Friday, April 29, 2011

Law Day

May 1st is "Law Day" in the United States. Started during the Eisenhower Administration to counteract the Soviet display of military power on "May Day" (also May 1st), Law Day celebrates the rule of law in America. Today was the eighth consecutive year that the Greater Lowell Bar Association and the Middlesex Juvenile court sponsored the event here in Lowell.

The event began with a procession up Gorham Street from the Juvenile Court to the Superior Court (the courtroom of which is large enough to hold all involved in the ceremony). The Lowell High Air Force Junior ROTC Honor Guard then posted the colors while the National Anthem was sung by the Lowell High Chorus. Students from Middlesex Charter School (shown above) then led the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. The event was emceed by Laurie Hogan, the President-elect of the bar association and remarks were made by Judge Patricia Flynn and Judge Jay Blitzman of the Juvenile Court, Judge Randy Kaplan of the Probate Court, by State Senator Eileen Donoghue and by Kevin Broderick, the vice chair of the Lowell City Council. An added bonus was some unscheduled remarks by (as of last night) Superintendent-elect and current Deputy Superintendent of the Lowell Public Schools Jean Franco.

The speeches were followed by an essay contest featuring students from Lowell High, Greater Lowell Technical High, Dracut High and Notre Dame Academy. All were superb in both content and delivery as they expounded on the American legal system as represented by John Adams in his representation of British soldiers in the Boston Massacre trial back in 1770. After the essays, there was some musical entertainment followed by a buffet luncheon.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Doors Open Lowell

The Registry of Deeds/Middlesex Superior Courthouse will participate in Doors Open Lowell again this year. After a multi-year hiatus, the courthouse is again on the schedule along with 30 other historic structures in the city.

This year, Doors Open occurs from Thursday May 12th thru Saturday May 14th. The courthouse will be open for tours of the interior on Saturday May 14th from 10 am until 1 pm. A list of buildings that will be participating and the times that they will be open is available here.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

RIP Typewriter

I picked this topic up from the Wall Street Journal and I must say it is one I have been expecting for a long time.

The world's last typewriter maker, Godrej and Boyce stopped producing typewriters and has only a few hundred machines left for sale and some of these are in Arabic. Essentially, this spells the death of the typewriter.

When I first began working at the Middlesex North registry of Deeds in 1995 we had three typewriters...that's really not many for an office of 35 people, but in '95 the word processor was already replacing the typewriter.

Today, 16 years later we have none...sure, we have a few stored in the basement for archival/historical purposes, but none of them really work.

Of the registry's out of service typewriters my favorite is the IBM Selectric...

You remember the Selectric. Its the typewriter with the bouncing ball. Turn that baby on and it hums like a Nascar. And like a precision steering wheel a touch of your finger on a key maneuvers that ball selecting letters in a rapid pace.

Godrej and Boyce is liquidating its final stock and has no plans of manufacturing typewriters in the future.

In a way the demise of the typewriter is sad...but I guess that's how the blacksmith felt when he heard the first internal combustion engine.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Financial education for teens

I spent this morning at the UMass Lowell Tsongas Center participating in the "Money Strong" Fair sponsored by Jeanne d'Arc Credit Union for the benefit of seniors at Lowell High School. It was an amazing event, one that all students (and many adults) should be required to attend. The JDCU folks put an incredible amount of work (and money) into making this a huge success. Here's how it worked:

Each student was assigned to a particular occupation and was given a portfolio containing financial information such as annual salary, savings balance, and credit availability. The student also was given a worksheet with spaces for clothing, education, health, luxuries, furniture, housing, insurance, savings and transportation. Around the perimeter of the arena floor, separate booths were set up for the above categories. Every student had to go to every booth where the student would make financial decisions. Would the student rent a studio apartment, a one bedroom, or find a roommate and take a two bedroom. Was it cheaper to get a furnished apartment or an unfurnished one and acquire furniture separately. Each student had to make the dozens of financial decisions and calculations, large and small, that each of us continuously has to make.

