Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Top Ten Registry events of 2013

Here are my choices for the top registry-related events of 2013. 

Top Ten Registry Events of 2013

The Registry of Deeds Modernization and Efficiency Commission which was created by Chapter 165 of the Acts of 2012 met numerous times throughout the year and completed its final report which will be submitted to the state legislature in January 2014.

The volume of documents processed by electronic recording reached 40% on several months and will account for 37% of all documents recorded in 2013.

The number of foreclosures in 2013 was down by more than 50% from 2012.  The number of deeds was up 15%.  The number of mortgages recorded for the year was down 8% but the mortgage numbers dropped substantially – by more than 50% per month – towards the end of the year signaling a near collapse of the refinancing market.

The Supreme Judicial Court issued a decision in HSBC Bank v Matt that interpreted the Service Members Civil Relief Act.  The first part of the holding ruled that the defendant in a claim under this Act may only raise his or her status as a member of the U.S. military in the case and other claims, such as the propriety of the foreclosure or of the mortgage are not properly raised in such a case.  The second part of the holding was that the plaintiff must be in possession of the mortgage sought to be foreclosed prior to filing suit under this act.

Attorney General Martha Coakley and her office continued to assist communities hit hard by foreclosures by offering a Distressed Properties Identification and Relocation Grant to gateway cities most affected by the real estate collapse.  The city of Lowell applied for and received a grant under this program.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau went into full operation and issued a number of new regulations related to disclosures and the paperwork requirements on consumer mortgages that will have a big impact on future home loans.

Due primarily to a large number of claims resulting from hurricanes and other major storms, the federal government has recalculated flood insurance premiums and redrawn flood maps, both of which will have a significant impact on those living in flood areas who have federally insured mortgages.  Many Lowell residents, including most condominium owners in downtown, will see substantial increases in their flood insurance premiums in the coming months.

The terrorist bombing of the Boston Marathon on Patriot’s Day had an indirect impact on everyone in the region although the Middlesex North Registry was not within the zone that was required to “shelter in place” during the search for the suspects.

In February, a snowfall of 22 inches forced the registry to close and led to a statewide ban on driving imposed by Governor Patrick.

On October 30, 2013, the Boston Red Sox defeated the St. Louis Cardinals to win the World Series for the third time in the past ten years.

Last week I wrote that I would post similar lists from years past.  I'll do that during the first few weeks of 2014.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Top Ten Registry Events of 2006

Continuing our walk down memory lane, here's what I posted back in December 2006 as the Top Ten Registry Events of that year:

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.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Top Ten of 2005

I created this blog on December 23, 2003 making yesterday the tenth birthday of the LowellDeeds blog.  Since December of 2005, I've published a Top Ten list of events of that year that had an impact on the registry.  Starting today I'll repost those Top Ten lists beginning with 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 www.lowelldeeds.com.

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!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Robo-Agents: Using drones to market real estate

Drones - remotely piloted aircraft - have been much in the news these past few years as weapons systems in the war on terror.  However, like most technology developed for the military, drones are increasingly being used for civilian purposes.  A story in today's New York Times explains how brokers handling multimillion dollar properties are now using remotely piloted drones to capture video footage that's included in slick marketing videos.  The story describes efforts to sell a house in Greenwich, Connecticut that included having the drone fly over the exterior of the house but then also fly within the interior of the home, capturing video all the time.  I don't think we'll be seeing drones used in Greater Lowell to help market homes anytime soon - those quoted in the NYT article say the cost and effort are only justified with multimillion dollar homes - but as the cost of the technology drops as it inevitably will, I suspect this technique will arrive in our vicinity sooner rather than later.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Documents recorded per year: 1990-2013

There are still six recording days left in 2013 but I was curious to see where our total number of documents recorded for this year compares to other years. Over that 24 year period, the high number came in 2003 with 146,956; the low number in 1990 with 51,820.  The average per year document total is 77,164.  On December 31 (or maybe on January 2, 2014), I'll do a post with the official end of the year numbers, but the 65,330 we have recorded to date will increase by about 1200 documents I would guess.

