wheel like the Blackberry?
Me: Both
Wife: How much is Google going to charge for it?
Me: I don’t know, pricing hasn’t been released yet.
Wife: I thought you were the all knowing, all seeing Google Nexus One guru. But I still don't understand why you think this rumor is real?
Me: Well,Google employees are said to be experimenting with the company's new phone right now.
Wife: If that’s the case and you are right, maybe, just maybe I'll get you one for your 60th birthday.
Me: But I won't be 60 for two years
Wife: I know, but you're a patient person...Truthfully, I’ll believe this rumor about Google making a cell phone when I see one.
Me: OK then...Take a look at this. Why doesn't anyone ever listen to me?

The Nexus One

Friday, December 11, 2009

Total documents recorded per year

We're starting to prepare our end-of-the-year statistics. As of yesterday (December 10, 2009), we had recorded 62380 documents which is already an 11% increase over the 56011 recorded for all of last year. Here are the annual document totals since 1980:

1980 22509
1981 22990
1982 24538
1983 38117
1984 42245
1985 56202
1986 82575
1987 73076
1988 58115
1989 51577
1990 51820
1991 52019
1992 76282
1993 83337
1994 71427
1995 60681
1996 67286
1997 70128
1998 93633
1999 89506
2000 71558
2001 97180
2002 115890
2003 146956
2004 96204
2005 87866
2006 72830
2007 66192
2008 56011

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Merrimack Valley Housing Report

The December 2009 edition of the Merrimack Valley Housing Report is now available online. The Housing Report is a monthly newsletter on housing in the Merrimack Valley, and is a joint venture of the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds and UMass Lowell.

This month's edition includes statistics on home sales, mortgages and foreclosures for Lowell, Lawrence, Haverhill and Methuen, an article (by me) on the substantial increase in the number of foreclosures commenced in the towns around Lowell and an article (by UML's Dave Turcotte) on trends in home sales (mostly sales are up compared to the same time last year, except in Lowell and Lawrence where the high incidence of foreclosures may be freezing the home sales market). There is also an article on the ownership trends seen in so-called "REO properties." REO stands for Real Estate Owned (by the foreclosing lender).

The MVHR is free and a quick read. While we often post statistics for the Greater Lowell area, the MVHR provides expanded coverage of the Merrimack Valley's other major cities. Please check it out.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Snow Storm

December 9, 2009

Yes We are Open

The first real snow storm of the season hit the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds today. Continuing our tradition I took pictures of the weather event for historical perspective.

Weather update

The registry opened at our normal time this morning (8:30 am) with no difficulty, although many of our employees had difficulty with the morning commute into work. So in case you're wondering, we are fully operational today notwithstanding today's storm.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Increase in town foreclosure filings

Because the city of Lowell is the largest community in this registry district and because, like many urban areas, it served as an incubator of the conditions that led to the collapse of real estate prices, much of our attention is often focused there. But statistics from the nine towns in our district are starting to show some interesting trends, both good and bad.

On the good side, mortgage recordings for the towns are up substantially, an average of 30% for the first eleven months of 2009 when compared to the same time last year. And the number recorded in November was up 113% from November 2008.

The bad news is that number of orders of notice recorded – that’s the document that commences the foreclosure process – is also up considerably for the towns. While the eleven-month average for 2009 is still down 5% compared to 2008, since this September, the number recorded is up 121% when compared to the same time last year (September, October and November). Our initial investigation of these new filings show that only one-third involved the foreclosure of a purchase mortgage while two-thirds involved refinanced mortgages.

This negative trend bears watching. We’ll do that and will report back in the coming weeks with more analysis of this trend.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Atlas Scanning

Last week we set up our overhead Minolta 7000 Camera. This machine is designed to take digital images of books with pages too large to fit into a desktop scanner. The Minolta works much slower than a normal scanner. The operator needs to turn and scan each page, one by one. Once scanned each page is cropped, one by one. Cropping reduces the size of the image to contain only the map itself. The first books we will scan on the Minolta are Atlases. These are old, rare, beautiful books filled with historical significance.

Today we started scanning an 1871 Atlas of Massachusetts.

Below is an example of the Lowell map from the 1871 Atlas. Obvious, the actual scanned image is easier to read than the image I transferred to the blog.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Address Confidentiality

A soon-to-be-homeowner called this week and asked that once she purchased her new home that her name be excluded from our website for confidentiality purposes. She had no problem with her information being in our records; she just didn’t want it on the internet. I explained that what appeared on our website was just a projection of our official database and that the two were essentially one and the same. As tactfully as possible I inquired as to the motives for her request. Someone who is the victim of a stalker, for instance, is in a much different position than someone who is just trying to be extremely cautious with sharing information about themselves.

Back in 2001, the state legislature established the Address Confidentiality Program and placed it under the supervision of the Secretary of State’s office. A document from that time states “The goal of the Address Confidentiality Program (ACP) is to help victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking stay safe after they have relocated from an address known to their perpetrator.” In practice, someone participating in the program would be assigned a generic mailbox address in a government operated location. That address could be shared with the world and then any mail delivered to it would be confidentially delivered to the participants actual address. As for real estate ownership records, the committee agreed that it would be unrealistic and unworkable to try to exclude them from public view. The consensus was that anyone concerned about keeping their ownership of real estate out of the public eye should instead use a trust arrangement whereby someone else – an attorney, for example – would serve as trustee of a trust that owned the real estate. By proceeding this way, the participant in the confidentiality program would never have her name associated with the property.