I was assigned to the Housing Booth. Early customers opted for more opulent apartments. Many of them returned a few hours later after meeting with credit counselors after discovering that their expenses exceeded the income. They asked to switch to a cheaper, less desirable housing option to be able to live within their budgets.

The exercise was remarkably lifelike and the students were wonderful. All seemed to seriously contemplate their decisions and none treated it frivolously. And the folks from Jeanne d'Arc were fantastic. They provided a true community service. I left the event thinking that if many folks who purchased homes during the housing bubble had first experienced an exercise such as this, we wouldn't be plagued by the foreclosure crisis that continues to engulf us.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Foreclosures creeping up

The statistics after three weeks of April are trending negative. The number of deeds and mortgages are both down from the same time a year ago, deeds by 16% and mortgages by 12%. Worst of all, orders of notice, the document that signals the start of a new foreclosure, are up by 29%, rising from 69 to 89. Only foreclosure deeds are down (by 49%) but the significance of that is diminished by the previously mentioned rise in orders of notice. Speaking of which, I scrolled through the 89 that have been recorded thus far this month and found that the single largest entity recording them has been Wells Fargo. This tends to corroborate the prediction of the pessimists over the winter that foreclosures were only down temporarily due to a quiet freeze by many national lenders as they worked to resolve paperwork flaws in their delinquent mortgage portfolios. Unfortunately, the most recent statistics suggest that was an accurate assessment.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Globe reports foreclosures down

The Boston Globe reports today that foreclosures are down thus far this year compared to the same period last year. Comments by both UMass Lowell professor, Dave Turcotte (my co-author of the monthly Merrimack Valley Housing Report) and Tim Warren of the Warren Group both suggest that the rate of foreclosures could begin to pick up again due to questions about the economy and an end to artificial factors that have caused lenders to defer foreclosures.

Our own figures for this year might be grounds for optimism. The number of orders of notice recorded from January 1, 2010 to April 21, 2010 was 483; for the same period in 2011, it was 230, a decrease of 50%. Similar declines occurred with foreclosure deeds which dropped from 205 in 2010 to 102 this year, a decline of 52%.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Foreclosure deeds and newsprint

I found myself verifying the scanned images of documents recorded this morning before handing them back to the customers who recorded them. One was a foreclosure deed and for those (of a certain age) responsible for capturing a good-quality image, seeing a foreclosure deed brings to mind the old sci-fi TV show "Lost in Space." Do you remember the show? Remember how the robot used to repeatedly blurt out "Danger, Will Robinson, danger." That's how I feel when we see a foreclosure deed being recorded, all because of the apparent necessity to include the newspaper clipping of the Mortgagee's Notice of Sale to the document. Newsprint is cheap paper that's not very white in appearance. When the page containing the newspaper clipping gets scanned, the sensors on our scanner tend to blend the print and the background into black blobs of variable size. The forces us to change the setting on our scanner, but that creates other problems because while the blobs might be gone, so often are signatures that appear elsewhere on the document. A better solution from our point of view would be for the customer to photocopy the newspaper clipping at a setting that clearly distinguishes text from background and then affixing that photocopy to the document-to-be-recorded instead of the clipping itself. I'm not saying to do that because I think the law might require the clipping. I just don't understand why that is so. There may have been a valid reason in an age before scanning, but the hindrance in capturing a good image now would seem to outweigh any reason that may have existed back then.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Free White House App Available

I am a self-confessed political addiction ranges from the local level to the White House. I especially love to watch the role new media plays in politics and communication, so you can just image how excited I was when I discovered that the White House has a FREE App for tablets and cellphones...this includes both iPhones and Andriod Phones.

So what do you think was the first thing I did...right, I downloaded FREE The White House App.

The White House App offers videos, photo's, web chats, presidential speeches and press conferences.

Note...There are several Apps that use the words "white house" so if you are interested, be sure to download the FREE App called The White House.

Below is a video of former Press Secretary Robert Gibbs introducing The White House App to the World. Its pretty cool.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Lexington's Captain John Parker

Yesterday I took a ride to Lexington, MA. I arrived shortly before the annual Patriot's Day Parade and several hours after the re-enactment of the famous battle that took place on the Lexington Green on April 19, 1775, a battle recognized as the start of the American Revolution.

