Friday, October 29, 2010

Halloween Quiz

Test your knowledge here...take our Halloween Quiz:

1. A male witch is know as what?
2. Within two hundred pounds guess the weigh of the worlds largest pumpkin.
3. What is a group of witches called?
4. Halloween is celebrate on what date?
5. Pumpkins grow on what type of plant?
6. What is phobia means fear of Halloween?
7. What is another name for Halloween?
8. What does the Old English word "hallow" mean?
9. What is the day after Halloween called?
10. Poltergeist is what?

Scroll down for answers...

Answers:1) warlock 2) 1524 lbs 3) A coven 4) October 31 5) Vines 6) samhainophobia 7) All Hallows Eve 8) Saint 9) All Saints Day 10) psychokinetic activity

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Race-based restrictions: unenforceable but still present

A story from this past summer from South Coast Today, the website of the New Bedford Standard Times, told an interesting (and somewhat disturbing) tale of old land records. An attorney was doing a foreclosure and, in preparing the Notice of Mortgagee's Sale for publication in the newspaper, copied exactly the property description contained in the mortgage being foreclosed. Unfortunately, the language used there had been carried forward through the years without change and still contained a deed restriction limiting the sale of the property to "Caucasians only." When this restriction appeared in the current-day legal notice, many readers were outraged and the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination was called in.

All seem to agree that such a restriction is completely unenforceable today, but because it is contained in the property description (and the property in question was registered land and therefore under the jurisdiction of the Land Court), the only way to remove it is by petitioning the court. Here's what a representative of the Land Court had to say:

Striking these restrictions from the certificate of title can be done only by court order, in what Deborah Patterson, recorder of the Land Court in Boston, described as a swift process. Typically, she said, the registered land sections of local registries of deeds petition the court on owners' behalf, and the state and registry in New Bedford waive the associated fees.

Since the controversy over 115 Cottonwood St., the land court has directed the local registries to petition the court whenever a transaction involves a racial restriction, regardless of whether the property owners request it, according to Susan Morris, land court supervisor in the New Bedford office.

The few restrictions we've seen in this registry (mostly directed against the Irish) have been on the recorded land side of the registry, so those restrictions have been unilaterally removed by attorneys through the years. It's good to know now the proper procedure for land court records in the event we come upon such a conviction that happens to be Registered Land.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Registry Notes

Five Registry Updates...

Starting next week we are going to rotate the use of our Recording Stations and daily Scanners. The objective is to test these essential pieces of equipment on a weekly basis.

We have an older Xerox 8830 Plan Scanner in the basement. This morning we began working on establishing a connection between it and a "stand alone" PC.

Construction crews are working everyday on the new elevator construction for the Superior Courthouse. They have already reached the second floor with the cinder block framing.

Our e-Recording volume has increased dramatically in the last three months. We believe now that people can record at both the Middlesex North & South Registries of Deeds this service is becoming more popular.

Next week we plan on starting a second employee on our new GEO Map Tagging Project. I am finding program training takes only a few hours and a little follow up each day. This is a great project that the public will find very useful.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Harmon Law Office in the news

A substantial portion of the documents we record these days are related to foreclosures and most of those are recorded by a single firm - Harmon Law Office. Today the Boston Globe reports that Harmon Law Office has been sent a request for information by the state Attorney General's Office regarding the firm's practices regarding evicting tenants from foreclosed properties.

Towards the end of the article, the Globe also mentions that the president of Harmon Law, Mark Harmon, recently resigned from the board of DJSP Enterprises, a national mortgage processing and foreclosure company. Having a vague recollection of previously reading something about DJSP Enterprises, I googled the company name and found a post on the New York Times "Deal Book" blog. I don't fully understand all that the Times blog post describes, but it makes for fascinating reading nonetheless, especially for folks who have been following our national foreclosure crisis.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Wi-Fi Direct

I predict Bluetooth technology stocks are going to be in for a rough time in the next few years.

