Friday, February 26, 2010

February 2010 recording stats

It's still a bit early - we'll be open for another 6 hours today - but here's an early glimpse at recording trends for this month.

First, will compare this February to February 2009. The 3913 docs recorded this month were a decrease of 18% from the 4756 from Feb09. Deeds and mortgages were also down: Deeds by 7%, from 314 in Feb09 to 292 in Feb10. Foreclosure deeds and orders of notice were both up: Foreclosure deeds by 13% from 38 to 43 and orders of notice by 436%, from 25 to 134.

Now we'll compare February 2010 to January 2010: The total number of documents recorded dropped by 13%, from 4511 in Jan10 to 3913 in Feb10. Deeds and mortgages both dropped, as well, with deeds falling 14% from 339 to 292 and mortgages by 23%, from 857 to 657. The good news is that foreclosure deeds and orders of notice also dropped, foreclosure deeds by 27% from 59 down to 43 and orders of notice by 20%, from 168 down to 134.

Check back on Monday for figures that include all of February and also break down the numbers between the city of Lowell and the nine towns in the registry district.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Early signs of a recovery?

Earlier today I was speaking with an experienced broker who often represents buyers in both commercial and residential purchases. This person told me that there is a surge in interest in commercial real estate in the Greater Lowell area and also mentioned that many residential deals are slowly falling into place primarily because both buyers and sellers are acutely aware of the Federal government’s very generous first time home buyer credit. (As I understand it, to be eligible for this credit, you must execute a P&S agreement by the end of April and close by the end of June).

While the registry of deeds is certainly the hub of area real estate activity, our view is mostly through the rear view mirror. We only learn of transactions on the day they are consummated and not before. Consequently, we would be late detecting early indicators of an uptick that would be more visible to brokers and other real estate professionals.

Even in the best of times February is pretty dismal for recording activity. Hopefully the low level of activity that we’re now experiencing is the normal seasonal lull that masks a more robust spring.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Why Not Lowell?

This is big news...

Google intends to build a high-speed Internet network for consumer use.
High Speed, how fast?
How about 100 times faster than anything available to consumers today. Once finished Google's fiber optic network will deliver information at an amazing speed of 1 gigabit per second.

Here is what Google says about its new network…
"Imagine sitting in a rural health clinic, streaming three-dimensional medical imaging over the web, and discussing a unique condition with a specialist in New York. Or downloading a high-definition, full-length feature film in less than five minutes. Or collaborating with classmates around the world while watching live 3D video of a university lecture. Universal, ultra high-speed Internet access will make all this, and more possible. We've urged the FCC to look at new, and creative ways to get there in its National Broadband Plan – and now we're announcing an experiment of our own."

Google will pay all expenses for the construction and installation of the network. Now, here is the verrrrryyyyy interesting part. Google is looking for a few cities to participate as trial locations for this new super network.

In its own words…
"Google is planning to build, and test ultra-high speed broadband networks in a small number of trial locations across the country… As a first step, we're putting out a Request for Information (RFI) to help identify interested communities. We welcome responses from local government, as well as members of the public."

I ask...
Why wouldn’t a progressive community, interested in revitalization, apply to be a Google test city?
Actually, I ask...Why wouldn’t Lowell apply?

Below is a video submitted for Topeka, KS to Google.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Jury instructions re electronic communications

Here at the registry of deeds we’ve embraced all types of new technology including this blog and our Facebook and Twitter accounts as ways of better communicating with our users. But to our colleagues in the Trial Court, these omnipresent technologies that are meant to keep us in close contact pose a significant problem. In any trial, it is essential that the jurors decide the case based solely upon evidence that has been properly admitted during the course of a trial. If extraneous information comes to the attention of jurors, it could be grounds for a mistrial or a new trial if it is discovered post-verdict.