In the center of the town, directly in front of the Lexington Green stands a statue of a proud minuteman holding a musket. The statue is of Captain John Parker. On the morning of April 19 Parker lead a small band of Lexington farmers into battle.

I have driven by that Parker statue many times and each time I admirer the determination, pride and character displayed by the figure.

Captain Parker was part of a well respected Lexington family. At various times his father, Josiah served as Lexington Town Clerk, Assessor and even a Selectman. Parker himself was a farmer, mechanic and life long resident of Lexington...born on Spring Street. He was "a stout, large framed man of medium height". Parker was no stranger to military battle. Earlier in his life he fought in the French and Indian War at Louisbourg and Quebec and was a member of Roger's Rangers. At the age of 26 he married Lydia Moore also of Lexington.

On the morning of April 19, 1775 Captain John Parker was 46 years old as he stood beside 76 other colonists and opposed 700 British Regulars. At the time he was terminally sick with tuberculosis. His illness forced him to bed early the night before (April 18, 1975). It was around 1:00AM when a messenger arrived informing him that the Regulars were marching to Concord. Parker and his men assembled on the Lexington Green and around 5:30AM three advance companies of British Regulars burst on the scene commanded by Major Pitcairn.

Many, many times historians have debated how the events unfolded that morning, but several things are indisputable...

Parker lined his men in two ranks, a proud stance for freedom challenging the world's most dominant superpower... and the captain and his brave men weren't looking for fight that morning, but they weren't going to back down if one came ...and it did.

Here is the text of Captain John Parker's actual deposition given several days after the battle:

Lexington, April 25, 1775.

I, John Parker, of lawful age, and commander of the Militia in Lexington, do testify and declare, that on the nineteenth instant, in the morning, about one of the clock, being informed that there were a number of Regular Officers riding up and down the road, stopping and insulting people as they passed the road, and was also informed that a number of Regular Troops were on their march from Boston, in order to take the
Province Stores at Concord, ordered our Militia to meet on the common in said
Lexington, to consult what to do, and concluded not to be discovered, nor meddle or
make with said Regular Troops (if they should approach) unless they should insult us;
and upon their sudden approach, I immediately ordered our Militia to disperse and not to fire. Immediately said Troops made their appearance, and rushed furiously, fired upon and killed eight of our party, without receiving any provocation therefor from us.

John Parker

Captain John Parker didn't live long enough to see the United States officially declare its independence. He died of Tuberculosis a mere five months after the battle of Lexington and Concord...but his noble actions on April 19, 1775, so perfectly represented by that statue on the Lexington Green, sounded a declaration of freedom heard throughout the world.

Friday, April 15, 2011

First Glimpse of Superior Courthouse Elevator

Although not entirely finished the plastic enclosure that encased the new elevator shaft has been removed...yes, staging still surrounds the new addition, but this is actually the first glimpse of the elevator yet. If you look carefully you can see the wonderful job that was done replicating the historic windows of the original building.

Click Photo to enlarge

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Are foreclosures picking up?

I've spotted some troubling signs in our recording statistics. Since October 2010, there's been a steep decline in the number of foreclosures each month when compared to the same month from a year before. That trend continued through the first quarter of this year. From January 1, 2011 to April 13, 2011, the number of Orders of Notice was 191 compared to 460 for the same period in 2010. A decline in Foreclosure Deeds also occurred with a drop from 195 in 2010 to just 91 in 2011.

The early part of April departs from this trend, however. While foreclosure deeds are still down - 34 were recorded between April 1, 2010 and April 13, 2010 when only 12 where recorded between April 1 and 13 of 2011, the number of Orders of Notice recorded has risen, from 39 in the first 13 days of April 2010 to 48 thus far in April 2011.