Here are the numbers from 1990 to present:

1990 51820
1991 52019
1992 76282
1993 83337
1994 71427
1995 60681
1996 67286
1997 70128
1998 93633
1999 89506
2000 71558
2001 97180
2002 115890
2003 146956
2004 96204
2005 87866
2006 72830
2007 66192
2008 56011
2009 65838
2010 63247
2011 59297
2012 71423
2013 65330

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Holiday Schedule

With Christmas fast approaching, I wanted to remind everyone that we will be closed on both Christmas and New Years Day but we will be open on all other days including Christmas Eve and New Years Eve for our normal hours (8:30 am to 4:15 pm).

Although the forecast for the coming weekend calls for temperatures in the 50s plus some rain, we have had a couple snowy reminders that the official start of winter is almost upon us (it's Saturday).  We try to stay open despite adverse weather but sometimes conditions deteriorate so much that we are forced to close.  More often, the Trial Court decides to close the building and since we are their tenants, we must comply with their decision.  For a snowstorm that begins during the workday, call us at (978) 322-9000 if you have any weather-related questions.  For storms that hit overnight, the Trial Court website posts such information in a timely manner.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Registry of Deeds Modernization & Efficiency Commission

Chapter 165 of the Acts of 2012 created a Registry of Deeds Modernization and Efficiency Commission that consisted of representatives of the legislature, the governor, the secretary of state and the registries of deeds.  The commission met many times during 2013 including public hearings in Boston, Worcester and Springfield.  Earlier this week, the Commission completed its task of studying the Commonwealth's registries of deeds and made recommendations to the legislature.  The report will be delivered to several joint legislative committees (Election Laws, State Administration & Regulatory Oversight, and Ways & Means) before the end of this calendar year.  As soon as the report is formally presented to the legislature, it will also be made available to the general public.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Making Microfilm

Yesterday was a meeting of the Technology Subcommittee of the Registers of Deeds Association.  One of many items discussed was microfilm and the wisdom of continuing to create it.  Professional archivists are increasingly of the opinion that electronic images are stable and reliable enough to serve as the sole source of information storage and so the need for microfilm as a backup is a matter of some dispute. 

Current state law mandates the creation of microfilm so no one will be stopping its production unilaterally.  Still, it's prudent to assess our archival and backup needs from time to time and seek statutory amendments where applicable.

My own opinion is that we should continue making microfilm.  While I have much confidence in electronic images and am convinced that past problems of forward compatibility of storage mediums and formats are a past problem, I am still concerned that some nefarious virus could pose a threat to electronic images.  It's an extremely remote threat but the risk of harm that would result - a complete loss of all land ownership records - would be catastrophic.

While I do advocate the continued creation of microfilm, it might be done in a more efficient manner.  Rather than each registry have an expensive piece of equipment needed to shoot the film, why not centralize that process with the Secretary of State's office?  When we "shoot" microfilm in-house today, we do so from the scanned image of the document, not from the original document.  A duplicate copy of all of those images is already stored with the Secretary's office so there would be no additional infrastructure needs.  It would also be helpful if the microfilm shot in this manner could also be stored centrally at someplace like the State Archives rather than at commercial disaster recovery sites as we do now, a service that might be done more efficiently within state government.

The only decision made yesterday was to continue pursuing the centralized creation and storage of microfilm of recorded documents.  Ceasing the creation of microfilm might be a wise choice at some point in the future but we are not at that point yet.   

Monday, December 09, 2013

A crisis in rental housing?