Because social networks and new media sources are so central to people’s lives these days, trial judges now find it necessary to specifically instruct jurors to refrain from accessing or using electronic communications during the trial. A proposed “model jury instruction” now being circulated can be read here and some relevant excerpts follow:

During your deliberations, you must not communicate with or provide any information to anyone by any means about this case. You may not use any electronic device or media, such as a telephone, cell phone, smart phone, iPhone, Blackberry or computer; the internet, any internet service, or any text or instant messaging service; or any internet chat room, blog, or website such as Facebook, My Space, LinkedIn, YouTube or Twitter, to communicate to anyone any information about this case or to conduct any research about this case until I accept your verdict.

Seems like a comprehensive list of devices and sites. Hope it works.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Google Buzz

Its called Buzz and it is Google's new social networking site designed to compete directly Facebook and MySpace. I've played with Buzz and like it. The problem is none of my computer friends are using it yet so there is little to attract me to it right now.
What I like the most about Buzz is its easy integrations with other google tools like gmail and YouTube.

Here is what Google itself says about Buzz...
Google Buzz is a new way to start conversations about the things you find interesting. It's built right into Gmail, so you don't have to peck out an entirely new set of friends from scratch — it just works. If you think about it, there's always been a big social network underlying Gmail. Buzz brings this network to the surface by automatically setting you up to follow the people you email and chat with the most. We focused on building an easy-to-use sharing experience that richly integrates photos, videos and links, and makes it easy to share publicly or privately (so you don't have to use different tools to share with different audiences). Plus, Buzz integrates tightly with your existing Gmail inbox,

And here is Google's offical video introducing Buzz...

Friday, February 19, 2010

Lowell Sun on rising foreclosure rates

Today's Lowell Sun has a front-page story by Erin Smith on the rapidly rising number of foreclosures in the suburbs of Greater Lowell. Much of the information for the article was obtained from this office. Here's a link to the article (although the Sun only allows access for a few days).

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Visit by Middlesex Community College Students

Fifteen students from a Real Estate Law class in Middlesex Community College’s paralegal program came to the Registry of Deeds this morning for an orientation visit. The students’ understanding of Massachusetts real estate law and the registry’s role in it were already quite advanced, so they took full advantage of the opportunity to get a behind the scenes look at how we operate. In the sixty minutes available, we covered the recording process, electronic recording, our back-scanning of older record books, subdivision plans, registered land and our transition from paper to electronic records.

We frequently provide tours to people with all types of interests ranging from traditional real estate law to courthouse architecture. If you’re a member of a class, organization or group that would be interested in discussing such a tour (or a presentation about the registry given at your location), please contact Register of Deeds Richard Howe (me) at 978/322-9000 or by email at

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

SOP in Process

Several weeks ago I started complying Standard Operating Procedure instructions for the main function in the registry. Last month I wrote instructions explaining how to do the Daily Deposit and the End of the Day procedures at the Recording Counter. These are the main two non-recording functions that take place at the Recording Counter.
Next up is the computer room. This week I started writing instructions on how to Reboot and Shut down our Web Server. Of course, our recent Internet problem pushed Web Server instructions to the forefront. Sometimes an Internet connection problem can be easily be solved by a simply reboot. A Standard Operating Manual at hand makes it possible for numerous registry employees to solve the problems and perform tasks.
Once the Web Server instructions are complete I’ll move along to the ACS 20/20 server.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Update on

We continue to experience problems with communications between our website and the internet. The company that provides us with the DSL line has tested it remotely and here on-site and finds that while a strong signal is getting to our building OK, the wiring between the panel where the outside line terminates and our computer room - a distance of at least 100 feet along the basement ceiling - is causing static, noise and disruption. The technician from the company responsible for that wire is being dispatched but, given the weather now, might not be here until tomorrow morning.

Again, please visit directly to reach our searchable database.

Monday, February 15, 2010 back up

The registry's website,, is back up as of 11:15 am on Monday. We're sorry for the inconvenience this has caused you.