Over the past few years Bluetooth technology has just barely become consumer friendly. Bluetooths arrival is so recent you might have missed it. So here is a brief description... Bluetooth is an open wireless technology standard for exchanging data over short distances (using short wavelength radio transmissions) from fixed and mobile devices, creating personal area networks (PANs) with high levels of security (wikipedia).

You've seen it...Bluetooth technology makes those funny looking hands-free cell phone ear pieces work.

So why would that technology be in trouble, you're thinking?

Wi-Fi Direct, that's why.

According to Computer World Wi-Fi Direct is a new technology designed to allow peer-to-peer Wi-Fi connections between devices like smartphones and cameras without a traditional Wi-Fi network or the need for Wi-Fi access points.

I know what you're think (again)...isn't that exactly what Bluetooth does?

You're right, it is what Bluetooth does but, Wi-Fi Direct does it better...much better.

Bluetooth can connect to devices up to only about 10-30 feet away. Wi-Fi Direct's range is about thirty times that. It can establish connections with devices almost 900 feet away.

So, think of it this way...lets say next week Steve Jobs asks me to become a partner at Apple...You know, like a consulting or something.

We're at Apple's Monday morning briefing meeting. The Apple CEO asks me...Hey, Tony I think we should put Bluetooth in all of our devices...iPads, iPods, iPhones, iMacs, everything we make...what do you think partner?

I say... Steve, get with the times bro, Bluetooth is done. We need to make our devices Wi-Fi Direct compatible, forget Bluetooth, man.

Why do you say that T?

Because Wi-Fi Direct is thirty times stronger.

Wow Tony... I'm sure glad I hired you as my consultant.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Globe reports rise in foreclosures

Today's Globe has a story that's being repeated on various radio stations that "foreclosures" in Massachusetts were up 27% in September when compared to the same month in 2009. The paper does make clear that it means "foreclosure deeds recorded" which come at the end of the process. (In contrast, orders of notice, which come at the start of the process, are down slightly).

Even that rise in foreclosure deeds has a bit of good news: the number recorded in September statewide was down 26% compared to the number recorded in the previous month (August 2010). For 2010 year to date, the foreclosure deed stats aren't very positive with the number recorded from January thru September 2010 was 58% higher than the number recorded for the same months in 2009.

Lowell's figures tracked the statewide trend although the September to September comparison saw a larger jump in Lowell (21 foreclosure deeds in Sep 2009 v 29 in Sep 2010, a 38% jump). The other Lowell numbers were closer to the statewide average: A 22% drop from August 2010 to September 2010; a 60% increase in Jan-Sep 2010 from Jan-Sep 2009.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Check out "new" masslandrecords website

Each day, it seems that somebody else tells me that they've switched to the new site to access registry records online. The new and the old are being run simultaneously and the site defaults to the old and familiar version, but I'm suggesting that you start becoming familiar with the operation of the new version. At some point, we will switch so that the new site is the default setting and you'll have to click through to the old version. Eventually the old version will just go away.

Ironically, the main reason there is a new site is due to customer complaints about the old version. But because of an extended lead time for rolling out the new site - a couple of years, I think - everyone became comfortable with the old site and is now nervous about any forthcoming change. Well the early performance problems of the new site have been fixed and it works quickly and efficiently. It's layout is largely the result of suggestions by users on how to make the old site better.

Tomorrow I'll write some specifics about the capabilities of the new site and provide some helpful hints on its use. In the meantime, please spend a few minutes checking it out.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Howard Cunningham

Mr. Cunningham has died...

Yesterday award winning actor Tom Bosley died of lung cancer at the age of 83. He was best known for his role as Richie Cunningham's father on the hit TV series, Happy Days. Bosley played the part for ten years 1974-1984. I must admit I am a little too old to be a big fan of the sitcom, but like everyone else I couldn't resist the kool Fonz.

