Friday, December 31, 2010

Registry Top Ten of 2010

Here are the Top Ten registry of deeds events of 2010 in no particular order:

1. Electronic recording continues to become a major point of entry into the registry for new documents. From January to June, electronic recordings constituted 15% of our average daily recordings; from July to December, electronic recordings accounted for 23% of our daily recordings.

2. In June, contractors began construction of an elevator here at the Middlesex Superior Courthouse. The elevator, which is expected to be finished in the spring of 2011, will only service two floors but it will make the important parts of the building accessible to all.

3. Because of the ongoing financial crisis, the Commonwealth announced that groundbreaking for the new Lowell Judicial Center has been pushed back from 2011 to 2013 with an estimated completion date of 2015.

4.The total number of documents recorded for 2010 was down from 2009 by about 3%. For the entire year, the number of foreclosures was up 40% (which is bad) but starting in October, the numbers dropped consistently by more than 50% per month through December.

5. In December the legislature passed a complete revision of the state’s homestead law which will take effect in March 2011. The new law creates an automatic homestead exemption of $125,000, preserves the “declared” exemption of $500,000, and clarifies a number of ambiguities that existed in the old law.

6. The legislature also clarified the moment at which a document is deemed to be recorded in response to the “National Lumber” case from several years ago. National Lumber said a document was “on record” when it was physically received by the registry. The new law specifies that “on record” means the moment at which the registry assigns a book and page number to the document.

7. In July, the registry began using our new GIS app for recorded subdivision plans. This program, which will not be publicly available for at least a year, creates a Google-maps type of mashup that will show our recorded subdivision plans as interactive rectangles. Once finished, the user will zoom into a locus and see which, if any, subdivision plans include that area. Registry employees are currently plotting each plan in the program which is a time-consuming process.

8. A number of refinements and corrections have been made to the new version of the Mass Land Records website. While the old version is still the default setting, all major bugs were eliminated from the new version and the scanned images of all Middlesex North documents including pre-1855 documents and all grantor and grantee indexes.

9. After some basement flooding in the spring of 2009, we completely reconfigured our document and technology storage facilities in the basement of the courthouse so that all items are better protected from environmental damage and are more portable in the event we move to a new facility.

10. In December, the Lowell-based movie “The Fighter” was released to wide critical acclaim. Portions of the movie were filmed here at the Superior Courthouse during the summer of 2008.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Top Ten of 2009

Here's last year's Top Ten list. Check back tomorrow for our 2010 list.

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 29, 2010

Top Ten of 2008

Another installment in our Top Ten retrospective:

At the end of each year, we search back through the previous twelve months and try to identify the ten most important events at the registry. Here’s what I came up with:

1. The Paperless Registry – On April 1, 2008, we closed off the Lower Record Hall to public access and thereby made all record books and indexes available only on our computer system.

2. Recession – The staggering economy continued to drag down home values while the number of foreclosure deeds filed in 2008 exceeded those filed in 2007 by 37%.

3. Budget Cuts – Lower than anticipated tax revenue resulted in mid-fiscal year cuts to the registry budget, greatly restricting our ability to add enhancements to our computer system.

4. Registry Scanning Center – The closing of the Lower Record Hall to public access allowed us to transform that area into a scanning center that locates our scanning equipment adjacent to the older record books that need to be cut apart and scanned to replace the existing electronic images that were derived from microfilm.

5. Expansion of Electronic Recording – The registries of deeds in Plymouth and Springfield commenced electronic recording, bringing to three the number of registries utilizing e-recording technology.

6. Middlesex North Satellite Office – With the completion of its renovated recording area, the Middlesex South Registry of Deeds activated its Middlesex North Satellite Office, allowing customers to record documents for Lowell in Cambridge.

7. Equipment Upgrades – At the end of the past fiscal year, we were able to purchase a replacement for our nine year old computer server and a new Kodak Archive Writer which allows us to produce archival microfilm directly from scanned document images.

8. Multiple Documents – After an Appeals Court decision invalidated the registry practice of charging multiple fees for documents that performed multiple functions, the state legislature amended M.G.L. c. 262, s. 38 to specifically allow the calculation of fees in that manner.

9. Judicial Center – The city of Lowell and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts reached an agreement by which the Commonwealth paid the city $3.8 million for a parcel of land in the Hamilton Canal redevelopment district that will be the site of the soon to be constructed Lowell Judicial Center.

10. MERS Project – When MERS – Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems Inc., came into existence in 1998, we decided to index documents from MERS only under that name and omit the name of the underlying lender. That helped our efficiency in processing the tens of thousands of mortgages that were recorded in the interim, but left us unsure as to the identity of the lenders who made the most problematic loans. This year we’ve gone back into all mortgages from MERS and added the name of the actual lender.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Top Ten of 2007

Here were the Top Ten events at the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds during 2007:

Here’s my list of the top ten events that effected the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds during 2007.

1. On August 20, 2007, we fully implemented our “scan and return” operation. From that day forward, all recorded documents were scanned at the time of recording and immediately returned to the customer.

2. The physical layout of the registry changed significantly, with all books and the traditional research tables removed from the Upper Record Hall, replaced by a joint Middlesex North – Middlesex South recording area and by tables available to the public for real estate closings. In addition, the Plan Room moved to an alcove off the Upper Record Hall and Customer Service moved into the former recording counter area.