As for my caller, I explained the trust option to her and urged her to consult with an attorney if she wished to pursue that further, although I cautioned her that the cost of such an ownership arrangement in both money and convenience, might not be worth the general goal she sought to achieve.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Comcast, NBC & the Internet

The recent news that Comcast has purchased NBC from General Electric for $14 billion is a momentous event in the history of technology. As one of the few entities that owns the data pipelines that connect us to the web, Comcast has always exercised enormous influence on how the technological revolution that we’re in the midst of gets rolled out at the individual user level. Like me, many people obtain both internet access and cable TV from Comcast. While there might be some corporate synergy to that arrangement - the same wire that carries cable TV also carries computer data without any modification or additional expense to the company - there is also some natural competition. With so much video content now available via the internet, it would make a lot of sense from the consumer’s point of view, to make all of that content also available for viewing on a television. While that’s technologically feasible today, it also poses a threat to Comcast’s business model. If we could satisfy our viewing desires with internet projected onto a large screen, HD television, why would we need cable channels anymore? And it’s those cable channels, and the price we pay for them, that is Comcast’s core business. Comcast’s purchase of NBC just reinforces that business model by allowing Comcast to be both the content creator and the content deliverer with the middleman eliminated. Don’t misunderstand my point here. I’m don't consider Comcast to be the bad guy, just a company trying to maximize its profit. I write about this topic because it’s one of those things we just sort of take for granted that this is the way it has to be when that’s not actually the case.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Middlesex Superior Courthouse

Middlesex North Register of Deeds Richard Howe put together this video depicting the history of the Middlesex Superior Courthouse in Lowell.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

November recording statistics

Our recording statistics for November again send a mixed message. When compared to the numbers from November 2009, the amount of deeds and mortgages recorded are up, but so are foreclosure deeds and orders of notice. When compared to last month, however, all categories are down slightly, suggesting a bit of stability in the market.

First the November to November comparison: For the entire district, the number of deeds recorded in November 2009 was up 24% when compared to the number recorded in November 2008. For the same periods, the number of mortgages recorded was up 92%, orders of notice up 96%, and foreclosure deeds down 10%. For just the city of Lowell, deeds were down 3%, mortgages up 36%, orders of notice up 90% and foreclosure deeds down 38%. For just the nine towns in the district, deeds were up 39%, mortgages up 113%, orders of notice up 106% and foreclosure deeds up 62%.

Comparing the number of recordings in November 2009 to October 2009 paints a different picture. Overall, the number of deeds recorded in November was down 3% from October, mortgages showed no change, orders of notice were down 21% and foreclosure deeds were down 21%. For the city of Lowell during the same two months, deeds were down 13%, mortgages down 15%, orders of notice up 2% and foreclosure deeds down 11%. For the nine towns, deeds were down 2%, mortgages were up 2%, orders of notice were down 44% and there was no change in foreclosure deeds.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Cyber Monday

Its Cyber Monday...
This morning I woke around 5:00AM (about my usual time) and meandered down stairs to my computer.
The fireplace(gas) burned brightly against the darkness of the outside night. I was toasty warm.

Its Cyber Monday...
Unlike Black Friday I didn’t wait in line in the cold, rather I sat comfortably in my living room, feet up, coffee in hand.
At 5:00 AM the online retailers were already open, no standing around waiting to rush into a store.
I simply pressed the power button and began to boot my computer, within seconds Windows Vista opened.
I began to shop...aided by my fingers and my broadband connection.

Its Cyber Monday...
Today 96 million other people will do exactly what I am doing...using the Internet to find bargains and buy.
Today online shoppers will spend close to $600 million...with the only pushing and shoving taking place on a computer mouse.

Its Cyber Monday...
And me, I am going to finish most of my Christmas shopping online tonight...while watching the Pats/Saints game in HD, not fighting for a parking space.

How can you beat that?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Queue Management

Last Sunday the Boston Globe magazine ran a short but fascinating interview of MIT professor Dick Larson who specializes in the science and psychology of waiting in line. Today, the thought of a waiting line at the registry seems like a foreign concept, but just a few years ago we were inundated with customers and serving them promptly and efficiently was a top priority. Because everything related to real estate runs in cycles, things will get busy again sometime in the future, so it never hurts to think about updating and improving our procedures.

Larsen is a big fan of what he calls the serpentine line which is a single line that feeds multiple stations (think Wendy’s). Because this type of line guarantees that the first person in line will be the first person served, people are much more patient when waiting in one than when in “parallel lines” which is what you find in the typical supermarket. How many times have you pulled your carriage of groceries into Aisle 5 and then waited while people who joined the line in Aisles 4 and 6 before you get waited on? That’s the definition of frustration.

The best line management in America, according to Larsen, is practiced at Disney parks and Apple stores. It might be tough getting to Orlando any time soon, but I will certainly pay a visit to the newly opened Apple Store at the Pheasant Lane Mall to conduct some additional field research.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving Quiz

Back by popular is our annual Thanksgiving Quiz. I must admit its a tough one.

1. Who was the first president to be presented with a turkey as a gift by the National Turkey Federation.
a)Lincoln b)Truman c)Wilson d)Bush

2. What is a turkey younger than 16 weeks called?
a)Tim b)A squab c) A fryer d)A Tom

3. When is Thanksgiving in Canada?
a)2nd Monday in Oct b)Nov 25 c)Boxer Day d)July 4

4. Which of the following is NOT one of the five most popular ways to eat turkey leftovers?
a)soup b)sandwich c)salad d)fried

5. How many people left England on the Mayflower and arrived in the New World?
a)509 b)102 c)66 d)336

6. Which of the following beverages did the Pilgrims bring on the Mayflower?
a)beer b) hard cider c)wine d)milk

7. The average weight of a turkey purchased for Thanksgiving is
a)15lbs b)18lbs c)221lbs d)23lbs

8. What was the name of the first leader of the Pilgrims?
a)Miles Standish b)William Bradford c)John Smith d)Warren Layne

9. In what month did the Pilgrims land in Massachusetts?
a)September b)May c)March d)December

10. The first Thanksgiving Day celebration lasted
a)one day b)two days c)three days d)one week

Bonus Question: What do you call a cranberry that is sad?

Scroll down for answers

Keep scrolling...

1. b- Truman was the first president to received a turkey gift
2. c- A young turkey is a fryer
3. a- Canadian Thankgiving is the second Monday in October
4. d- A fried turkey is NOT popular
5. b- There were 102 people on the Mayflower
6. a- The pligrims brought beer with them
7. a- The average turkey purchased is 15lbs
8. b- William Bradford was the pligrim leader
9. d- The Pligrims arrived in December
10.c- The first Thanksgiving last three days
Bonus: A sad cranberry is called a blueberry...get it?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Holiday Hours

With Thanksgiving upon us, I've received inquiries about our hours of operation for the rest of this week. We will be closed all day on Thursday, but we'll be open our normal hours (8:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.) on both Wednesday and Friday.

Using the Registry of Deeds for historical research

Tonight I’ll be speaking at Lowell’s Pollard Memorial Library (401 Merrimack Street) at 7:00 p.m. as part of a program hosted by the Lowell Historical Society. The event is free, open to the public, and will take place in the library’s ground floor meeting room. The topic will be using the records at the registry of deeds to do genealogy and house histories.