Each Monday the Merrimack Valley Housing Court comes to the Lowell Superior Court for a session.  The check-in line at 8:30 am is always out the door but it seems longer now than at anytime before.  Thinking about that earlier this morning, a story in today's Globe about rising rental costs caught my attention.  At $1000 per month, Massachusetts has the fifth highest median monthly rent in the country behind Hawaii at $1300, Washington DC at $1180, California at $1140, and Maryland/New Jersey at $1100.  The collapse of the housing market and the large number of foreclosures over the past decade have contributed to a steep increase in rents as many who had owned houses lost them and are now forced to be tenants.  With shelters overflowing and a long wait for subsidized housing, this situation doesn't look like it will improve any time soon.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Electronic Recording Statistics for November

The decline in the number of refinancings has also dragged down our volume of electronic recording since the majority of mortgages are now recorded by that method.  In November 2013, we recorded a total of 4315 documents of which 1475 were done electronically.  This accounts for 34%.  For the year, the electronic recording percentage was regularly at 39% so this is a significant drop.  I don't believe that it represents a cutback by users on e-recording technology; it's just a reflection of the refinancing slump.  Since every new mortgage typically results in a discharge of an old one, that also cuts into the number of discharges being recorded.

Of the 1475 documents recorded electronically this month, 447 were discharges, 134 were deeds, 390 were mortgages and 503 were other types.  Our monthly averages for the first eleven months of 2013 show how much higher discharges and mortgages have been in other months.  From January through November 2013, the monthly average of discharges was 764, of deeds was 165, of mortgages was 601, and of other documents 634.

Friday, November 29, 2013

November statistics

Here are the recording statistics for November 2013 compared to the same month in 2012:

Deeds were down 9%, dropping from 537 in 2012 to 489 in 2013;

Mortgages were down 52%, dropping from 1502 in 2012 to 725 in 2013;

Foreclosure deeds were down 60%, dropping from 20 in 2012 to 8 in 2013;

Orders of Notice were down 69%, dropping from 58 in 2012 to 18 in 2013;

Total documents were down 29%, dropping from 6112 in 2012 to 4314 in 2013.

For the year to date through the end of November, here are the percentages:

Deeds are still up 15%

Mortgages are down 8%

Foreclosure deeds are down 61%

Orders of Notice are down 53%

Total documents are down 1%

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Decline in mortgage numbers in historical context

We've noticed that the number of mortgages being recorded has declined substantially this fall as the refinancing market has slowed.  So far this month we have recorded 682 mortgages for the entire registry of deeds district.  To put that in historical context, I quickly calculated the number of mortgages recorded during the period November 1st through November 27th for each year since 2000.  Here is what I found:

2000 - 1028
2001 - 2014
2002 - 3243
2003 - 2038
2004 - 1943
2005 - 1573
2006 - 1298
2007 -  845
2008 -  554
2009 - 1002
2010 - 1344
2011 - 1151
2012 - 1245
2013 -  682

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Home prices rising

The Northeast Association of Realtors shared the following report on rising median home prices within its are which stretches from Boxford to our east to Littleton to our west:

(MERRIMACK & NASHOBA VALLEYS) — The Northeast Association of REALTORS® (NEAR) reported today that the combined sales of single family homes sold in the 15 cities and towns from Boxford to Littleton in October had a median sales price of $321,000,  an increase of  9.2  percent compared with the median of $294,000  in October of 2012.  The median sales price for condominiums sold in October was $203,750, a 23.5 percent increase over the median of $165,000 recorded in October of 2012.  Multi-Family prices increased 22.3 percent, with a median of $269,000, compared to $220,000 in October of 2012.   This report is based on data from MLS Property Information Network in Shrewsbury. 
Commenting on the area’s home sales market, NEAR President Christopher Doherty said, “As our year-to-date home sale statistics become clear here ten months into 2013, we observe that the local housing market has vastly improved over 2012.”  Doherty added that, “Year-to-date price increases of more than ten percent for all categories of homes demonstrate that demand is outpacing supply, and many homeowners will want to take advantage of these price increases and list their homes for sale in the coming months.”  
Doherty also remarked that, “The good news does not mean we are in for completely clear sailing, as REALTORS® in our region are helping their clients solve outside-the-box challenges like flood insurance premium increases and map changes and new mortgage regulations.” 
                The Northeast Association of REALTORS® is one of 1,500 local chapters of the National Association of REALTORS®. Officially, NEAR covers 15 cities and towns from Boxford to Littleton, though it has members from more than 50 cities and towns in the Merrimack and Nashoba valleys as well as southern New Hampshire.  The term, REALTOR®, is a trademark for use exclusively by members of the National Association of REALTORS®, whose members subscribe to a strict Code of Ethics.