We'll watch this trend closely since an upsurge in foreclosures this spring and summer would be crippling to any revival of the housing market.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Finishing Touches on the Elevator

The finishing touches are being applied to the Lowell Superior Courthouse Elevator...words is it will open in the next two weeks:

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Lowell 175

A gorgeous spring evening last night was the perfect backdrop to the city of Lowell’s 175th birthday party. While the brisk breeze may have strained the arms of those carrying the national flags of the many countries from which Lowell’s citizenry originated, it made the flags much more visible as they were tugged horizontally by the breeze. The speaking program was appropriate to the occasion with my personal highlights being the reading of the winning “Lowell Story” essay by its author, a Wang Middle School student, and the presentation of an enlarged reproduction of the original legislation that granted the city its charter back in 1836 by Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin to Mayor Jim Milinazzo (shown above).

Perhaps the best part of the evening was the mix of people who were there. Besides the student musicians in the Lowell High marching band, there were many other young people as part of the many ethnic groups that participated. Many others from the business, government and non-profit community were all present as were many other citizens of Lowell. It was a diverse group in every sense of the word and it represented the city well.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Is Steve Wozniak Coming Back?

Steve Wozniak is one of the most understated people I know (well, I don't really know him...I know of him).

Wozniak along with Steve Jobs founded Apple Computer in 1976. But Woz, as his friends call him (not me) wasn't just another business man...this guy is a computer genius. Completely alone Woz developed the hardware, circuit designs and operating system of the first ever Apple Computer (how would you like to put that on your resume?).

Of course, his Apple partner, Steve Jobs' flamboyant personality completely over-shadowed Wozniak. Sure, Jobs is a genius... nobody can argue against that, but there would be no Apple Computer without Wozniak. Hardware and software development was well beyond Steve Job's abilities in the 1970's.

By 1987 Steve Wozniak was a billionaire and he left Apple become a fifth grade math teacher in Los Gatos, California.

And now in a tech world shocker, the genius behind the genius said he would rejoin Apple Computer if asked. In light of Steve Jobs' recent third medical leave, we might just see the return of the Woz.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Lowell's 175th Birthday

This coming Monday, April 11, 2011, the city of Lowell turns 175 years old. The city was founded as a town in 1826, several years after the first textile mills were constructed, but it's incredible growth quickly let to its receiving its charter as a city just ten years later. At the time, Boston was the only city in Massachusetts and Lowell and Salem received their city charters from the state legislature during the same week in 1836.

Lowell is holding a big celebration Monday night at City Hall to commemorate the anniversary. Here's the schedule of events:

175th Kick-Off Reception (Monday, April 11 4:30 PM-6:30 PM) Event Schedule below:

• 4:20 PM – 4:30 PM: Multicultural Parade led by LHS Marching Band
• 4:30 PM – 4:40 PM: LHS Marching Band followed by Lowell Song (Gentleman Songsters)
• 4:40 – 5:05 PM: Speaking Program, including Mayor James Milinazzo, Secretary of the Commonwealth William Francis Galvin, City Manager Lynch, Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, Senator Eileen Donoghue, Representative Thomas Golden; Lowell story reading by Wang Middle School student; and performance by Amy Black (Mill Girl Song - photo at right)
• 5:10 PM – 5:30 PM: Ceremonial Birthday Cake in Mayor’s Reception Room, Tours of City Hall
• 5:30 PM – 6:30 PM: Mingling and music (including entertainment by Peter Leonard-Solis)

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Update on Superior Court re-use

Top officials of the Division of Capital Asset Management (DCAM), the state agency responsible for all state-owned buildings, traveled to Lowell this past Tuesda at the invitation of the city’s state house delegation to discuss the future of the Middlesex Superior Courthouse on Gorham Street once the new Judicial Center is completed. Plans for the Judicial Center are to be finalized this summer, work is to begin next year, and the structure is to be completed sometime in 2014. At that time, the Superior and District Courts will move into that building.

Peter Norstrand, the DCAM Deputy Commissioner, told those at yesterday’s meeting that the law requires DCAM to first inquire whether any state agency has an interest in using the vacated building. If there is such interest, DCAM can transfer responsibility to the interested agency. If no one in state government has an interest, then the city is offered the same opportunity. If the city is not interested, then DCAM will seek Requests for Proposals (RFPs) from private developers interested in taking on the building.