3. All scanning efforts were devoted to improving the quality of our online documents. More than 1800 “new” books (the white plastic covered, 9 x 12 inch versions) have been rescanned. We also “borrowed” a book cutter from the Worcester Registry. We use this to cut the pages out of the old, large format record books to make rescanning them easier and more efficient.

4. The volume of documents being recorded continues to go down, except for foreclosures which continue to go up.

5. The Massachusetts Registers of Deeds Association finally adopts Document Formatting Standards which will take effect on January 1, 2008.

6. Work continued on our “Chain of Title” project in which we link together deeds that relate to the same parcel of land. We have completed Dracut and Chelmsford and are now working on Westford. When this is finished, you will (among other things) to trace back ownership of a property through time with just a click of the mouse.

7. The State Department authorized the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds to serve as an agent for the reception of US Passport applications.

8. Three new companies (Simplifile, Ingeo and LandData) joined eRX in electronic recording with this registry.

9. We have installed wireless internet service in the registry for public use (although we will not be turning it on until January 2008).

10. A company called National Deed Service aggressively markets it service of obtaining a homeowner a certified copy of the homeowner’s deed for $50, something the registry provides to the homeowner for free.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Blizzard Dec 27, 2010

Pictures around the Lowell Superior Courthouse, home of the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds, during the blizzard that hit our region on December 27, 2010.

Click on picture to enlarge

Registry Top Ten of 2006

In this the final week of 2010, we're republishing Top Ten lists from year's past. Today is 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.

Courthouse (and Registry) to open at noon

Because of the overnight blizzard, the Trial Court has ordered that the Middlesex Superior Courthouse here in Lowell - the home of the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds - remain closed until noon today. We are here at the registry and are ready to begin operations at noon.

Driving in this morning, the road conditions were not too bad within the city of Lowell; main streets were down to bare pavement although side streets were snow covered and slippery. Aside from a few snowplows, no one else was on the road this morning, which probably gave those plows plenty of space to clear the roads so well.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Registry Top Ten: 2005

At the end of each year, we present our top ten events at the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds for the past 365 days. For the coming week, we'll repeat our lists from year's past, with the 2010 list coming on December 31. Here were the big registry events of 2005:

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.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Registry Holiday Schedule

With Christmas only 48 hours away, here's a recap of the registry's holiday schedule: There isn't one. We'll be open our normal hours on our normal days which means 8:30 am to 4:15 pm tomorrow (Christmas Eve) and on next Friday (New Year's Eve - December 31). By some legislative quirk, if a holiday such as Christmas or New Years falls on a Sunday, then the courthouse - and by extension the Registry of Deeds - would be closed on Monday. If the holiday falls on Saturday as is the case this year, then the building stays open on Friday (and Monday) and all employees receive a "floating holiday." Even though we will be open, many of our employees will take Christmas Eve day off, but even though only a reduced staff will be on hand, we will still be able to take care of all your recording needs.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Yahoo May Be Gone!

Do you remember the once mighty Yahoo?
Of course you do, everyone does.

OK, how about this one...Do you remember the once mighty search engine Alta Vista?
That’s probably a maybe, depending on your age.

Well, both Alta Vista and Yahoo may be on the way to extinction.
A long, long time ago Alta Vista was THE search engine to use. I loved it. Two years after its launch the company earned an amazing $50 million a year(big bucks for 1997). Alta Vista became so popular Yahoo bought it.
But Alta Vista was destined to fall and fall it did.
The first nail in Alta Vista’s coffin came just a year later (1998) with the advent of google. Google grew so fast that within a few years it buried the once mighty Alta Vista...

Yahoo hung on to the aligning company for its primary search engine.
But now, Yahoo itself is in trouble...

Wow, I remember when Yahoo was was THE Internet portal to use. Truthfully, we should be telling someone to “yahoo that” rather than “google that”. But it wasn’t meant to be.

Now Yahoo is “yesterday” and google is cool.

In 2000 Yahoo’s value peaked with sharing selling for $118 each. However currently Yahoo trades for around $15 a share.

In 2008 Microsoft made a generous offer to purchase Yahoo for (are you ready) $44.6 billion.
Yahoo foolishly turned Microsoft’s offer down. What were they thinking?

So here is the latest about the crumbling company...

Last week Yahoo laid off 4% of its entire workforce and now the company is closing three of its major divisions, including the once mighty Alta Vista search engine. The other two are delicious and Traffic API.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Future uses of Worcester Superior Court

The December 20, 2010 issue of Banker & Tradesman has an article (subscribers only)about the pending auction of the Worcester Superior Courthouse. Generations of lawyers from Greater Lowell are undoubtedly familiar with that building which sits high on a hill on Main Street in Worcester's Lincoln Square. Several years ago, the building became vacant when a new courthouse was constructed for all court activities and the Worcester Registry of Deeds moved into leased space in the former Worcester Galeria Mall.

The Division of Capital Asset Management, the state agency responsible for all state-owned property, will hold an auction on January 19, 2011 with a minimum bid of $100,000 for a building assessed at $4.1 million. City of Worcester planners hope that the successful bidder will choose one of three development strategies: (1) a small business incubator; (2) a museum or other cultural site; or (3) housing. Because of the intricacies of developing such a unique space, however, there is fear that the only option may be to raze the entire structure.