With more than 10 million pages of land records dating from the mid-1600s already freely available on our website, the registry is a valuable resource for all types of researchers. This evening I’ll review the history of our land records system, how it was implemented here in the Northern District of Middlesex County, and will provide helpful hints on how to maximize the use of our data.

If any other group would be interested in hosting such a presentation, please contact me (Register of Deeds Richard Howe) by phone at (978) 322-9000 or by email.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Presidential Turkey Pardon

I promise...on Wednesday I’ll post our annual Thanksgiving Quiz so study up…but for today I want to talk about Presidential Turkey Pardons.

Each year the National Turkey Federation and the Poultry and Egg National Board give the president a turkey for Thanksgiving "consumption".

It is rather unclear on how the tradition of pardoning this bird started. Most accounts say the first president to pardon a turkey was Harry Truman in 1947, but there is nothing to back this calm up. There are no pictures, videos or even written accounts.

President Eisenhower ate his birds and in 1963 John Kennedy pardoned one of the three given to him.

But even if Truman and Kennedy didn’t eat a bird here or there, these turkeys were not official pardoned by the president, as is the custom today.

In 1989 President George H W Bush began granting his turkeys an "Offical Presidential Pardon". From 1989 to 2004 the pardoned turkeys were sent to a farm to live out the rest of their natural life. In 2005 George W Bush sent the lucky bird to Disney World to act as the honorary grand marshal of Disney’s Thanksgiving Day Parade a tradition that continues today.

Here is a video of President George W Bush pardoning his turkey.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Foreclosures on the increase

Foreclosures are up both here in Massachusetts (according to this Boston Globe story) and across the nation (according to the New York Times). Three weeks ago, we made similar findings for the month of October. Our statistics for October showed that in Lowell, Foreclosure Deeds were up 21% rising from 24 in 2008 to 29 in 2009. Orders of Notice were up 17%, rising from 47 in 2008 to 55 in 2009.

For the nine towns in the district for the same time periods we found that Foreclosure Deeds were up 18%, rising from 17 in 2008 to 20 in 2009. The most startling statistic was for Orders of Notice in the nine towns which rose 158%, from 24 in 2008 to 62 in 2009.

A snapshot of November’s statistics to-date paint a grim picture. While the number of foreclosure deeds recorded for the period of November 1 to November 20, 2009 were down slightly when compared to the same period last November (34 in 2008 down to 22 in 2009), the number of Orders of Notice has exploded. For the entire district, in the first three weeks of November of 2008, there were 35 orders of Notice recorded. For the same three weeks this year, the number is up to 77. This trend is consistent in Lowell and in the towns, rising from 22 to 52 in Lowell and from 13 to 25 in the nine towns.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Community Mapping

Tuesday's New York Times had an article on the growing involvement of ordinary citizens in the task of making maps. The openness of Google's mapping system and the growing volume of software that seeks to take advantage of it are transforming the map making industry. The article compares this collaborative effort at map making to the early days of Wikipedia (and we all know how successful that has become).

Although it's not produced by individual volunteers, a newly available feature on the website of the Lowell Police Department illustrates how the democratization of this technology will benefit everyone. The LPD has used mapping software (projected onto the Google base maps) to plot the incidence of crime in the city. Now anyone with a computer can access the website and what types of crimes are happening how often and where. (A screen shot of the LPD crime map is shown above).

Here at the registry, we've long seen our data as a potential gold mine for this kind of mapping process. Unfortunately, some of the parties necessary to making that a reality have been slow to see the benefits. Now that mapping of this type seems to be gaining widespread momentum, we hope to make our efforts at mapping a reality.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Google Phone...Yea or Nay?

Rumors are everywhere, absolutely everywhere…supposedly Google is going to begin selling its own cell phone, no they are not going to call it the iGoogle. And the new phone will run on Google’s own Android software. I like the idea, but then I am a Google fan, but some experts think Google should stay out of the cell phone hardware business. Recently, Tech Inciter published five reasons why Google should NOT go into the cell phone selling business. I don't agree, so I have listed them with my responses below:

Reason Number One: Google’s business model does not require it.
My Response: What the heck does “require it” mean? How can anyone try to limit the business model of a company that has set a goal of scanning every book in the world…that’s not "required" either?

Reason Number Two: It would alienate handset makers.
My Response: Ohhhh, scary. We wouldn't want to get the handset makers mad, would we? I ask…Why would Google care about alienating handset makers. Yes Google wants manufacturers to use their Android software, but truth be known these manufacturers have no choice. They need Google more than Google needs them. They either play ball with Google so they have access to Android or the iPhone and Blackberry will contin ue to bury them.

Reason Number Three: It sets a bad precedent.
My response: I say…One person’s bad precedent is another person’s golden opportunity…and now might just be the right time for Google to strike at iPhone. The past two iPhone models really haven’t brought anything new or exciting to the market. People like me that bought the iPhone because they like the product, not because of Apple loyalty would switch and buy a different phone if it offered more.

Reason Number Four: Hardware is a very tough game.
My Response: Are you kidding…Google has the toughness and resources to take on $100 billion Microsoft in the browser and document creation business. What could be tougher than that?

Reason Number Five: Google can already get the hardware it wants (to develop Android).
My response: But this is war…a war for Internet/communication superiority and the enemies are Microsoft and Apple. In the past Google has demonstrated a propensity to go for the jugular.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Dear Coach Belichick

New England Patriot's Organization
Coach Bill Belichick
One Patriot's Place
Foxborough, Ma

Dear Coach Belichick,

First, may I call you Bill? I am sure you won’t mind. It is far better than what I was calling you around midnight Sunday. Bill, on behalf of myself and the rest of New England, I need to ask you if you have ever heard the don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind, you don’t pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger AND you don’t mess around when its 4th and two on your own twenty-eight? What!, what were you thinking.

Bill, let me describe my NFL Sunday night experience to you. I'm sitting, watching your/our team (The New England Patriots) go from "pounding" the Indianapolis Colts to "barely managing" them. There's a little over two minutes left in the game and it is 4th down and your/our team has two long yards to go for a first down. OK, I’m thinking...don't panic, we’ll boot that pig-skin deep down the Colt's throat. Hey, if Manning can march 80 yards down the field in 2 minutes the Colts deserve to win...but we’ll make them earn it.

