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.