People in Lowell should watch the outcome of this auction and subsequent development very closely. When the new Judicial Center in Lowell is ultimately built, the current Superior Courthouse, set on one of the gateways into the city, will undergo the same process as the Worcester Courthouse now faces. Perhaps there are some lessons we can learn.

Monday, December 20, 2010

"The Fighter" at the Registry of Deeds

In August 2009 scenes for the Lowell based movie "The Fighter" were filmed at the Lowell Superior Courthouse, home of the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds. We took most of the pictures in this video on that day. During the first weekend of the film's nation-wide release it grossed $12.2 million, an impressive start.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Governor signs new homestead law

Governor Patrick signed into law a major revision of the Commonwealth's Homestead Law today. Passed by the legislature just two weeks ago, the new law clarifies many ambiguities about the existing statute and adds several new consumer friendly provisions. I've written about the new bill here and here. It will take effect 90 days from today.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Mass AG investigating MERS

Yesterday's Globe reported that Attorney General Martha Coakley, at the urging of Essex South Register of Deeds John O'Brien, has launched an investigation of Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems Inc for failure to pay required recording fees in Massachusetts. MERS came into existence in the late 1990s as a type of agent for the mortgage industry. The theory was because the underlying promissory notes to mortgages were being rapidly and frequently bought and sold by lenders and investors, the traditional practice of recording an assignment of mortgage at the registry of deeds with each trade of the note was inefficient. Under this new system, MERS would become the record owner of the mortgage as the agent for whichever entity held the note.

For many years this system seemed to work quite well. I don't ever remember anyone raising questions about its legality until the housing bubble burst just a few years ago. But now across the country courts are scrutinizing the basis of MERS and questioning the legitimacy of mortgages held by the company.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Five Techie Gifts

Its late you know...Are you still confused about what to buy for that special someone in your life, like I am? Well, here are five interesting techie gift suggestions...

How about a Bluetooth connected Rearview? This unique car mirror doubles as a caller ID, displaying the numbers of those calling you as they come in.

Or how about a Key Finder with Transmitter and Receiver. Can't find your keys? Just press the transmitter and the Keys(Receiver) give off a loud beeping sound.

Or how about an email notifier. Plug this gadget into a USB on your computer and whenever you get an email it flashes in three different colors.

Or how about a device that is a cellphone, watch, video camera and music play all in one. Yes, you wear it around your wrist and yes, it looks just like a watch...but wow, can it do more.

Or how about a cordless handheld portable scanner. Just swipe this device over a business card or newspaper snippet and you've got a digital copy. And its as small as a pen so it fits right in you shirt pocket.

Now with all this around...I can't figure out why I have to still run out shopping this wekkend.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

More on the new Homestead Law

Last month I wrote about the major changes to Massachusetts homestead law that were contained in Senate Bill 2406, then working its way through the legislature. Both houses of the legislature passed a final version of the bill and it now sits on the Governor's desk. My understanding he has until this Thursday to sign it. Once signed, the new law will take effect in 90 days.

Besides clarifying several long-standing ambiguities in the law which I wrote about last month, the new law contains a number of new, very consumer-friendly sections. In addition to creating an automatic homestead exemption for all homeowners in the amount of $125,000, the new bill also protects the proceeds of the sale of a home that was covered by a homestead. Here's what the bill says:

Section 8. (a) If a home that is subject to an estate of homestead is sold, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, taken or damaged by fire or other casualty, then the proceeds received on account of any such sale, taking or damage shall be entitled to the protection of this chapter during the following periods:

(1) in the event of a sale, whether voluntary or involuntary, or a taking, for a period ending on the date on which the person benefited by the homestead either acquires another home the person intends to occupy as a principal residence or 1 year after the date on which the sale or taking occurred, whichever first occurs; and

(2) in the event of a fire or other casualty, for a period ending on: ( i ) the date upon which the reconstruction or repair to the home is completed or the date on which the person benefited by the homestead acquires another home the person intends to occupy as a principal residence; or (ii) 2 years after the date of the fire or other casualty, whichever first occurs.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Lowell Superior Courthouse Elevator Dec 13, 2010

This morning I took a walk through the interior construction area of the new Lowell Superior Courthouse elevator. Significant changes have taken place since I last saw the area....
The entire accessible ramp is in, although it is currently in a rough state. Handrails have been installed on the walls the entire length of the ramp. And a new wall has been built dividing an old registry work space in half.

Take a look...

Friday, December 10, 2010

US Chief Technology Officer in Lowell

Aneesh Chopra, the Chief Technology Officer of the United States, spoke yesterday at the Deshpande Foundation/UMass Lowell gathering. He said that people in the White House are closely watching this effort to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship; that there have been countless attempts to recreate the kind of creative synergy that characterized Silicon Valley and they are hopeful that if this experiment in Greater Lowell is successful, it can be duplicated around the world.

Chopra told an interesting story about the President's recent trip to India. That country has made enormous strides just recently in using technology (fiber optic cable and high speed internet primarily) to deliver better government services to people in the most remote regions. From one of the major Indian cities, Obama was hosting a virtual town hall meeting with people in a remote village. He asked for examples of how government technology has made their lives better.

One villager explained that each year he had to borrow money to buy seeds. The government provides access to low interest loans for farmers, but a prerequisite is establishing proof of ownership of land. This farmer needed a certified copy of his deed but was unable to obtain it within the time needed to apply for the loan. Instead, he had to borrow money from a loan shark at an exorbitant rate. This year, through the use of the new technology, the same farmer was able to establish his ownership electronically, and he received the low interest government loan.