Then I noticed Tom Brady your/our quarterback walked to the sidelines then came back onto the field. Now, I know Brady is good, but he can't punt, I don't think. My brain begins to stutter..."what - is - happening? - the - Pats - are - going – for – it”. Wait a minute, wait a minute, I wonder…am I confused, did I miscount? It must be 3rd down and not 4th? Then the TV screen flashes the bad news, 4th down and two…

OK, its late, I’m usually in bed by 7:30PM (so what, I get tired early). I start to I disoriented? Are the Pats really on the Colts twenty-eight yard line and not their own twenty-eight. A quick field inspection proves that was not the case.

Whhhhaaaaat? Whhhhheeeere am I? Is this America football? Did they change some rule and I missed it? Are there five downs now? Bill truthfully, the last time I felt that confused was when I woke from being injected with sodium pentothal after a tooth extraction.

What were you thinking? Was the voice of former head coach Clive Rush whispering in your ear...(Spooky voice)Billlllllll, yoooouuuu aaarrreeee aaaaa gennnniussssss...gooo foorrrr ittttt Billlllll, goooo foorrrr ittttt...

Bill, as you painfully know, your team failed in its attempt for a first down. The Colts got the ball back, scored and won the game. Why didn’t you just boot the ball and pin Manning down on his own twenty and make him earn a victory instead of giving him one? Honest, I don't get it.

Coach, don’t you know there are certain unquestioned truths in this don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind, you don’t pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger AND you don’t mess around when its 4th and two from your own twenty-eight.

Tony Accardi

Monday, November 16, 2009

Electronic Payments and the "Virtual Wallet"

A story in today’s New York Times describes some of the progress being made by the “electronic payment” industry in its search for new and innovative ways for Americans to pay for things. The story points out something that should be obvious if we ever took the time to think about it (although most of us have not) namely that the way humans obtain goods and services has changed only a few times throughout our existence. Bartering gave way to coins which gave way to paper money which was eventually joined by paper checks which all have just recently given way to plastic credit and debit cards. Our next method of payment (already available but not yet adopted to any great degree) might be called the “virtual wallet” which describes a source of funds that is accessible electronically either through the use of a password or an interactive device, most likely a cell phone. Even though this new technology is feasible and available now, it’s has not yet reached the desirable stage because credit and debit cards seem to fulfill all of our current requirements.

Here at the registry we’re interested in the virtual wallet for a couple of reasons. We still handle small amounts of cash received in payment for document copies printed by customers here at the registry. Because so much of our holdings are freely available online, the amount printed here at the registry has greatly decreased through the years, but some still exists. Converting those dollar bills that still come across our counter into electronic micropayments would be much more efficient. The other major inefficiency I see, not just for the registry, but for the entire system, is the practice of paying recording fees and tax stamps by check. It seems that the entire real estate financing system is electronic until it reaches the registry. There, a check is written by hand and processed by hand with data that already exists in digital form being repeatedly keyed into computer systems at the registry, at banks, back at the lawyer’s office, everywhere. That’s not only efficient, it increases the odds of errors being made (have you ever tried to read a lawyer’s handwriting on a check or anywhere else?).

Because people seem satisfied with the established way of paying charges at the registry and elsewhere, a “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude will ensure that these new, more efficient methods of payment are slow to be adopted here and elsewhere.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Elevator Location

Yesterday Register Howe wrote about the meeting of potential bidders to construct the new elevator at the Lowell Superior Courthouse this Winter. The elevator will cause the Registry of Deeds to lose work space: half of the administrative room located across from the jury pool will be taken as an entrance; a storage hallway that runs from this room to the "back indexing project room" will become a handicapped accessible ramp; and finally the "back indexing project room" itself will be taken by the elevator project. Fortunately, no space used by the public will be effected. At this time our former closing room is being used by the Middlesex South Satellite Office. Our plan is to restore this back to a closing room when the space becomes available again.

Here is an artist rendering showing the location of the new elevator and two pictures of yesterday's meeting with bidders.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Elevator Update

The Commonwealth’s Department of Capital Asset Management (DCAM), the state agency in charge of all buildings, held a “pre-bid conference” here today for vendors interested in bidding on the new elevator that is to be installed in the courthouse this winter. Because the accessibility of this building has been limited at best for so many years, the Architectural Access Board is requiring the state to go forward with the elevator installation even though the building is expected to be vacated in another two or three years when the new judicial facility is completed. This new elevator will originate in the employ parking lot in the place now occupied by the side entrance. That entrance consists of a wooden door at the top of a half dozen steps. The elevator will pick up passengers in the parking lot and have two stops: one at that first floor and the next on the second floor. Because the first floor is on two different levels, passengers being discharged will be able to go straight ahead towards the jury room. But those going to the lower level of the first floor (the registry, housing court, rest rooms), will have to travel over a slalom-like ramp that twists its way through existing registry space. While the elevator won’t impinge on any registry space, the ramp will, so we’ll be moving some furniture and people around in the coming months. Although nothing is definite, the last I heard as a proposed start time is this coming January.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Veterans Day

The registry of deeds will be closed tomorrow in honor of Veterans Day. Originally known as Armistice Day, this holiday was originally proclaimed by President Woodrow Wilson in 1919 to commemorate the end of World War One which occurred when the Armistice was signed on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. Congress made Armistice Day a national holiday in 1938 and in 1954 changed the holiday’s name to Veterans Day to commemorate all veterans of the US military.

Because America’s involvement in World War One occurred at the end of that conflict, we often neglect the sacrifice made by our neighbors here in Lowell. According to a November 11, 1921 article in the Lowell Sun, 171 men from Lowell perished in the war. Surprisingly, almost half the deaths were from pneumonia (which was a complication of the influenza empidemic that gripped the world at the time). But many from Lowell died in action and they are memorialized around the city. Here’s a sampling: Kearney Square in downtown is named for Lt Paul Kearney who was killed in action in France on October 3, 1918; Cupples Square in the Highlands was named for Lt Lorne Cupples who died of wounds in France in October 1918; and Gallagher Square, just up Gorham Street from the registry of deeds was named for Pvt William Gallagher who died of wounds in France on October 7, 1918.