Normally, DCAM would wait until the building was vacated to begin this reuse process, but Norstrand said that because of all the concern shown in Lowell about the future of the Superior Courthouse, he will accelerate the “polling” process and have it begin this summer. This will allow any other state agency that is interested in using the building time to request funding from the legislature in the coming year’s budget.

It’s unclear where the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds will be located. The only certainty is that it will not be in the new Judicial Center since that will be exclusively for the use of the Trial Court. There’s a remote possibility the registry could remain in the Superior Courthouse as a tenant of whoever takes over the building, but more likely it will end up leasing space in a privately owned building. (Because so much of the registry’s functions have been transferred to computers, the office will only require about 10,000 square feet of space, plus some additional non-public storage areas).

The main reason that many folks in Lowell are so concerned so early in the process about the future of the Superior Courthouse is that we’re familiar with what happened in Worcester. There, little consideration was given to the existing courthouse until after their new Judicial Center was constructed and all entities moved from the old to the new. The old building, a beautiful structure that overlooks the downtown, was closed up and allowed to linger until early in this past winter when an auction was held to sell the building to a private developer. When only one bidder emerged from the process, DCAM canceled the auction and now the fate of the building is uncertain. As challenging as it may be to find a future use for the Lowell Superior Courthouse, no one wants it to follow the same path taken by its counterpart in Worcester.

The Lowell Sun published a story about this meeting.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Google SketchUp

If you are interested in design, of most any sort, you'll find google's latest release very helpful. It is called Google SketchUp. I tried it and I love it. It is easy to use and best of all its FREE!

Here is an introductory video presented by google...

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Pulling state money from Bank of America

The CBS News program 60 Minutes last night featured a story on "The Mortgage Paperwork Mess." Today, Essex South Register of Deeds John O'Brien requested that State Treasurer Steve Grossman withdraw state funds from Bank of America because of that Bank's avoidance of recording fees at the registry of deeds. Here's the statement released by John O'Brien:

Following last nights 60 Minutes expose on the Mortgage Paperwork Mess (view at ) Southern Essex District Register of Deeds, John O’Brien announced that he has written to Massachusetts State Treasurer, Steven Grossman. He has asked that the Treasurer change depository banks. Register O’Brien has specifically asked the Treasurer to place all deposits from his Registry into a local, non-MERS bank that follows the Massachusetts Land recordation rules. On an annual basis the Southern Essex District Registry of Deeds deposits approximately $25 million dollars into Bank of America.

O’Brien, who is leading a nationwide effort against the Mortgage Electronic Registration System (“MERS”), of which Bank of America is a major shareholder asserts that Bank of America, along with the other MERS member banks have failed to record assignments and pay the associated fees and in doing so has deprived the taxpayers of millions of dollars in lost revenue. O’Brien estimates that in his county alone the amount is over $22 million dollars and that, he adds, is a very conservative estimate. According to O’Brien, the loss of revenue to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts could be as high as $200 million dollars and to the nation, possibly in the billions.

O’Brien, who has asked MERS and their lender banks to come clean, open their books, and provide a full public accounting as to how many times and to whom they have sold consumers’ mortgages said, “Perhaps when these lenders lose millions of dollars in deposits, they may begin to understand the seriousness of their actions. It seems to me that their business model which has been referred to as “fees for thee, not for me” needs to be abolished.”

O’Brien further stated, “I find it extremely ironic, that the chief executive of Bank of America, who just last week received a $10 million dollar bonus continues to allow his bank to participate in this scheme. A scheme which has compromised the integrity of the land recordation system in Massachusetts. MERS has defended their practices by saying that they were helping the registries of deeds by reducing the amount of paperwork that needed to be recorded. This claim is outrageous. This is help that I did not need, nor did I ask for. It is very clear to me, that the only ones that they were helping were themselves, which I find shameful. For us to continue to reward these banks by depositing taxpayers’ money into them, is clearly not the responsible thing to do.”