Does that mean that registries of deeds in remote regions of India provide superior service than those in the US? I doubt it, but it's an interesting question to contemplate.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Merrimack Valley Sandbox

I spend the morning at the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center along with 300 others at the initial public event of the "Merrimack Valley Sandbox" which is a major initiative launched by the Deshpande Foundation (which also has provided $5 million in seed money) in partnership with UMass Lowell, Merrimack College, Middlesex Community College, and Northern Essex Community College. The objective is to promote innovation and entrepreneurship in the Merrimack Valley and to develop an approach that can serve as a worldwide model.

Desh Deshpande, who along with his spouse Jaishree, created the foundation that bears their name, explained that in the 1970s, "big ideas" came out of places like Bell Labs and IBM. The pressures of globalization, however, have deprived large US businesses of the money needed to promote research and development. Consequently, the "center of gravity" for innovation in American society has shifted to college campuses. This institute and the donated funds (which Deshpande expects to be matched by a like-sized grant by the community), are intended to help create the critical mass of ideas and effort needed for innovation to happen. The "sandbox" imagery is people talking to each other, exchanging ideas, getting excited about a project. This, according to Deshpande, is the key to innovation.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

30 Years Since Lennon's Death

Thirty years ago today Mark David Chapman shot Beatle John Lennon to death outside his Dakota apartment in New York City. The news of Lennon's murder was most prominently told to the country by sports announcer Howard Cosell on ABC's Monday Night Football.

Thirty years can dull a person's memory of an event and they certainly did mine. Until I researched Lennon's death this morning, I had completely forgotten that one of the contestants in "that" Monday night football game was the New England Patriots. On that now infamous night the Pats lost to the Dolphins in overtime 16 to 13.

Here is a brief summary of the game from wikipedia...

The Dolphins got revenge in a 16-13 overtime win at the Miami Orange Bowl. The Patriots clawed to a 13-6 lead in the fourth quarter, then the Dolphins forced overtime with a David Woodley throw to Nat Moore in the fourth, then Uwe von Schamann won it with a 23-yard field goal in the extra quarter.

Chapman fired five hollow point bullets at Lennon missing him once and hitting him four times. Two bullets hit Lennon in the left lung immediately adjacent to the aorta. After being hit the ex-Beatle staggered a few steps then fell to the ground and bled to death. When Lennon arrived at the Roosevelt Hospital he was pronounced "dead on arrival" at 11:15 PM.

The announcement itself of John Lennon's death by Cosell was somewhat surrounded by confusion and controversy.

Yoko Ono begged the hospital not to report that Lennon was dead until she had informed their son, Sean, who was at home at the time. Not knowing of this request, it so happened that a reporter from ABC's New York affiliate, Alan Weiss, was in Roosevelt Hospital following a motorcycle accident, and confirmed that Lennon was dead. He called ABC News, who relayed the news to Roone Arledge, the executive producer of ABC's nationally-televised Monday Night Football. The confirmation was overheard by Howard Cosell, Don Meredith and Frank Gifford, who were calling a game between the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots. In a brief conversation amongst themselves during a timeout, Cosell expressed apprehension over reporting Lennon's death on-air, but Gifford convinced him it was the right thing to do. Coming out of the commercial, after a brief set-up by Gifford, Cosell made the announcement: (wkikipedia)
Below is Cosell's sad announcement to the world.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Pearl Harbor Day

Sixty-nine years ago today, naval and air forces of Japan attacked the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. Achieving complete surprise, the Japanese sank four US battleships, damaged four more, killed 2402 US service members and wounded 1282. On the USS Arizona alone, 1177 of the crew of 1400 died when a Japanese bomb penetrated into a powder magazine and caused a catastrophic explosion.

Earlier today I attended the Remembrance Ceremony held by the Greater Lowell Veterans' Council at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium. The event featured speeches, patriotic songs, a wreath laying and a "water ceremony" during which everyone in attendance walked to the banks of the nearby Concord River and cast flowers into the water in recognition of those who died at sea.

Especially since September 11, 2001, ceremonies recognizing Pearl Harbor have taken on a new significance to me. Both December 7 and September 11 are reminders that whatever price we pay as a nation for being ever-vigilant is well worth the cost.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Judicial oversight of foreclosures

A story in today's Globe reports that Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin will attempt to revive previously filed legislation that would alter the way that foreclosures are handled in Massachusetts. Under the current practice, the only judicial involvement in the process occurs at the very beginning, and that's just to ascertain whether any party in interest is entitled to the benefits of the Service Members Civil Relief Act (which provides added protections against foreclosure to those serving on active duty in the US military). Since so few of our citizens are in the military, those cases typically end with a default judgment in favor of the lender. From that point on, the foreclosure is an entirely private affair completely under the control of the lender.

The current system may have worked well in an age when almost all mortgages were granted and serviced by local lending institutions, it falls short in protecting the rights of homeowners under the current evolution of the lending industry - a nationwide, one-size-fits-all model, where individual mortgages are just another commodity to be acquired or disposed of with profit the sole motivator and not some family's house. The shoddy practices of the lending industry both in granting all of the ill-conceived mortgages that gave rise to the housing bubble and the disastrous course those same entities have embarked upon in trying to foreclose on those mortgages, make it abundantly clear that someone needs to be looking out for the interests of the homeowner, and that someone is most appropriately the courts.