To see whether similar price increases are occurring within some of the towns of the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds district, I calculated the median price for deeds with consideration above $75,000 and below $750,000 for 2011, 2012 and 2013 (up until today).  Our statistics show the following with median prices shown in dollars and the number of deeds that median is based on shown in parenthesis:

Lowell: 2011 median $170,000 (904); 2012 - $175,000 (902); 2013 - $195,000 (968)

Chelmsford: 2011 median $275,250 (406); 2012 - $278,950 (464); 2013 - $296,000 (511)

Dracut: 2011 median $214,800 (327); 2012 - $226,032 (409); 2013 - $244,000 (422)

Tewksbury: 2011 median $280,000 (313); 2012 - $275,000 (456); 2013 - $281,000 (422)

Monday, November 25, 2013

Foreclosures down this fall

Even though the local real estate market has slowed considerably since the end of the summer, the number of foreclosures from September 1, 2013 through today is down when compared to the same time in 2012.  This is true both for foreclosure deeds and orders of notice.

Here are town by town numbers of foreclosure deeds recorded for the period of September 1 through November 25, first for 2013 then for 2012.

Billerica - 3 in 2013, down from 8 in 2012
Carlisle - 1 in 2013, none in 2012
Chelmsford - 4 in 2013, down from 5 in 2012
Dracut - 1 in 2013, down from 7 in 2012
Lowell - 15 in 2013, down from 20 in 2012
Tewksbury - 3 in 2013, down from 4 in 2012
Tyngsborough - 3 in 2013, up from 2 in 2012
Wilmington - 1 in 2013, up from 7 in 2012

Similar trends are apparent for orders of notice, as well.

Billerica - 6 in 2013, down from 13 in 2012
Carlisle - 1 in 2013, none in 2012
Chelmsford - 3 in 2013, down from 7 in 2012
Dracut - 11 in 2013, down from 15 in 2012
Lowell - 16 in 2013, down from 46 in 2012
Tewksbury - 6 in 2013, down from 12 in 2012
Tyngsborough - 1 in 2013, down from 6 in 2012
Westford - 3 in 2013, down from 7 in 2012
Wilmington - 0 in 2013, down from 10 in 2012

Friday, November 22, 2013

New mortgage rules from CFPB

A lawyer recording documents this morning asked about the state of real estate.  I gave my standard reply these days: the market has been lethargic since August.  In discussing the prospects for improvement, the lawyer mentioned new rules for RESPA's and other things that are being developed by the Consumer Financial Protection as possibly causing some disruption when they go into effect sometime in the future.

The CFPB site always contains interesting information.  From what I can discern, these new rules are about improving disclosure to the consumer.  Here's some of what is said on the site:

The final rule contains new rules and forms for two disclosure forms consumers receive in the process of getting a mortgage loan: the Loan Estimate, which comes three business days after application, and the Closing Disclosure, which comes three business days before closing on the loan. These disclosures are required by the Truth in Lending Act and the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act. The new forms integrate existing disclosures and implement some new disclosure requirements from the Dodd-Frank Act.

The rule also offers some more protections for consumers. For example, consumers must receive their Closing Disclosure three business days before closing on the loan so they have time to review it. The final rule also limits the circumstances in which consumers will have to pay more for settlement services than the estimate they received.