Bosley was born in Chicago in 1927. He attended DePaul University and served in the Navy during World War II.

What America loved the most was the soothing, confidence Tom Bosley brought to the character, Howard Cunningham. He was the perfect TV father.

In addition to Happy Days the famed actor played leading roles in Murder, She Wrote and Father Dowling Mysteries.

Regardless of Bosley's many other roles he will always be Mr C in the hearts of Americans.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

More on MERS in New York Times

A column by business writer Floyd Norris in today's New York Times revisits issues that have arisen around the country regarding the legality of MERS, the central agent for holding mortgages that was created by the lending industry a decade ago. The concept was for MERS to hold title to mortgages while the underlying promissory notes were negotiated to investors. In concept, this would eliminate the need to record an assignment of mortgage every time the note was transferred.

This system seemed to work fine when the real estate market was booming but now that the market has crashed more scrutiny is being placed on the entire concept of MERS. The argument, advanced by attorneys for defaulting borrowers and by some law professors, is that the entire basis of MERS, the separation of the mortgage from the note, violates several hundred years of American property law without any legislative action.

I'm not sure how this issue should be decided, but if it is held that the MERS model is invalid, it will be a real mess for everyone.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Computer Equipment Inventory

We have decided to include all of our computers and computer related equipment in our new inventory program.

The process is simple...

When put into service computers, printers and scanners will be labeled with the following information: date installed, department used in and use.

When taken out of service the following information will be entered on the label: date our of service, the reason for taking it out of service and if it malfunction where.

We plan on completely inventorying all new computers before they are put into service. Our old computers and those currently in service will be a little more difficult to do but we'll catalog with as much information as is available.

Below is a picture of the form we developed to be used in this project.

Friday, October 15, 2010

GIS Mapping Prep

Over the past three weeks I have spent a number of hours working with our new GIS Mapping software to get a feel for it. The software is designed to allow us to overlay registry of deeds' plans with the state’s GIS maps using a rectangular marker.

Working with the program helped me assemble a list of “do’s and don’t’s” for employee training. might sound like a simple task to look at a registry plan then mark its location on a city/town map, but its not.

Here's one example why...Some registry plans are located on very, long streets. And some of these plans do not list a cross in some cases locating the correct locus requires detective work.

My experience working with the program taught me to look for hints on the map such as curves in the road, water areas, railroad tracks etc. Its almost like doing a crossword puzzle...and its fun.

In the beginning two employees will work on the project...this morning I introduced the first to the program. I was pretty encouraged by the enthusiasm and skill she showed toward the work.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

MERS and the foreclosure freeze

The New York Times reports today that JP Morgan Chase, perhaps the largest bank in the country, acknowledged publicly that it had stopped using Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems (MERS) in its home mortgage practice. The article, written in the context of the greater scrutiny being paid on foreclosure practices by attorneys general around the country, raises doubts about MERS but is fuzzy about the rationale of these doubts.

MERS came into existence about ten years ago. Its purpose was to serve as a central holding agent for mortgages so that lenders could sell and trade the underlying promissory notes at will without having to record corresponding assignment of mortgage documents with registries of deeds as would be required in traditional mortgage practice. MERS would be the record holder of the mortgage and would also serve as the long-term point of contact for anything related to that mortgage regardless of the whereabouts of the underlying note. Through the refinancing and home sales boom of mid-decade, MERS did a tremendous volume of business. As is always the case when things go bad, everyone's practices are under scrutiny. The only questions I know that have arisen about MERS come from a couple of court decisions from other parts of the country questioning the whole "mortgage holding agent" concept that MERS is built upon. But this Times article implies other issues without specifying their nature. We'll stay tuned for follow-ups to this story.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Google's Self Driving Car

Sometimes I am completely amazed by Google's projects... For two reasons, first what they do is often mind-boggling and second sometimes I don’t know why they do it.

The following is a perfect example of what I mean.