So as you make your way around Lowell or other area communities tomorrow and in the days to come, please take a moment to remember those who gave their lives in the service of our country.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Texting Question

Run this one through your head…

Its the year 2000...Lets say I’m an inventor and you’re a rich Venture Capitalist. One day you are sitting on the deck of your plush, ocean front home sipping Chardonnay. I visit you and tell you I have a revolutionary idea. We have this conversation…

Me: Hey, I've got a great invention that will make millions and I want to let you in on it.
You: (taking a sip from the wine glass) Go a head, tell me about it…I love making millions.
Me: (Holding a cell phone) I invented a way to send written messages over a cell phone. I call it “Text Messaging”. Pretty clever, huh. My idea is to charge people a small fee for every “Text" they send. People will send millions of them. I’ll be rich and you’ll be richer.
You: (with a look of confusion) Are you talking about the cell phones that people use to talk on?
Me: (demonstrating on his cell phone) Yes. This is how it works…Using the number keys on the phone you select a “letter”. Here's an example…press three times on the "number two" key and the phone types the letter “C”. Hit the "number eight" key twice and it types the letter “U”. Get it?
You: It sounds really complicated.
Me: I know it sounds a little difficult, but I’m hoping that in the future cell phones will come with built in keyboards. And people will start using abbreviations for LOL for "Laugh Out Loud". Get it?
You: (taking a long sip of the wine) Yeah, I "get it", but I don't GET IT...Built in keyboards, on a device meant to talk on?... Isn't it easier just to call the person rather than pound away on the number pad to write something?
Me: Well, yes but…
You: Then why would anyone in their right mind want to send one of your “Text Messages” rather than enter a simple ten digit number and CALL someone and TALK to them? And they probably have the number in speed dial!
Me: I just thought you’d want in on this million-dollar idea.
You: Million-dollar idea!…this Text Messaging thing will send you to the poor-house…Trust me, no one will ever use it. (finishing the wine)...By the way...URN
Me: What?
You: You Are Nuts!
Me: See, you're getting the idea already.

Google estimates that there are 1 billion text messages send every day…and according to the New York Times Texting Messages have increased by 80% in the US in the past year.

Friday, November 06, 2009

First-time homebuyer credit extended

Congresswoman Niki Tsongas informs us that an extension of the first-time homebuyer tax credit, scheduled to expire on November 30, 2009, has been extended by the House and by the Senate to June 30, 2010. The bill awaits the President's signature which should occur within the next day or two. As it was configured, this bill offered a tax credit of up to $8000 to a first-time home buyer as a means of stimulating home sales but it was only available to those who closed on their deals by the end of the day on November 30.

The new bill not only extends that deadline, it also expands the credit to many existing homeowners (and not just first-time buyers). Under the new bill, individuals who already own a home and have lived in it for at least five consecutive years are now eligible for a tax credit of up to $6500. Other changes include the ability of people who purchase the home in 2010 to claim the credit on their 2009 tax returns, meaning they would get the money (the "credit") sooner rather than later. Income caps have also been raised. Formerly, the credit was limted to those with income less than $75000 for individuals and $150000 for couples. The new limit is $125000 and $250000, although homes with a sales price in excess of $800000 would not be eligible for any credit. Finally, the deadline has been moved to April 30, 2010 (for an executed P&S) with a closing to occur no later than June 30, 2010.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Technology Meetings in Worcester

Yesterday I travelled to the Worcester Registry of Deeds for two meetings with representatives from other registries and the Secretary of State's office on technology topics.

The first meeting dealt with the continued roll-out of electronic recording around the state. Now, Middlesex North and South, Plymouth and Hampden are the only registries using this technolgy, but Worcester should be joining us in the next few months with a new system which, if all goes according to plan, will allow document submitters to send electronic documents directly to the registry without going through a third-party intermediary (which is how the rest of us do it). I'm not sure which way is better but I do know that this technology is still in its very early stages, so it's wise to try out a variety of methods before deciding which one works best in Massachusetts.

The second meeting dealt with the new MassLandRecords website which is still in operation alongside the "classic" version of MLR. Our latest testing of the new site still finds some unacceptably long response times for certain queries, so the technical people are completely focused on resolving them. By response time, I mean that a search that takes 1 second to get the result on the Classic version might take 6 seconds to respond on the new version. Since the new system is purposely designed to operate faster, the fact that it's running slower indicates something isn't working quite right. Until that's resolved, both websites will remain in full operation.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

First Time Home Buyers Tax Credit

The National Association of Home Builders created and post this excellent YouTube video on the government's first time home buyers tax credit. Who's eligible and what they are eligible for is clearly explained here. The incentive program is due to expire on December 1, 2009, but it appears the Feds will extend it.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

October recording statistics

Here are the stats for major document types recorded during October 2009 (compared to those recorded in October 2008). The numbers are split into Lowell properties and non-Lowell properties (i.e., those in the nine other towns in the district);

For Lowell for October 2009 vs October 2008:

Deeds: in 2008 there were 167; in 2009 there were 161 (down 4%)
Mortgages: in 2008 there were 222; in 2009 there were 236 (up 6%)
Foreclosure Deeds: in 2008 there were 24; in 2009 there were 29 (up 21%)
Orders of Notice: in 2008 there were 47; in 2009 there were 55 (up 17%)

For the nine towns in the district for the same time periods:

Deeds: in 2008 there were 326; in 2009 there were 384 (up 18%)
Mortgages: in 2008 there were 658; in 2009 there were 865 (up 31%)
Foreclosure Deeds: in 2008 there were 17; in 2009 there were 20 (up 18%)
Orders of Notice: in 2008 there were 24; in 2009 there were 62 (up 158%)

Monday, November 02, 2009

Improving Real Estate Market

According the National Association of Realtors things are looking up in the real estate market. The NAR data indicates that the number of Purchase and Sales agreements executed in September 2009 rose for the eight straight month.

“Sales of existing homes surged a record 9.4% in September to a 5.57 million annual rate, a report last month showed. The median price fell at the slowest pace in a year as the number of houses on the market shrank" (

Many real estate experts surmise that much of this increase might be attributed to the government's $8,000 home purchasing tax credit. Of course, these same experts are concerned the increase in housing sales will slow down once the government ends the incentive program this month. Since a thriving real estate market is essential to an economic recovery an extension of the program is being considered. Although the sale of foreclosure homes are also a major factor in increasing home sales they are also contributing to the decline in housing prices.