Friday, December 03, 2010

City of Lowell contemplates Receivership Program

This past Tuesday I attended a meeting of the Lowell City Council's Housing Subcommittee. The members of the subcommittee viewed a presentation on the city administration's plans to institute a receivership program for homes that are in the foreclosure process and that have either been abandoned or are not being kept up to the necessary standards. I'm still researching the legal foundation for this type of receivership, but as I understand it, the city would petition the Housing Court to have a receiver appointed for the property. That person would then take control of the property, make all necessary repairs and then sell it. Moneys expended by the receiver would constitute a "super lien" on the property that would take priority over other encumbrances, including the first mortgage.

Receivership is a drastic step, but these abandoned homes are like anchors that are dragging down the value of the homes of everyone else in the vicinity. For that reason alone, drastic steps are needed. Hopefully the city will continue to move forward with this effort.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

November recording statistics

The positive trends in recording statistics continued in November. The number of foreclosure deeds recorded declined 50% and orders of notice dropped 61% when compared to November 2009. For those same two months, the number of mortgages recorded increased by 43%, a sure sign that a refinancing boomlet is underway, although it's centered in the towns of the district and has largely bypassed the city of Lowell. The number of deeds recorded is down 15% which is not good news but it's understandable. Ever since the expiration of the Federal home buyer tax credit, things have slowed and, if homeowners believe a recovery in values is underway, however slight, they will be more willing to defer placing homes on the market until that market strengthens a bit more.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Lowell Superior Courthouse Elevator Progress

The elevator at the Lowell Superior Courthouse is beginning to look a lot like, well and elevator. As you can see in the pictures below, the shaft is topped with a four-sided, pointed roof giving the structure a sleek look. At this time I am not sure of the estimated completion date, but I'd bet snow is going to fly before it is done.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sunday's Comcast internet outage

Sunday night as I settled in to watch the Chargers beat the Colts, I booted up my home computer to do some stuff online and was stunned to be met by an error message saying that my internet service was inoperable. I did the usual drill of unplugging the modem, waiting a few minutes, and then plugging it in again. All the lights came back on showing green, but still no internet. I then pulled out a recent Comcast bill - that's my internet service provider - and tried a couple of the 1-800 phone numbers. Any time I call a company's help desk, I'm prepared for a long wait, but Sunday night all I got was busy signals. Very frustrating.

Reaching for my cell phone, I decided to post mildly critical complaints about Comcast's lack of customer service on both Facebook and Twitter. As soon as I got to Twitter, however, I immediately noticed a steady stream of Tweets from Comcast users up and down the East Coast sharing their stories of internet-less woe. I immediately felt better, relieved the problem was "not at my end." Twitter's value also rose in my estimation. In times of breaking news, it once again showed it's the place for the latest and best information.

Comcast's problem was a failure of its DNS servers. An article on from yesterday does a good job of explaining what that means, so I leave you the link in case you want to read more.

Monday, November 29, 2010

History of Courthouse Slide Show

This video was put together by Register of Deeds Richard Howe, Jr. It gives a brief history of the Lowell Superior Courthouse and shows some of the wonderful architectural features of the building.

Friday, November 26, 2010

"No title exam requested or performed"

This morning I found an email from a registry customer asking about the significance of language in a deed that said "No title exam requested or performed." My experience has been that some attorneys, when retained to draft a new deed, add such language to that deed, presumably to make clear that any issues related to the title of the property were not missed or ignored by the attorney. I know of no requirement that such language be added, nor any benefit of adding it. I suspect some attorneys add it routinely, others might only add it in situations where they know there are problems with the property and are trying to avoid becoming ensnared in (i.e., "blamed for") subsequent efforts to fix the problem.

While most who deal with real estate regularly attribute any added significance to deeds containing such language, it seems that a lay person viewing such a deed might find the language to be of concern.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Talkin Turkey

Turkey Facts...

The wild turkey is native to Northern Mexico and the Eastern United States.

Ben Franklin thought the North American wild turkey should be the national bird (rather than the Bald Eagle) .

Most of the turkeys raised on turkey farms are White Hollands. They do not fly.

Adult turkeys can have 3,500 feathers. Most turkey feathers are composted. Feathers are spread out on fields, then plowed under in the spring. The feathers decompose and fertilize the soil.

Wild turkeys spend the night in trees. They roost (perch) on the branches.

Turkeys’ heads change colors when they become excited.

The male turkey is called a tom or gobbler. The female turkey is called a hen. Baby turkeys are called poults.

A turkey has 157 bones!

A spooked turkey can run at speeds up to 20 miles per hour. They can also burst into flight approaching speeds between 50-55 mph in a matter of seconds.

A wild turkey has excellent vision and hearing. Their field of vision is about 270 degrees.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

November stats - 3 weeks in

Recording statistics for October 2010 when compared to October 2009 showed positive trends in both a reduced number of foreclosures and a substantial increase in new mortgages. In November, I've been calculating these same statistics weekly to help determine whether October was an isolated upward blip in an otherwise dismal year or whether it was the start of a positive trend.

Three weeks into November, the news continues to be good. The number of mortgage recorded is up 54% from the same time in 2009 and the number of orders of notice, the document that marks the start of the foreclosure process, is down by 61%. Both are good pieces of news. Check back next week to get the end of November stats.

