Friday, January 08, 2010

Computer system "search logic"

A recent email from someone with a busy real estate practice asked about the “search logic” of the computer system in use here at the registry of deeds. Our system searches for whatever you enter in a field plus anything additional in that field. For example, if you enter in the last name field XYZ CORP, you would find any entries indexed as XYZ CORP or XYZ CORPORATION. You would not find XYZ, however, because by including CORP in your query, you have excluded any entries that do not contain CORP. My advice is to always put the minimum information in your initial search. If the response to your query returns hundreds of documents, then you can refine your query and narrow the response set. But by making your query too specific, you risk excluding something that is relevant to your search.

Understanding this is particularly important when it comes to addresses. When I do an address search, I never use ST or AVE or STREET or AVENUE in the search - just the name of the street. And the street number is tricky, as well, because many properties, particularly multifamily homes, have several street numbers. Thus, a three-family home might be known as 15 SOUTH ST or 15-17 SOUTH ST or 15-19 SOUTH ST. Searching for “15” would not return either “15-17” or “15-19”. In such cases, you should just search by the street name and then scroll through the results looking for ones that might be your property.

The most troubling stories involve people doing pre-recording rundowns by property owner name, but restricting the search by a specific town. Let’s say you’re doing a rundown for a house in Lowell owned by James Jones. If you enter JONES and JAMES and LOWELL in the applicable fields, you will receive any records that contain those three words. The problem is that most liens - Federal and State tax liens and all attachments - encumber all of the debtor’s property, not just a specific parcel. Consequently, in the Town field of our index, the registry enters NONE. In the above example, by limiting the search to records that contain LOWELL in the town field, the searcher has excluded any liens or other documents indexed with NONE in the town field.

In closing, the logic of our computer search is quite simple: it looks for exactly what you enter in your query plus everything that begins with what you enter in your query. If you make your query too narrow, you risk excluding something that might be important to you.


Michael said...

Why doesn't the technology support searches like "LOWELL" & "NONE" for the town choice; simple Boolean operators?

Dick said...

I don't know. While I'm familiar with how our system works, I'm not a programmer so I don't know the reasons for the decisions made by the designers.