These disclosures and requirements will be effective August 1, 2015.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Grand opening of Richard P Howe Bridge

Richard P. Howe Sr. is my dad.  Yesterday the city of Lowell and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (by Mass Highway) dedicated a new bridge across the Merrimack River in his name.  The Richard P. Howe Bridge connects Merrimack Street on the south side of the river with University Ave on the north side.  It replaces the bridge commonly called the University Ave bridge which has stood for many decades.  The older bridge which has also been known as the Textile or Textile Memorial Bridge has suffered severe structural damage from the elements and was deemed to be beyond repair.  It will be torn down during the winter and should be entirely gone by spring. Richard P. Howe Sr., who was able to attend the ceremony yesterday, was elected to the Lowell City Council in 1965 and served forty consecutive years including four terms as mayor. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Mid November statistics

Halfway through each month we look at the recording statistics for the first two weeks of the month and compare them to the same period from the prior year.  The numbers this year continue the troubling decline in mortgage activity that we first started to see in August.

In the first two weeks of November 2013 there were 266 deeds recorded, an increase of 8% from the 247 recorded during the first two weeks of November 2012.

During the past two weeks, 389 mortgages were recorded which represents a 43% decline in the number of mortgages recorded for the same time a year ago.

Two declines that are welcome come in foreclosure deeds and orders of notice.  Foreclosure deeds fell 54% from 13 in 2012 down to 6 in 2013; Orders of notice also fell 54%, dropping from 28 in 2012 to 13 in 2013.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Public records in Massachusetts

The Globe today has an editorial endorsing a bill pending in the state legislature that would update our public records law.  About once each month citing the public records law from someone requesting a particular document.  Since our records are all freely available on our website, I typically direct the person to that.  Occasionally a request will be for "all records" of land ownership which is 10 million pages worth of scanned images.  There requests I direct to the Secretary of State's office which has the technical capability of copying and transferring large quantities of electronic material.  From prior investigation, I do know that a such a request is a legitimate one under the public records law with the caveat that the public records law only applies to records in existence at the time the request is made.  Someone seeking to obtain all registry land records on an ongoing basis, therefore, would have to repeatedly request the latest records.  Since that task would be particularly burdensome on the requester, those making such requests tend to be willing to enter into some type of voluntary subscription agreement (for a reasonable fee) that would provide them with new records and a continuous basis.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

More on government technology projects

Monday's Boston Globe had an Op-Ed by Melissa Threadgill, a former State House staffer and current student at the Kennedy School of Government, about the inherent flaws in the government technology acquisition process.  Based on my experience and observations, I can say that Threadgill knows what she's talking about. 

She identifies two fundamental flaws.  The first involves the funding mechanism for IT.  Rather than including adequate amounts for ongoing improvements and upgrades in annual budgets, government agencies rely on Information Technology bonds to fund major projects.  While this approach might work well for building bridges and roads, it is a poor way to acquire technology.  Having a large amount of one-time funds leads to overly complex systems that take too long to design, too long to build, and too long to deploy.  When it comes to technology and its speedy evolution, this approach to acquisition frequently renders the new application obsolete by the time it is first deployed.

The other flaw in the governmental process is that the complexity of purchasing procedures creates a preference for large established firms that have the contacts, bureaucratic experience, and overhead to navigate the system.  The actual product often takes a back seat to the process and the governmental entity and its users are left with an application that struggles with critical tasks while being burdened with unneeded functionality.

Whatever complaints may exist about the registry of deeds computer system, at least it works unlike so many new governmental applications that are being rolled out these days.  One reason for that is that the registry system has in many ways been a bottom up process that incorporates necessary functions.  As we begin contemplating our next computer system, hopefully we will be able to pursue a flexible path that provides us with the system we need and the ability to adapt it to rapid changes in technology.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Lowell Assessor site links to Registry website

For many years we've explored ways to link the record for a particular property on the local assessor's website to the corresponding deed on the registry of deeds website.  For a variety of reasons, it has been a difficult connection to make.  The city of Lowell, however, recently inserted a button on its website that allows users to go directly to the searchable Middlesex North section of MassLandRecords.com.