Monday, November 22, 2010

New Handicapped Access Ramp at Registry of Deeds

Over the weekend a new handicapped access ramp was installed on the front entrance of the Middlesex Superior Courthouse on Gorham Street in Lowell. Construction of the ramp is part of the on-going elevator project at the courthouse.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A decline in foreclosures?

Last month the number of foreclosure deeds recorded declined 29% and orders of notice declined 23% when compared with October 2009, making October the first month in 2010 that both those document categories saw a decline in the same month. That trend continued through the first half of November, with foreclosure deeds dropping 26% and orders of notice down 63% from the same two weeks last year.

Today, the New York Times reports that the number of mortgages that are "seriously delinquent" (i.e., more than three months behind) fell from 14.4% of all mortgages in the second quarter to 13.5% in the third quarter (July-August-September). This newspaper report tends to corroborate what we're seeing, but since this decline has been characterized by many up and down blips on the statistical meter, it's still too early to make any long-range predictions; still, it's a good sign.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Big changes coming to Homestead Law

Senate Bill 2406 has made its way through both houses of the legislature and is heading to the Governor's desk for signature. This bill makes some much needed changes to Massachusetts Homestead law. It's a radical change in a very good way. Here are some of the highlights:

All homeowners will receive an automatic homestead exemption of $125,000 without having to do a thing. Homeowners may also obtain a "declared homestead exemption" of $500,000 by filing a written declaration at the registry of deeds. Any existing homesteads will automatically be considered "declared homestead exemptions" under this new law. The "elderly and disabled" homestead will still exist as a separate section. On my first reading of this bill, I believe it expressly allows each co-owner with an elderly homestead to use the full exemption whereas with the "declared" homestead for those under the age of 62, the exemption must be apportioned among all the co-owners.

The homestead form itself will have to change. The new law requires the homestead to identify each co-owner to benefit from the homestead (plus the owner's "non-titled spouse"), the declaration shall state under the penalties of perjury that each person so named intends to occupy the home as their principal residence, in the case of spouses who both live in the house, both must sign the homestead. The new law specifically allows homesteads to be declared on property held in trust (in which case the trustee would be the only one to sign).

The new law also clears up the long-lingering question of whether you must file a new homestead after you refinance. The answer is unequivocally NO. In fact, lenders are specifically prohibited from having borrowers sign anything that waives or releases a homestead as a condition of the mortgage since that's what this bill accomplishes. Also, the bill requires all closing attorneys to notify clients in writing with a signed receipt of the availability of the "declared homestead."

The bill is quite comprehensive but that's enough for now. I'll try to ascertain when it might be signed into law. For now, here's the full text of the amended bill.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Beatles Finally on iTunes

The Beatles have finally agreed to allow iTunes to sell their music.
But, there's history here... I mean a lot of history.
Bad blood has existed between the worlds most famous rock band and Apple computer since 1978.


In 1968 the Beatles formed their own record label and named it "Apple Records".
Eight years later in 1976 Steve Jobs and Steve Wozinak formed a personal computer company called "Apple Computer".
I'll bet you can see where this is going.
Apple Records...Apple Computer.
Sounds like a problem, right?...The Beatles thought so too.

In 1978 attorneys for the Fab Four filed a lawsuit against Apple (computer that is) claiming trademark infringement.
And guess what...the Beatles won. As part of the settlement Apple Computer agreed to never, ever, ever enter the music business. Hey, at the time this was an easy one. Could you envision Steve Jobs with mop-top hair singing yeah, yeah yeah.

But Apple Computer was thinking short term back then.
In 1986 Apple added audio recording software to its computers and the Beatles sued again claiming the addition violated the terms of the prior agreement which barred Apple Computer from never, ever, ever entering the music business.
The Beatles won again.

And in 1991 there was yet another suit filed between the two. When this was settled the Beatles allowed Apple Computer to sell devices which "created music", but Apple Computer agreed not to "distribute music".

I know what you are thinking and you're right.
Enter iTunes.

In 2003 Steve Jobs inflicted "the most unkindest cut of all" to the Beatles.
Apple Computer introduced the world to its highly successful "music distribution" company, iTunes...and as expected the Beatles went wild.

The iTunes lawsuit continued for four years with both parties winning partial victories within various areas of the law.
Ultimately, this lawsuit brought the major settlement that paved the way for the Beatles to become available on iTunes.

In 2007 in the settlement of the iTunes lawsuit, Apple Records and Apple Computer agreed that Apple Computer will own all trademarks related to the name "Apple" but it will license back to Apple Records certain trademarks that are needed for its London based recording business to continue.

I told you there was a lot of bad blood between the Beatles and Apple...
Its great to finally see that end.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Globe reports on foreclosure process

Today's Globe has a front page story about the many foreclosure auctions taking place around the state these days. What's interesting about the article is not the stats - they are always difficult to put in the proper context - but the explanation and illustration of the way that foreclosure auctions have an impact on many lives - owners, tenants, neighbors, the entire community. The foreclosure process in Massachusetts is complex and conducted in a way that is neither logical nor easily understood by those not well versed in the law.

Several years ago I composed a Fact Sheet that sought to explain the foreclosure process; it's available here for anyone who is interested.

Monday, November 15, 2010

"My" Suggested NFL Rule Changes

What a great win over the Pittsburgh Steelers last night for the New England Patriots.
But you know me and my wandering mind...while watching the game I kept thinking of changes that would improve professional I came up with five rule changes I think should be instituted immediately by the National Football League.