O’Brien said he is reaching out to Registers’ of Deeds in Massachusetts and across the nation to ask them to join with him and encourage their state and county governments to follow his initiative and withdraw public funds from MERS’ member banks. O’Brien said, “By doing this we will send a resounding message that government officials are no longer going to stand by and continue to allow MERS and their joint venture banking partners to profit at the expense of the very same people that they are abusing.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Yes, They Have No iPad 2's

Saturday I took a ride to an Apple Store to get a look at the new iPad 2. I promised myself I was going to buy one as soon as the second generation came out.

When I walked into the Apple Store the iPads were right there, right at the front of the store. One thing I have to admit about Apple, not only are its products functional, they're stylish and beautiful as well. The iPad 2 is no exception. When you see it you want to pick it up and touch it.

The Apple Store was mobbed, but there were at least ten iPads on display, so I grabbed one and gave it a spin. I checked out CNN, the New York Times, the Lowell Sun and more. It lived up to all my is a wonderful product.

As I said before I wanted an iPad 2 and I must admit I had a plan that day, a plan that would ultimately lead the purchase of an Apple tablet.

My wife didn't accompany me into the Apple Store. She went into the dress shop beside it. I hung around and hung around, waiting and just playing with the iPad 2.

Here was my plan... When my wife came out of the dress store she'd come over and ask me what I thought of the iPad 2. I'd tell her I loved it and WE could use it for soooo many things. Good strategy, right? I know her...she'd say "why don't you buy it then"?.
Oh Yeah!

Don't misunderstand me...its not that I can't make my own decision, I was just looking for some positive reinforcement. I'm sure you've been there on a big purchase.

Well unfortunately, phase one of my plan wife remained in the dress store much longer than I expected.
Where the heck is she? I thought looking toward the entrance.

The guy beside me had been firing a barrage of questions at this very knowledgeable Apple big is the iPad 2, how much does it weigh, how long is the battery life, does it have different fonts, is it WiFi compatible etc... Hey, buddy, do some research. Finally he ran out of questions and I knew it would not be long before the salesperson was pressing on me.

Oh boy, I'm going to have to decide to buy or not to buy on my own, I thought.
What do I do?
Panic set in.
My mind raced, Tony, you can do this... if you want it, buy it, no big deal.

Salesman: Hi, nice product isn't it?
Me: (Where is my reinforcement!) I love it.
Salesman: Most people do
Me: (That's it, I'm going to do it...nervously) I like the black, I'll take a black one.
Salesman: Sorry, we don't have any black in stock.
Me: OK, then give me a white one, please.
Salesman: Sorry, but we don't have any white ones in stock either.
Me: What other color does the iPad 2 come in?
Salesman: None.
(relieved) So you mean you don't have any in stock at all. Is that what you are saying?
Salesman: Yes,
Me: So, let me just be certain....yes, I'm in an Apple Store right?
Salesman: Yes,
Me: And yes, you don't have any of the new iPad 2's.
Salesman: Yes...I mean No. I mean yes, we have no iPads.
Me: (with confidence) So, like when do you expect to get them in?
Salesman: Maybe Tuesday. You can call and check...but IF, and that is IF, we get some I would suggest you get here around 4:30 AM so you can get in line before we run out.
Me: (now my confidence is arrogance) Are you want me to come here at 4:30 in the morning hoping I get an iPad 2? Sorry but I'll pass.
Salesman: No problem sir.

I meet my wife outside the Apple Store and she know I thought for sure you were going to buy an iPad 2 today.
Me: Oh, I'd never do that without talking together about it first.

Friday, April 01, 2011

March statistics

As the days passed, March seemed to provide more and more evidence that the real estate market was sputtering. The end of the month statistics don't paint such a bleak picture, but they do convey a mixed message.

For the entire district, the number of deeds recorded in March 2011 was down 2% from March 2010 while the number of mortgages was down 5% for the same period. The good news is that foreclosures are down by double digits as they have been for a number of months. In March 2011, the number of foreclosure deeds recorded dropped 42% (57 to 33) compared to March 2010 while Orders of Notice were down 44% (112 to 63) for the same period.