I first detected a problem late Saturday night and spent yesterday troubleshooting it. Because it was a long weekend, all of the steps that had to be followed in ruling out possible causes of the outage took a bit longer than they would have during normal working hours. We believe that this weekend's problem is unrelated to last weekend's outage, but I learned long ago not to attribute anything to a "coincidence" so we'll stay on top of this to try to ensure it won't happen again.

Remember, if in the future you have trouble getting to, you can always go directly to to access the primary registry database.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

More problems with LowellDeeds website

Last night I checked and found it unreachable on the internet. Last weekend we had a similar problem, with the site being down from Friday until Monday morning. The problem was with Galaxy Internet Services, the company that provides us with a DSL line that connects our server to the internet. The site worked fine all week but it's the weekend and is now down again. I have a call in to Galaxy's technical support desk and am waiting for a call back. Check back here for updates through the weekend.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Presidents Day

The Registry of Deeds will be closed this coming Monday, February 15, for the Presidents Day holiday.

Imminent Wave of Commercial Foreclosures?

As part of the 2008 Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) Congress created the Congressional Oversight Panel to “review the current state of the financial markets and the regulatory system.” Yesterday, the COP (which is chaired by Elizabeth Warren) released its February report, “Commercial Real Estate Losses and the Risk to Financial Stability.”

In the report, the Panel expresses its concern “that a wave of commercial real estate losses over the next for yours could jeopardize the stability of many bank, particularly community banks, and prolong an already painful recession.” Commercial real estate loans include retail properties, office space, industrial facilities, hotels and apartments. A total of $1.4 trillion in such loans will require refinancing between 2011 and 2014, yet many of them are underwater and will have difficulty obtaining new loans. The report goes on to observe that the foreclosure of commercial properties creates “a downward spiral” of economic problems such as job losses, office and retail vacancies and local bank failures.

The report is here.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

First time buyers in the 2009 market

A new report by the Massachusetts Association of Realtors reveals that more than half of the homes sold in the Commonwealth during 2009 were purchased by first-time home-buyers. Some interesting facts from the report: the median age of buyers was 30; of sellers, 44. Half of the sellers were motivated by either a change in family circumstances (marriage, child birth, divorce) or by the need for a bigger house. Only 6% sold because they couldn’t afford the cost of the home.

A couple of observations: Regarding the assertion that only 6% who sold were motivated by the house being unaffordable, that figure is probably true but if the question was “how many find their homes unaffordable but are unable to sell because they owe more on their mortgage than the home is worth?” then the number would be much higher. The same phenomenon also helps explain the large percentage of first time home buyers: most people who already own a home are locked into it because of the lack of equity and so are unable to sell which is a precondition for buying a new residence. Still, it’s a positive sign that new people are entering the home market; it’s better than allowing homes to sit vacant.

The full MAR report is located here.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"Who" Dat Band?

I remember when The Who broke on to the scene in the sixties along with other British invasion bands. They were fabulous. Most of these bands are long gone now, but The Who is legendary. They were great in the sixties and as the year’s progress they got even better, culminating with Tommy, a groundbreaking Rock Opera. But time moves on for all, including The Who.

Check this out… The Who formed as a band in 1964…35 years ago! Lead singer Roger Daltry was born in 1944. He is 65 years old now! Rocker/composer Pete Townshend was born in 1945. He is 64, one year younger than Daltery!

As I watched The Who during the Super Bowl half time show I keep wondering…when is the NFL going to wake up and stop bringing America a bunch of has-beens. More people watch the Super Bowl halftime show than any other twenty minutes performance on TV…Why? Why would you give that time to an over the hill rock band whose singers can’t high notes anymore? My eardrums cringed when Roger Daltry strained then screamed out his very first note. Then when Pete Townsend tried to harmonize with Daltrey, I uttered “oh no” and said to myself..."this isn't The Who I remember".