Rule Change One: The NFL should require each player to have an official "nickname". That nickname must be displayed on the back of their jersey rather than the players last name. Take Randy Moss, he could be "Problem Child".

Rule Change Two: In the NFL a play ends when the player with the ball is knocked "down", hence we call it a "down'. So I think, when the player with the ball is NOT knocked down and makes it to the end zone it should be called an "up" as a opposed to a "touchdown".

Rule Change Three: The whimsical toss of a coin to decide which team will receive the ball at the beginning of the game, should be replaced by a football trivia question.
NFL Official: Mr Brady, what is the name of the first team to win back to back Super Bowls?
Tom Brady: Green Bay
NFL Official: Correct, would you like to receive or punt the ball?

Rule Change Four: The NFL needs to change its scoring system.
Here are my recommendations...
Touchdown: 8 points
Point(s) After TD: Its stupid...eliminate it.
Field Goal: 4 points but, a team can only attempt a Field Goal if the line of scrimmage is the 30 yard line or further.
Safety: 8 points...Why? we should call these touchdowns not safeties. If a player tackles an opponent in his end zone, it should be considered a touchdown for his (the defensive) team.

Rule Change Five: Lets go back to the old days. If a night game is played on the West Coast it starts at prime time on the West Coast or around 1o:30 PM our time. If a night game is played on the East Cost it starts at prime time on the East Coast or around 7:30 PM our time. Who cares about the national audience!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Full text of "National Lumber" law

For several years I've been writing about a decision of the Massachusetts Appeals Court in a case commonly referred to as "National Lumber." In that case, the court held that a document was deemed to be recorded when it physically came into the custody of the registry of deeds. In that case, a mechanics lien received by Fedex was not recorded for a considerable length of time while a mortgage that was executed after the lien got on record before the lien. The court gave priority to the lien. This amendment to Chapter 36 now defines being "on record" more clearly. Here's the full text:

SECTION 1. Chapter 36 of the General Laws is hereby amended by striking out section 14, as appearing in the 2008 Official Edition, and inserting in place thereof the following section:

Section 14. Each register shall keep a record, in book or electronic form, into which the register shall enter recording information for all instruments accepted for record, in the order in which they are recorded. Upon recording of an instrument, the following information shall be entered into the record: the day, hour and minute when the register assigns an instrument number, or book and page number, as the case may be; the instrument number, or book and page number, so assigned; the names of the grantors and grantees in the instrument; and the city or town in which the land lies.

No instrument received by the register shall be considered recorded until the register assigns to the instrument an instrument number, or book and page number, as the case may be.

Any change or correction made to the record shall be accessible to the public in the particular registry district in which the affected land lies. Such change or correction shall be maintained by the register as part of the record for public inspection during registry business hours at each office in the registry district. Any change or correction to the record shall document the nature and date of the change or correction.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Registry Holiday Schedule

Tomorrow (November 11) is Veterans Day so the registry will be closed. I thought this might also be a good time to review our holiday schedule for the rest of the year. Thursday, November 25 is Thanksgiving so we're closed that day. We will be open our regular hours on the Wednesday before and the Friday after. Christmas and New Year both fall on Saturdays this year, so we won't have any additional closings on account of those two days. State law says that if the holiday falls on a Saturday, there is no additional closing day although employees receive a floating holiday; but if the holiday falls on a Sunday, state offices are closed on Monday which will be the case in 2011.

The city of Lowell will observe Veterans Day with a speaking program at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium on Thursday, November 11 at 10 am followed by a wreath laying outside the auditorium at 11 am. No matter where you live, be sure to take a moment tomorrow and do something to honor America's veterans.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Defective Acknowledgements

The November 8, 2010 issue of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly reports on a bankruptcy case (In re Bower, Case No. 10-10993-WCH) in which the judge allowed the bankruptcy trustee to avoid a previously recorded mortgage on the grounds that the acknowledgement clause of the mortgage had omitted the name of the person signing the document - that being the debtor in the bankruptcy case. The judge reasoned that this omission caused the mortgage to be void and that because the bankruptcy trustee had the same rights as a bona fide purchaser for value, it made no difference that the trustee had actual knowledge of the mortgage - it simply was not binding on him.

The idea that the omitted name voids the mortgage is not new. We wrote about that here back in June 2009. Allowing the bankruptcy trustee to ignore the mortgage entirely seems to take the concept a step farther.

Monday, November 08, 2010


Does the world really need another Internet Browser?
Eric Vishria and Tim Howes think so...These two men developed a new browser named RockMelt which was just released in beta form this morning.
You know me, I couldn't resist. I took a look at the new home page of RockMelt as soon as it was released. I think it looks an awful like Google's browser, Chrome.
Most everyone thinks RockMelt will have a tough time grabbing market share from established browsers like Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome and Safari.
But the founders of RockMelt, Eric Vishria and Tim Howes feel "the current all purpose browsers don't reflect most people's actual usage patterns" PC Mag.

"At RockMelt we are reinventing the browser for the way people use the Web today," said Howes. "We think this has changed dramatically from the way people used it just a few short years ago. But all the browsers available today, although they've gotten a lot faster are still just about navigating web pages. We built features into the browser to address people's three top browsing behaviors: interacting with friends, consume news and information, and searching." (PC Mag)

On the left hand side-bar is a list of your contacts with an indication if they're online at the time. If so you can easily chat with them, send them photos or send them videos. Truthfully, I love this feature.