If you go to the city of Lowell assessor's site (http://www.lowellma.gov/mis/Pages/General/GIS.aspx
and click on the blue "Access Property Info" box.  That will display the search field where you can retrieve a parcel map and property info by address, street name or by owner name.  Once you've retrieved the parcel info, a map will display in the center of your screen and data about the parcel will appear in a smaller window to the right.  Towards the bottom of that data is a line that gives the registry book and page number of the deed into the assessed owner.  Below that it says "Access Deed Info".  Clicking that (now) brings you to the MassLandRecords site, ready to search.  In the not too distant future, we hope to use the book and page link shown on the assessor's record as a link to the corresponding document on our website.  Hopefully we'll be able to reverse the process as well so that viewing the deed on the registry website will offer a button that says "View Assessor Info" that will take you right to the corresponding page on the assessor website.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Veteran's Day and administrative info

We've received a few calls regarding our status for this coming Monday which is Veteran's Day, a state and national holiday and so the Registry of Deeds will be closed for the entire day on Monday, November 11.

As for other holidays remaining in 2013, we will be closed on Thursday, November 28 for Thanksgiving, on Wednesday, December 25 for Christmas, and on Wednesday, January 1, 2014 for New Years Day.  We will be open on all other days including the day after Thanksgiving and on Christmas Eve day and New Years Eve day for our normal hours which are 8:30 am until 4:30 pm (with recording ceasing at 4:15 pm).

As much as I dislike mentioning it, inclement weather can always affect registry operations.  For overnight snow or ice storms, check the Trial Court website http://www.mass.gov/courts/courtsandjudges/courts/trialcourt.html which provides the most up to date information on weather-related closures.  (Because the registry of deeds is located within the Lowell Superior Courthouse, our ability to open is dependent on the Trial Court keeping the courthouse open).

When coming to the registry, all documents presented for recording are immediately scanned and returned to the customer (except registered land documents which we retain).  Recording fees must be paid by cash or check; we do not take credit or debit cards.  Documents sent to us by mail are recorded the day they arrive and are typically mailed out in the same day's mail (assuming the customer includes a self-addressed, stamped envelope).  About one out of every three documents we record now come to us electronically.  In these cases, the original document never leaves the possession of the person doing the recording.

To research our records, we provide several public access computer terminals here at the registry, however, all documents are also freely available on our website, www.lowelldeeds.com

Thursday, November 07, 2013

The Federal government and housing policy

In a column in today's New York Times, Jesse Eisinger, a reporter for ProPublica, argues that Congress is about to do to the housing market what the Affordable Care Act did to health insurance.  By that he means that rather than completely overhaul health insurance and create a single-payer "Medicare for all" system, Congress and the President accepted the political reality that you could not so completely disrupt the insurance industry and so settled on a more complex hybrid arrangement.  Eisinger asserts that there is surprising consensus in Congress that the Federal government must pull back from underwriting private home ownership, perhaps not getting completely out of the picture but certainly becoming less involved with private capital bearing more of the risk.  Eisinger disagrees with this incremental approach, arguing that the Feds would have to underwrite any collapse of the market so why not be directly and transparently involved from the start.  Here's a link to the column.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Assigning book and page numbers to documents

Yesterday a customer brought to our attention the unusual spacing of the page numbers of a first and second mortgage on the same property that were recorded sequentially back in 2004.  The first mortgage was assigned Book xxxxx, Page 109 and the second mortgage was assigned Book xxxxx, Page 111.  What made this odd was the fact that the first mortgage was 22 pages long.  The images of all 22 pages are present in our computer system so there's nothing missing. It's just unusual for the document that follows a 22 page document be only 2 pages further along in the numbering system.

The explanation is simple, but it also serves to illustrate an important distinction between traditional books and those that exist in electronic form only. 