I have seen many Super Bowl half time shows, but this years was the worst I can remember, even worse than The Rolling Stone’s 2006 disastrous performance.

Time for P. Diddy

Snow expected today

It's 10 am and the snow has yet to arrive in Lowell. We have no plans to close the registry early, but that could change if the weather deteriorates. Please check back here for updates through the day.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Hawaii Senate goes paperless

Two years ago, the Hawaii State Senate implemented a number of policy and procedural changes intended to reduce the use of paper. A recent analysis has concluded that this new way of business has saved $1.2 million and 8 million pages of paper during the past two years. Among the changes made were making documents available on CDs rather than in printed form, placing all bills, testimony and committee reports online, and providing all senators and key staffers with laptop computers, document-reading software and always-available wireless internet connections.

The Middlesex North Registry of Deeds has been very aggressive in making our operations paperless. We stopped printing paper record books back in 2001 at Book 12442. Since we are now on Book 23743, that means that the last 11301 record books created (representing 3,390,300 pages) exist only as electronic images. Reducing the amount of paper used to print documents in the registry was one of the primary reasons we have made all of our documents freely available on our website, Now, if a customer wants a paper copy of a document, the customer can print it with his own printer and paper. Our policy of scanning all newly recorded documents and immediately returning them to the customer has saved hundreds of thousands of thousands of envelopes (not to mention the cost of return postage). Finally, our five-year old commitment to electronic recording of documents is helping the legal profession and other entities in the real estate related private sector make the transition to paperless real estate closings, a practice that will increase efficiency in an environmentally friendly manner.

Monday, February 08, 2010

lowelldeeds back up

We were just informed that is back up and running. Hopefully, this is a permanent solution to the problem which began last Friday.
If you experience a problem trying to access lowelldeeds again in the future please let us know right away 978-322-9000.
Remember...if the problem reoccurs you can still search our records by going directly to

Sunday, February 07, 2010 outage continues

It's Sunday at noon. I just got off the phone with tech support at Galaxy Internet Services which is the company that provides us with the DSL line that connects our webserver to the internet. On Friday, a problem developed with the DSL line and the problem persists. The Galaxy rep told me that the problem was more serious than they anticipated on Friday, that they're still working on it, and that it should be resolved tonight or tomorrow morning. In the meantime, be sure to go directly to to perform your searches.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Rise in foreclosures of FHA mortgages

Yesterday's Washington Post reports rising default rates on loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration which "foreshadow a crush of foreclosures" to come. In December 2009, the percentage of FHA mortgagees who had missed at least three consecutive payments had risen to 9/1%, up from the 6.5% of December 2008.

This reports corroborates our findings for new foreclosure filings in January 2010 which we found to to be up 66% when compared to December 2009 and 546% (from 26 to 168) when compared to January 2009.

Problem connecting to

We started receiving telephone calls at about 11:30 a.m. today from customers unable to reach our website, After a variety of troubleshooting steps, we finally discovered that there is a problem in the DSL line that connects the lowelldeeds server to the internet. The company that provides that communications link is working on it now and hopefully will have it resolved soon. In the meantime, please go directly to to do any records search.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Coming soon - download old indexes from our website

In a blog post two weeks ago, I reviewed our efforts to make our pre-1976 grantor & grantee indexes available to registry users via the internet. Since then, with the help of the Secretary of State’s IT Department, we’ve made a breakthrough that will soon allow anyone with an internet connection full access to all of our indexes going back to 1620, (all done with existing resources and personnel).

First, some background: The searchable index that’s integrated into our computer system both here at the registry and on our website reaches back to 1976. For all the years prior to that, the index is maintained in a series of “electronic books” that are stored in PDF format. These “books” are organized by date range and letter of the alphabet. Many of them are also very large files. These files have been accessible at our computers in the registry for several years. Last year, when inexpensive flash drive storage devices reached 16GB storage capacity, we offered anyone who brought in a blank flash drive a full copy of the index at no charge. That’s where we stand now.