Google has developed a car that drives itself. Honest!, nobody steers it, accelerates it, or puts the brakes on. Google has modified two models, an Audi TT and a Toyota Prius for the experiment.

I know what you are thinking…big deal, they hitch a remote control up to a Prius and drive down the street in a straight line.

Wrong! Google’s self driving cars have traveled more than 140,00 miles in "real traffic".

OK, so how does it work? Honestly, I have no idea…google uses radar, laser sensors and video cameras. Combined together these devises detect twists and turns in the road and other cars. Notice how vague I was with this explanation? That's because I have no real idea how it works.

Google's self driving car is truly an amazing invention…what google intends to do with it remains to be seen.

The video below shows a google car on the road...yes, someone is in the car, but they act as an overseer, not a driver.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Foreclosures and condominiums

The computer system here at the registry gives us a limited ability to identify and track condominium units. (Usually, we can't tell what is built upon a property). I recently looked at the rate of foreclosures for condominiums and compared it to foreclosures of non-condos. Here is what I found:

In Lowell from January 1, 2010 to September 30, 2010, there were 286 foreclosure deeds recorded. Of those, 82 involved condominiums. That means that 29% of foreclosures for Lowell were for condos. Comparing the same period of 2009 with the first nine months of 2010, we find that there were 178 Lowell foreclosures of which 65 (37%) were condominiums. The overall rate of foreclosures for 2010 represented at 61% increase over those in 2009. The rate of condominium foreclosures, however, represented only a 26% increase from 2009 to 2010. So as a percentage of overall foreclosures, the number of condos is going down.

In the nine towns in the Middlesex North District, there were 232 foreclosure deeds recorded between January 1, 2010 and September 30, 2010. This was an increase of 125% over the number recorded during the first nine months of 2009. The number of condominiums being foreclosed in the towns went up substantially: from 19 in 2009 to 52 in 2010, a jump of 174%. In the towns for 2010, condominiums represented 22% of all foreclosures.

Friday, October 08, 2010

National Notary Bill Vetoed

A small item in today's New York Times caught by Register of Deeds eye. President Obama is exercising a "pocket veto" of a bill that would mandate all states to recognize acknowledgements taken in other states, including those done electronically. The story explains how up until now, this bill was considered to be non-controversial, so much so that both parties in Congress acquiesced to its passage in an informal session which is truly astounding given the gridlock in Washington. The reason for the president's veto is that the recent furor about shoddy administrative practices in foreclosures by major national lenders has thrown the whole issue of the authenticity of foreclosure documents into question, so now is not the time to loosen existing rules on notarizations.

Out of state acknowledgements have never been an issue for us. We regularly receive and record them. Here is what the Massachusetts Deed Indexing Standards say about out of state notaries:

An acknowledgment made outside of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts but within any state, territory, district or dependency of the United States shall be made (in accordance with Massachusetts General Laws chapter 183, section 33) by:
1) a justice of the peace, notary public, or magistrate of the state in which the acknowledgment is made;
2) a commissioner appointed therefor by the governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; or
3) any other officer of the state in which the acknowledgment is made provided that a certificate of authority of said officer in the form prescribed by M.G.L. c. 183, s. 33 is attached thereto.
To be recorded in Massachusetts, such an acknowledgement does not require the seal of the Notary Public taking the acknowledgement.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Holiday Schedule

With this coming weekend being of the three-day variety, I thought it appropriate to review the registry's holiday schedule for the rest of the calendar year. We are closed this Monday for Columbus Day and also on Thursday, November 11 for Veterans Day. We are of course closed on Thanksgiving (Thursday, November 25). That's it.