Friday, October 30, 2009

"The Rivalry"

This morning I want to great credit to UMass Lowell for its presentation of the play “The Rivalry” yesterday at the university’s Inn & Conference Center (the former Doubletree Hotel). “The Rivalry” is a re-enactment of the 1858 debates between Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln in connection with that year’s U.S. Senate race. The Democrat Douglas was seeking re-election and was being challenged by the Republican Lincoln. Because Senators were elected by state legislatures and not directly by the people back then, Douglas and Lincoln were actually campaigning for members of their respective parties who were running for state senator and state representative.

Because the central issue being slavery, these six debates attracted nationwide coverage which caused Lincoln to become a national figure who was elected president in the 1860 election. In essence, Douglas advocated “popular sovereignty” for new states by which he meant the people of that state should decide whether it would be free or slave (which he saw as the only way to prevent the disintegration of the country into civil war). Lincoln said that slavery was an abomination and, while he did not advocate the forced elimination of it in places where it already existed, it should not be allowed to spread any further.

While I have attended many events at “the hotel” over the past twenty years, this was my first visit since its makeover as the UML ICC. This event - free to the public - was a great example of the potential that this facility has for enlivening life here in Lowell. The play was also a reminder that 2011 will be the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War, an anniversary we’re sure to hear more about in the coming months.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A surge in electronic recordings

Yesterday we established a new record for the number of electronic recordings processed. The previous high was 107 on April 13, 2009. Yesterday, we recorded 168 documents electronically. That group, which constituted 42% of our overall recordings for the day, included 120 discharges, 31 assignments, 1 deed, 9 mortgages, 1 certificate, 1 homestead and 5 orders of notice. We actually reviewed many more than the 168 that made it on record (for instance, at 8:30 a.m., there were 177 in the electronic pipeline), but we rejected quite a few with the most common reason being that the land involved was not in this registry district.

Unlike other registries, we do not use an electronic queuing system to control the order of recording of electronically submitted and carried-in documents. The reason we don’t have it was illustrated with our experience yesterday. With the current queuing systems, incoming electronic recordings are assigned a sequential number as are walk-in recordings and there is no way to bump someone at the back of the queue higher up in line. If we did have such a system in operation and a poor customer came in at 8:35 a.m. with a single document, he would have had to wait for nearly two hours until registry employees completed the review and recording of all the documents that arrived electronically. Without such a system, we had the flexibility to wait on that customer while other registry employees continued processing the electronically submitted documents, so everything got recorded within a reasonable amount of time.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

County Layout Plans now on computer

We just finished scanning our “county layout plans” which are plans that were prepared by the Middlesex County Engineering Department to show takings by the county for roads and other governmental functions. Most of these plans were created during the first half of the Twentieth Century, but registry customers often make use of them. Formerly, we had them rolled up in a closet and would produce them any time they were requested. Now that we’ve scanned them, they are available on the in-house public access computer system (it will be a while until we get them on the website). There is also a bit of a trick to displaying them, but that information is contained in the following paragraph:

At any one of our regular public access terminals, go to the Recorded Land search page and select the “document” tab at the top of the search box. In the “Book” window, enter 200 and in the “Plan” window enter 1. Click “search” and when a line of data appears, double click on it. That causes the pop-up plan viewing window to appear with the plan in plan book 200, page 1. (shown in above picture). Click in that Plan Book window, delete the “200” and enter the “town plan code” from the list below. If you’re looking for a county layout plan in Billerica, for example, you would enter 910. Leave the number 1 in the plan window. Then click the “Next Plan” button to the right of the viewer. If the first Billerica plan only contains one sheet, that sheet will immediately display. If there is more than one sheet (which is frequently the case), a series of numbers will appear in the “”sheets in plan” window. Click on each (usually they are numbered 0001, 0002, etc) to display.

These plans have never been numbered in a way we can duplicate on our computers, so for now you have to just click through each until you find the one you’re looking for. We are working on an index for all of these plans which would list the names of the streets shown on each plan plus the corresponding plan number within our system. Once that index is done, I’ll write about it here. In the meantime, please check out this new feature.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"The dog ate my mortgage"

A column in Sunday's New York Times explores the way that homeowners, aided by various courts across the country, are pushing back against foreclosing lenders. At the peak of the past real estate boom, I remember a busy attorney telling me that the entire financial system was geared to rapidly executing and recording mortgages so that they could be shipped off to Wall Street and repackaged for investors. The complaint was that the entire system was electronic and fast until it reached a standstill at the paper-based registry of deeds. It seems that our financial system never got in sync with our recording system, so now lenders commencing foreclosure proceedings often do not have the documentation necessary to show that they in fact hold the mortgage. Such was the case in a New York bankruptcy case. The end result? The judge ruled that the debt secured by the mortgage was void and unenforceable. While that is undoubtedly an extreme case, it is in some ways indicative of what is happening around the country.

Monday, October 26, 2009

CPA Funding in Trouble

The ecomomic slow down in Massachusetts is taking a toll on the state's Community Preservation Act. The CPA was enacted in 2000 and is a “tool to help communities preserve open space and historic sites, and create affordable housing and recreational facilities (CPA website)”. There are currently 135 Massachusetts communities participating in the CPA.
Here is how it works...Local funds are raised through a property tax surcharge of up to 3%. The state provides matching funds to cities and towns based on the amount of CPA funds it collects. The Commonwealth's matching funds come from a $20 per document surcharge at the registries of deeds. According to the Boston Globe the recent decrease in recordings at the registries will result in a 40% decrease in matching funds distributed by the Commonwealth in the upcoming year. The big problem is many participating communities initiated long range projects and/or acquisitions based on CPA funding and now find themselves expecting less dollars.
The Boston Globe gives examples of towns receiving less CPA funding this year…last year Waltham received $1.3 Million, this year it will received $729,000; last year Ashland received $524,000, this year it will receive $294,200.

And this directly from the Boston Globe:
Stuart Saginior, Executive Director of the Community Preservation Coalition, a nonprofit organization that provides technical assistance to communities adopting or implementing CPA, said the matching is projected to be as low as 28% next year. The current CPA legislation states that it can go down as low as 5%.
In an effort to keep the match from continuing downward, the coalition is supporting legislation filed by Democratic Senator Cynthia Stone Creem of Newton and Democratic Representative Stephen Kulik of Worthington that would raise the minimum match rate to 75%.
To support the legislation with additional funds, the bill would increase the CPA fee on real estate recordings instruments from $20 to $40.