Here is how the new system will work: We have gained access to an FTP site that will allow anyone with an internet connection to login and download whatever index files that person might need, all free of charge. Customers will have to enter a username and password to gain access to this site, but we will post both on our own website for ease of use. Once you’ve logged in, transferring files from the FTP site (FTP stands for “File Transfer Protocol”) to your computer is as easy as copying the files from one folder to another. Unfortunately, the transfer rate is relatively slow: a 5MB file downloads in a little over a minute, but a 100MB file takes closer to 20 minutes to download.

Anyone who is a “heavy duty” user of the registry should still obtain a full copy of the index on their own thumb drive. This will allow you to copy the entire index to computer. This new service will most benefit those who need the old indexes only occasionally. Up until now, if these people were doing research at night or on the weekend, having to look in an old index has presented a substantial roadblock, at least until the registry opens for business. Once this new system is in place, however, such a user would be able to download the necessary index files 24/7 and press on with the search. I expect this new service will be fully operational by the middle of next week.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Googling Rockwell

There is a lot buzz about today’s "google logo"…especially here in Massachusetts. Today when you log on to the search engine you’ll see a beige colored square with an image of two children hugging on a bench gazing at a full moom. The moon acts as the second “O” in the word google. The image is actually of a famous Norman Rockwell painting called “Puppy Love”.
What's it all about?
Today is the birth date of Norman Rockwell.
Rockwell was born in New York on February 3, 1894 but he lived in Stockbridge, Massachusetts for over twenty-five years. His greatest fame came in the 1930's and 1940's. He created 321 paintings that became covers for the magazine, The Saturday Evening Post. His art depicts pure Americana.

Of all Rockwell’s work my personal favorite is his self portrait.

Thanks google for honoring this local genius.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Foreclosures continue to increase

January and February have always been tough months for real estate and the first 31 days of 2010 stuck with that trend. When compared to last January, the number of deeds recorded was up 5% while the number of mortgages recorded was down 4%. When January 2010 is compared to the previous month – December 2009 – the drops are more pronounced. Deeds were down 21% and mortgages were down by 19% with the declines spread evenly among the city of Lowell and the nine towns in the district.

The big – and bad – news, however, is the rise in foreclosure filings, especially orders of notice, the document used to commence foreclosure proceedings. When compared to January 2009, last month’s orders of notice were up an incredible 546%. While that number is a bit misleading due to a lull in foreclosures last winter, this January’s 168 orders of notice still represent a 66% increase over the 101 recorded in December 2009. Foreclosure deeds are up even more, rising 84% (from 32 to 59) for the district, 70% (20 to 34) for Lowell, and 108% (12 to 25) for the nine towns.

Because sales volume and prices remain stagnant, it’s almost certain that these new orders of notice will result in foreclosures in the months to come.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Computer Storage Room

One thing is for sure about computers...they get old fast. We are well aware of this, so we have updated a predetermined percentage of our cashiering stations, public stations and administrative computers every year. Our systematic upgrade plan has two benefits. First, it prevents us from running old inefficient computers and second, it distributes the replacement cost over a number of years...and smart spending is paramount in these budgetary times.
Of course, as we activate new computers the question becomes “what to do with the old ones?”. Currently, the retired computers are being stored in an old “dungeon style room” in the basement of the courthouse. The room is not very conducive for computer storage. It is has water pipes and heating pipes running through it...but it is all we have, or should I say had.
In the beginning of November we finished scanning close to four million images in a project that last about one year. Registry employees worked on this project in the two rooms once used as a "lower record hall". The completion of the re-scan project opens up one of these rooms for another use.
We have decided to convert this space into a multifunctional computer room. We are excited about the prospect of finally storing our computer equipment correctly. But the room lacks one major thing...proper security. Later today I have an appointment with a construction company to get an estimate on building a partition wall that will secure the new computer area.