To understand what happened in this case, you must first understand our sequence of work when recording a document.  This was a walk-in customer and the two mortgages were part of a larger set that had to be recorded together.  The registry of deeds clerk who first encountered the customer would have reviewed each document to ensure it was signed and acknowledged and then would count the pages of the document, writing the number of pages counted in the upper left corner.  The next registry clerk (back in the hectic days of 2004 we were almost always working in teams at the recording counter; today it is more an individual task) would key certain information from the document into our computer system.  Included in that information would be the number of pages in the document.  With a set of multiple documents, all data for each document is entered and the cashiering transaction is "completed" (i.e.,  fees are collected and a book and page number is assigned to each document by the computer) before any of the documents in that set are scanned.

In this case, when the person counting the document wrote the number of pages - 22 - on the front of the document, the second "2" was smudged and so when the second clerk entered the data into the computer, the "number of pages" field got a "2".  This caused the computer to jump just two pages, not twenty-two, when assigning the next number.  The label on the first mortgage has "Page: 1 of 2" on it.

When we discovered this discrepancy at the scanning station, we simply crossed out the "2" in "1 of 2" and wrote "22" in its place.  When we scanned the document, the system would have alerted us that the number of pages we scanned for that document exceeded the number of pages entered into the computer and asked us if we wanted to proceed (this is a guard against inadvertently scanning two documents together).  When we answered "yes" to override the page numbers, all 22 pages were scanned and all are available when the document at book xxxxx, page 109 is retrieved. 

In the old days when physical books were created, this would have been a problem because all of these extra pages would have to be added.  Back then, we would assign letters to each of the extra pages so that they would be page 109A, 109B, 109C and so on.  Because our paperless system does not have physical pages, we can put as many pages as we want between two "book and page" numbers and not have a problem which is what happened here.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Electronic recording in October

The percentage of documents being recorded electronically dropped slightly in October from previous months.  In previous months, we had often 39% of our documents come to us electronically.  In October, the electronic volume had slipped to 35%.

There were a total of 4947 documents recorded in October of which 1728 were recorded electronically.  Those numbers yield a daily average of 225 documents with 79 coming in electronically.  Of the 4947 documents there were 510 discharges, 145 deeds, 450 mortgages and 560 documents of other types.

Over the course of ten months, a total of 57,895 documents have been recorded of which 22,267 have been recorded electronically. 

Friday, November 01, 2013

October recording statistics

The October recording statistics show a definite slow down in real estate overall.  The number of deeds recorded is stable, but the number of mortgages recorded is down significantly both from October of last year and from prior months this year.  Here are the numbers:

The number of deeds recorded in October 2013 (503) is up 3% from the number recorded in October 2012 (489).

The number of mortgage in October 2013 (809) is down 47% from the October 2012 number (1529).

The number of foreclosure deeds in October 2013 (17) is up 55% from October 2012 (11)

The number of orders of notice in October 2013 (17) is down 58% from October 2012 (40)

The total number of documents recorded in October 2013 (4947) is down 25% from October 2012 (6585).

While the percentage increase in foreclosure deeds is big (55%) the number involved are not particularly worrisome, especially with the drop in orders of notice.

More problematic is the drop in mortgages.  The 809 in this October is also part of a continuous downward trend during the past few months.  In September 2013 there were 964 mortgages; in August there were 1085; in July there were 1279.  The July number is about average for the preceding months of 2013.  My experience through the years is that mortgage volume tends to be a leading indicator of deeds activity, so this does not bode well for the real estate market in the coming months.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

World Champion Boston Red Sox

For the third time during my tenure as register of deeds I've been able to say "World Champion Boston Red Sox."  That's a privilege that only one of my predecessors has had.  William Purcell was elected Register of Deeds of the Middlesex North District in 1909 and served until 1934 during which time the Red Sox won the World Series four times - in 1912, 1915, 1916 and 1918.  (They won their first in 1903). 

For the record, the Boston Red Sox won the World Series at 11:23 last night with the final out of game six in which the Sox defeated the St. Louis Cardinals, 6 to 1.  That was the fourth victory against two defeats in this series for the Red Sox so now they are world champions who will be honored by a Duck Boat parade this Saturday. 