Undoubtedly, users of the registries of deeds will be following the Creem/Kulik bill closely. If it passes the recording fees of most documents will increase by $20.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The registry's role in documenting first-time homebuyer credit

Officials from the IRS and Treasury Department recently testified before a Congressional subcommittee regarding the first time homebuyer credit program. We’ve written about this before, primarily in the context of the surge in recordings it is expected to bring to us at the end of November. For those unfamiliar with the program, taxpayers who have not owned a residence in the past three years are eligible for a tax credit of up to $8000 for a residence purchased no later than November 30, 2009. The credit is a refundable one, so taxpayers with little or no tax liability would receive their credit as a tax refund.

In its reporting on this committee hearing, the mainstream media has focused almost exclusively on testimony that quantified the number of questionable or fraudulent claims. For example, of the 1.5 million who have claimed the credit thus far, the validity of approximately 100,000 of those claims is in doubt. Two examples: 19,000 claimants had yet to purchase the home for which the claim was made (you have to have already closed on the property before claiming the refund) and 580 claimants were under the age of 18 which is the minimum age for participation in the program).

One thing that seems clear is that the claimant has actually purchased the property within the time allowed. The best proof of that, I assume, would be a copy of the recorded deed. So, if the IRS does implement new documentation requirements when claiming this credit, we here at the registry of deeds should see a sudden increase in the number of folks looking for a copy of their deed.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

"Do-over" foreclosures and tax liability

This week’s Banker & Tradesman (October 19, 2009) has extensive coverage of and reaction to Land Court Judge Keith Long’s recent affirmation of his earlier decision that foreclosing lenders must have had assignments of mortgages already in place from the beginning of the process for the foreclosure to be valid. There’s a related story about the effect this will have on registries of deeds which includes an interview with me. I told the reporter that besides bringing us a new wave of foreclosure deeds, the one unresolved issue was how to handle the excise tax on the second foreclosure deed.

Here’s the problem: Because of the speed and frequency with which the promissory notes secured by mortgages were transferred among lenders, Wall Street and investors, the system had difficulty recording assignments of those mortgages in a timely and accurate fashion. Consequently, when lenders commenced foreclosure proceedings, there often was not an assignment of that mortgage to that lender on record, but the lender went ahead with the foreclosure anyway with the expectation of cleaning up the record after the fact. Judge Long’s decision renders such a foreclosure invalid because, without the assignment in place at the beginning of the process, the lender had no standing to carry out the foreclosure. With the foreclosure invalidated, ownership of the property would revert back to the borrower, but once the lender was able to record all necessary assignments, the lender could start the foreclosure process over again.

At the registry, we’re frequently presented with documents titled “confirmatory” something or other. Those are used when the initial document contained some flaw that necessitated correction or clarification (such as a name or address being spelled wrong). In this foreclosure scenario, however, there is nothing to confirm since the initial foreclosure was void. The new foreclosure deed (the one from the foreclosure conducted after the assignments were properly put in place) therefore is an entirely new transaction and cannot relate back to the earlier foreclosure deed.

We at the registry are obliged to collect an excise tax based on the sales price of the property. When the first foreclosure deed was recorded, we would have charged the appropriate tax and a tax stamp in that amount would have been affixed to that document. But if that foreclosure deed is void, what happens to the tax liability? My understanding is that in such a case (where the deed was void and the money was refunded), there was no taxable transaction and therefore no tax liability. In such a case, the person who paid that tax would be entitled to apply for an abatement of that tax from the Department of Revenue (the registry has no mechanism to pay out a refund).

When the second foreclosure deed (the “do-over”) gets recorded, we must charge the tax and affix a new tax stamp to that document. Lenders have argued that since they only paid consideration once and have already paid the tax based on that consideration, they should not have to pay a second time.

As a practical matter, that’s true. That’s what I told the B&T reporter and that was what was written in the story. Unfortunately, I failed to make clear to the reporter that technically, the correct way to handle this was for the foreclosing lender to pay the full excise tax on the second foreclosure deed and then seek an abatement (aka a refund) for the first deed (which was void). Just yesterday I heard from one of my colleagues who had spoken with DOR which advised him to get the money for the second stamp and advise the customer to seek an abatement of the first payment. Supposedly, a written ruling should be forthcoming on this. In the meantime, I do think that we are obliged to charge the tax on the second foreclosure deed and that it is the customer’s responsibility to obtain a refund for the first payment from DOR.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Who is buying homes in Lowell?

While real estate is not exactly booming in Lowell these days, many homes are selling. That invites the question, who is it that’s buying them? Our records don’t easily answer that questions but with some analysis and a little effort we can draw a picture that should be fairly accurate. As a sample, I looked at sales in Lowell where the purchase price was more than $50,000 (foreclosures were not included in this set).

In January 2009 there were 63 such sales. Of that group, 23 (or 37%) involved banks selling to third parties after the bank had foreclosed on the property (and by “bank” I mean any lending institution including mortgage companies). Five more properties had banks as sellers but with no foreclosure in the property’s immediate past. This means that 28 of 63 (44%) of the properties sold in Lowell in January 2009 had a bank as the seller.

Since all Massachusetts deeds are supposed to include the mailing address of the buyer, we can look at the deed to determine where the buyer is from. In generally, if the buyer is moving into the house being purchased, that’s the address that’s listed, but if the buyer is an investor, another address is given. In the case of the 28 properties that were sold by banks, 13 of the buyers listed Lowell as their address; 8 listed somewhere other than Lowell; and 7 listed no mailing address. Applying that same test to all of the 63 properties sold that month, we find that 36 (57%) were purchased by buyers listing a Lowell mailing address; 19 (30%) by buyers listing a mailing address outside of Lowell; and 8 (13%) listed no mailing address.

In the coming days, we’ll collect this data for several other months in 2009 and try to draw a clearer picture of just who is purchasing homes in Lowell these days.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Rebel Droids

I thought the most famous Droids in the world were R2-D2 and C-3PO from Star Wars fame…but I guess I was wrong. Motorola, not SkyNet, is making the latest Droids to storm the world. Actually, Motorola’s Droid is a phone...but it is not just another cloned, smart phone. Droid is powered by Google’s Android Operating System and is being marketed by Verizon. If you watched the Patriots crush the Titans Sunday you probably saw Verizon's unorthodox commercial for its Droid.