On the right hand side-bar is a list of some of the more popular social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter. RockMelt allows you to easily share browsing information directly to these sites.

Below is the just released video introducing RockMelt to the world. Check it out.

Friday, November 05, 2010

A Surge in Refinancings

October saw a substantial increase in the number of mortgages recorded in the Middlesex North District. For the ten communities in the district (Billerica, Carlisle, Chelmsford, Dracut, Dunstable, Lowell, Tewksbury, Tyngsborough, Westford and Wilmington), there were 1508 mortgages recorded in October 2010, a 37% increase from the 1101 recorded in October 2009. Because only 447 deeds were recorded during October 2010, it is reasonable to conclude that at least two-thirds of the new mortgages were the result of homeowners refinancing their existing loans to take advantage of the historically low interest rates now available.

Unfortunately, this mini-boom in refinancing is not distributed evenly across the district but is instead a suburban-based phenomenon. While the district-wide increase in mortgage recordings from October 2009 to October 2010 was 37%, the increase in the city of Lowell was only 9% while the nine towns in the district saw a 45% increase. Westford had the largest percentage increase, rising from 128 mortgages recorded in October 2009 to 205 in October 2010, a 60% jump. Tyngsborough had a 47% increase, from 55 to 81; Billerica rose 43%, from 151 to 216; Chelmsford increased 42%, from 142 to 201; and Tewksbury climbed 29%, from 129 to 167. Dracut was the only town that had a rate of increase – 13% - which can be attributed, in part, to the relatively high rate of foreclosures still being seen in Dracut.

The entities making these new loans are quite diverse although some of the big national lenders retain a large share of the market. Of the October 2010 suburban mortgages, Bank of America was most active with 76, followed by Wells Fargo with 61 and Leader Bank with 42. Local banks were also quite active during this October: Jeanne d’Arc Credit Union had 35 suburban mortgages; Enterprise Bank and Trust had 25; Lowell Five Cent Savings had 15 as did Washington Savings Bank and Lowell Cooperative Bank had 12.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Elevator Update

Each week, the under-construction elevator affixed to the side of the Superior Courthouse grows higher. The photo above was taken earlier this week. The original schedule called for the elevator to be operational this December, but it seems that it will be later than that. I understand that the builder is petitioning the state to switch from evening work to day time work due to the cold temperatures. The evening work requirement was imposed to allow trials to continue uninterrupted in the courtroom that is adjacent to the new elevator enclosure. Whatever happens, I assume it will have little impact on registry operations.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Robonauts in Space

Yesterday, I read that NASA is planning a mission to the moon, again...only this time it will be captained by a machine or more politely, a robot....they're calling these futuristic star-ship commanders, Robonauts.

Wow, space travel has changed so much since I was a kid...and I'm sure it will change even more as NASA continues to replace human Astronauts with machine Robonauts. It makes me wonder though, just "how" will it change...

I wonder will Hollywood make a movie starring Ed Harris and Sam Shepard called The Right Parts?

And I wonder if someday a Robonuat will land on Jupiter and say "this is one small step for a machine and one giant leap for Machinery."?

Yeah, I wonder...

I wonder, if the government will change the name of Cape Canaveral to Cape Torque?

I wonder, will NASA have a Yard Sale to get rid of all those big puff suits and round helmets?

I wonder, will Robonauts travel into space in "sockets" instead of "rockets"?

Yeah, I wonder...

I wonder, will the International Space Station be replaced by the International Jiffy Lube?

I wonder, will C-3PO someday become a US Senator and run for President of the United States.

I wonder, I really do.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

October recording statistics

The big news in October was a substantial decline in foreclosure activity compared to the same month last year. In Lowell during October 2010, there were 44 Orders of Notice and 22 Foreclosure Deeds compared to 55 Orders of Notice and 29 Foreclosure Deeds in October 2009, a 20% drop in Orders of Notice and a 24% drop in Foreclosure Deeds. In the nine towns in the Middlesex North District, the drop was even more pronounced with Orders of Notice falling 26%, from 62 in October 2009 to 46 in October 2010 and Foreclosure Deeds dripping 35%, from 20 in October 2009 to 13 in October 2010.

Unfortunately, because of higher numbers of foreclosures earlier this year, the 2010 figures to date still show a marked increase in foreclosures compared to the first ten months of 2009. For example, from January through October in the towns, Orders of Notice recorded rose 81% from 305 in 2009 to 553 in 2010 and Foreclosure Deeds rose even more, climbing 99% from 123 in 2009 to 245 in 2010. The rate of increase in Lowell was less dramatic: Orders of Notice increased 51%, rising from 335 in 2009 to 510 in 2010 and foreclosure deeds were up 49%, from 207 in 2009 to 308 in 2010.

Despite this year-to-date increase, we should remember that foreclosures don't run on a calendar basis; they happen when they happen. The fact that this October shows a marked decline from last October is a positive sign, especially since the document recordings measured here would not reflect the temporary freeze in foreclosure activity that had been instituted (and now un-instituted) by some major lenders.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Recording Counter Rotation

This morning we began rotating our recording and scanners terminals. We plan on alternating the use of our three stations on a weekly basis. Each terminal will be shut down for one week at a time. The purpose of the procedure is to ensure that all three terminals are capable of being employed at any given time without problem. So the next time you come in to record be prepared for a little different look.