With Christmas and New Years both falling on Saturdays, we won't be closed for either of those holidays. The registry will function as usual the day before and the day after Thanksgiving, the day before Christmas and the day before New Years. We will also be open on the Mondays following Christmas and New Years.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

The Rise and Fall of Internet Explorer

I think this is really big news...
For the first time ever, Microsoft's Web Browser Internet Explore has dropped to less than 50% market share (49.87%).
How the mighty have fallen...At one time 90% of users surfed the Internet with Explorer. It was the 500 pound gorilla in the browsing room.
Can you believe, in five short years IE lost 40% of its customer base.
So where did these Internet Explorer defectors go?
Mozilla's Firefox has increased to 31.5% market share. Google's new browser "Chrome" leaped from a 3.69% share last year to 11.54%. And Apple's Safari owns about 6% of the market
I dumped Internet Explorer about three years ago after contacting a virus that destroyed my computer. A few weeks later I discovered that the virus has been written to specifically attack Internet Explorer. That was it for me!
Now I alternate back and forth between Chrome and Firefox. I like Chrome better...but I still find some programs don't optimize with Chrome.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

More on power outage and website problems

In yesterday's blog post, Tony addressed last Friday's power outage. Here are some more details about what happened and why. The courthouse and the neighborhood lost electricity at 11:05 a.m. We were in the midst of recording documents but we had previously equipped all of our recording terminals and scanners with UPS devices. These are battery backups that are intended to keep equipment functioning for a short period of time so as to allow the user to finish a task and save work. The UPS's worked as intended and we were able to finish the recordings underway and shut everything down smoothly. We have bigger UPS's on our computer servers, designed to last longer, but when the power was not back on by 1 pm. we decided to shut down the servers, as well. The UPS that powers the telephones continued on until 3 pm when it powered down. Because the metal detector at the entrance to the building was not working, Courthouse Security shut down access to the building once the power went out.

By 4 pm when the power had not been restored, I decided to let the registry staff leave for the day. A resumption of power would still require us to do about 20 minutes of testing and restoration of our computers, so no new documents would have arrived by the time the building officially closed. Strangely enough, just as the employees left (a few of us were staying until 4:30), the Lowell Police arrived saying there had been a bomb threat to the courthouse. The few folks inside evacuated. It took about 30 minutes for the police to issue the all clear at which time the electricity magically came on. I spent about an hour bringing up the computers and fixing some errors that appeared so on Monday morning (yesterday) we were ready to go.

One problem unrelated to our power outage was an issue with the website. The domain name had somehow been allowed to expire (that's done at an echelon above the registry) and the way the registration company reminds you of that by pointing anyone who tried to reach that site on the internet to a completely different site. The technique works. The name was quickly renewed on Saturday, but it took about 48 hours to cycle the replacement page out of the various servers that make up the internet. Everything seems back to normal now.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Last Friday's Power Outage

Last Friday, October 1, 2010 at 11:05 AM the electrical power went out at the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds. National Grid informed us that the problem was isolated to a small block of homes and buildings in and around the registry. When the power went out some employees were in the middle of recording and scanning documents. These documents were put to the side to be verified when things returned to normal.
Initially, National Grid estimated the issue would be resolved and power restored by 1:00PM.
Unfortunately, it didn't happen that way.
Rather, it took until approximately 4:30 PM for the lights to finally come back on.
During this time period Security kept the building closed to the public for safety reasons.
This morning (Monday)we arrived early to test the computers and servers. Everything worked well except for one server and fortunately that too was back up an running before noon.

Friday, October 01, 2010

September recording statistics

Here are the numbers for September 2010 vs September 2009:

The number of deeds recorded district-wide dropped 18%, from 519 to 426
Mortgages rose 46%, from 953 to 1393
Foreclosure deeds were up 165%, from 23 to 61
Orders of notice rose 87%, from 62 to 116

The rise in foreclosure deeds was steepest in the nine towns in the district (as opposed to just the city of Lowell). Town foreclosure deeds rose 125%, from 12 to 27 while those for Lowell went up just 38%, from 21 to 29. The increase in orders of notice was more balanced, however, with Lowell orders on notice rising 56% from 48 to 75 and the town orders orders of notice going up 63%, from 49 to 80.