Here's the text:

iDon’t have a real keyboard
iDon’t run simultaneous apps
iDon’t take 5-megapixel pictures
iDon’t customize
iDon’t run widgets
iDon’t allow open development
iDon’t take pictures in the dark
iDon’t have interchangeable batteries

Everything iDon’t


When I first saw this commercial I was a little confused, but the lower-case “i” before the word "Don’t" indicated one thing for sure…The mission of Motorola’s Droid is to destroy the iPhone, not Darth Vadar. Like the lethal combination of Luke Skywalker, Hans Solo and Obi Wan the coalition of Google, Verizon and Motorola makes one powerful force that even Apple can't ignore. Experts (that’s not me) still believe that the Apple Empire will reign supreme until the rebels find a way to neutralize the company's real Master of the Digital Universe, iTunes!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Old Town Seals

Town Seals are fascinating to examine. They reflect both the history of a community and its goals. The video below contains the Seals of all ten towns in our Middlesex North District and several other interesting ones in other parts of Middlesex County.

Friday, October 16, 2009

"Commercially reasonable efforts to avoid foreclosure"

The Legislature’s Joint Committee on the Judiciary yesterday held a hearing on Senate Bill 1848, filed by Andover’s Susan Tucker and titled “An Act to Require Commercially Reasonable Efforts to Avoid Foreclosure. Senator Tucker and Attorney General Martha Coakley both testified in support of the bill.

The bill is directed at creditors and requires them, prior to initiating foreclosure proceedings, the determine whether the delinquent loan should be modified. The bill establishes a standard against which that decision may be measured: the creditor must “conduct an analysis comparing the net present value of the modified loan and the creditor’s anticipated net recovery that would result from foreclosure.” If the value of the modified loan exceeded the anticipated recovery at foreclosure (and if it is determined that the creditor is able to make the monthly payments on the modified loan), then the creditor must modify the loan. Only where the value expected to be received from foreclosure exceeds the value of the loan as modified may the creditor foreclose.

Additionally, this bill requires lenders to sign an affidavit in all foreclosures affirming that the lender is already in possession of a “written, signed and dated” assignment of the loan. This section relates to the Land Court decision we’ve written about frequently.

For at least a year, legislators and the Attorney General have requested lenders to work with creditors to modify loans and thereby reduce foreclosures, but these requests have been largely ignored. It looks like some in state government are now ready to make loan modifications mandatory under the right set of circumstances.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Reader Comments on Judge's Decision

Register Howe has written several posts on this blog regarding a major ruling by Land Court Judge Keith Long. Long's ruling says that the practice of mortgage holders of foreclosing on properties and later proving ownership is wrong. In an earlier post Register Howe explained this in more detail..."in each case the lender had conducted (or at least commenced) foreclosure proceedings before the documents assigning the mortgage being foreclosed to the entity conducting the foreclosure as recorded at the registry of deeds. The court ruled that such a situation left a defect in the title, reasoning that at a minimum, having such ambiguous documentation of the mortgage at the start of the foreclosure could suppress possible bidders to the detriment of the borrower/property owner who is indebted to the lender." Yesterday Judge Long denied a request made by Wells Fargo and refused to reverse his early decision. The Boston Globe published a follow up article on this issue which encouraged many reader comments. I selected several of these I found interesting and posted them below.

Readers Comments
Comment 1: His decision is correct... you cannot call in a debt without proving you are owed the money.

Comment 2: Judge Long ruled correctly. Land Court rules are clear with limited room for interpretation. Banks have been playing fast and loose with the law. Banks have legal council and I'm certain Council warned them about this matter. These banks may be headquartered in other states but Massachusetts law must be obeyed.
Banks have been conditionally selling to other banks that specialize in liquidation for a fast profit. They have refused to accommodate owners with mortgage adjustments on adjustable loans that charge horrendous interest rates and will not allow short sales and yes they have refused to maintain the homes, letting the homes fall into disrepair.

Comment 3: Lenders use every single word on the mortgage note to insure they (or their assignees) receive their monies. Borrowers have the justice system to make certain to fight what maybe a wrong. plus, a borrower doesn't want to pay off a loan and have another party come and say "you should have paid me"

Comment 4: However, it impacts normal sales in the sense that the rules of real property transfers are being upheld. Just as you can't sell your house to someone without their bank (or them) being comfortable that title is clear and having title insurance in case it isn't, now the lenders are being forced to play by those rules as well. If they had been/will be allowed to flaunt the rules, chances are some normal sales could be impacted as well by other people trying to flaunt the rules, or other rules to their advantage.

Commment 5: This makes absolutely not sense what so ever. Why? Well in Massachusetts all sales of property that involves a bank are done requiring a title rundown. Attorneys who do the title rundowns then certify to the Title Insurance Company that the title is free and clear. Plus the attorney makes sure that the appropriate paperwork is filed in the appropriate registry of deeds to show their is a mortgage on the property. So this all smells of incompetent work on the part of the attorneys, banks and even the title companies. There are more to blame here and each of these entities and if I am mistaken each can be sued or at least their insurance policies.
Now, I want to state one thing - in Massachusetts I have never known real estate attorney to make such a mistake on making sure the titles were clear. My guess is this was done by non professionals or attorneys from other states who were not up on Massachusetts procedures.

Commment 6: Sally Homeowner has Mortgage with ABC Bank. Sally Homeowner stops making payments. ABC Bank is just a servicer and doesn't know how to foreclose. ABC Bank assigns Mortgage to XZY Bank. (unfortunately this Assignment is never recorded at the Registry of Deeds). XYZ records a foreclosure complaint at the Registry of Deeds. XYZ forecloses and sells house to Billy Bargainhunter. Foreclosure is incorrect because Assignment wasn't recorded prior to Foreclosure complaint. So how could Sally Homeowner have possibly known what was going on?!?! I mean, she just thought if I stop making payments, I'll be fine. (sarcasm emphasis added here) Just a very tickytack ruling that has been disguised as consumer protection but is just a ruling based on emotions. Appeals Court would be wise to overturn this, which I'm assuming will happen next.