While those living a century ago may have experienced an extra World Series victory, there can be no argument that we are living in the golden age of Boston sports.  Consider this:

  1. February 3, 2002: Patriots beat St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI
  2. February 1, 2004: Patriots beat Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII
  3. October 27, 2004: Red Sox beat St. Louis Cardinals to win World Series
  4. February 6, 2005: Patriots beat Philadelphia Eagles to win Super Bowl XXXIX
  5. October 28, 2007: Red Sox beat Colorado Rockies to win World Series
  6. June 17, 2008: Celtics beat Los Angeles Lakers to win NBA title
  7. June 15, 2011: Bruins beat Vancouver Canucks to win Stanley Cup
  8. October 30, 2013: Red Sox beat St. Louis Cardinals to win World Series
Add to these accomplishments these near-misses:
  1.  February 3, 2008: Patriots lose to New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII
  2. April 14, 2010: Celtics lose to Los Angeles Lakers in NBA finals
  3. February 5, 2012: Patriots lose to New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI
 And you have a pretty good run.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Big computer contracts, big computer glitches

The Globe today reports on hearings held yesterday by the state legislature on problems that exist in a new online system for submitting unemployment claims.  Similar problems have occurred with major new computer systems for the Department of Revenue and for the Registry of Motor Vehicles.  Then there is healthcare.gov, the web-based portal for those seeking health insurance coverage which is all part of the Affordable Care Act.  These state projects, at least, each cost tens of millions of dollars yet they are beset by performance issues, cost overruns, and delays in deployment.  What's going on?

Part of the problem, in my view, is something that's not unique to government.  It's that many of the top decision makers, be they in government or corporate America, are deficient in their technological aptitude.  The CEO of a company or the Director of a governmental agency are used to being (or to being treated like) the smartest and most powerful person in the world.  When the talk turns to technology, however, the leader who lacks a solid foundation of technological literacy is soon adrift and uncomfortable.  Since it's usually the organization's own IT people who create that unease (partly because they're technicians, not salesmen), they are soon banished to the computer room and the chief comes under the spell of the consultants who are salesmen.  They give the chief a warm, fuzzy feeling at least until the contract is signed.  The problem that typically arises is that the people designing the new computer system and the people who best understand how the business operates, don't communicate very well. This is the critical factor because the computer is just another tool that is used to operate the business.  If the people controlling the design of the computer system don't understand how the business works and if the people who understand the workings of the business don't understand what the computer designers are proposing, the result is usually unsatisfactory.  I think that's what we're seeing now.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Selling property that straddles state boundaries

An attorney here today on an unrelated transaction shared an interesting situation.  He represents the seller of a property that lies partly in a Massachusetts community and partly in a New Hampshire community.  He understands that he must record the deed in the Middlesex North Registry for the Massachusetts portion and also in the Hillsborough Registry for the New Hampshire portion, but what of the tax stamps?  In Massachusetts, the seller pays the entire tax while in New Hampshire the tax is equally divided between the buyer and the seller.  The challenge is how to apportion the purchase price to calculate the amount of tax due to each state. 

The attorney worked with the Massachusetts Department of Revenue and the New Hampshire Division of Taxation and together they found a solution acceptable to all.  He was to take the assessed value of the New Hampshire property (it was in a town with 100% valuation) and the assessed value of the Massachusetts property, combine them together, and then calculate the percentage of the whole applicable to each state.  He was then to apply that percentage to the sales price and the resulting amounts would be the basis for the tax liability in each state. 

To illustrate, let's say that the New Hampshire property was assessed at $180,000 while the Massachusetts property was assessed at $70,000.  Together they total $250,000.  The New Hampshire property accounts for 72% of the total while the Massachusetts property is 28%.  Let's assume further that the purchase price on this sale is $325,000.  The New Hampshire tax liability would be based on 72% of $325,000 which equals $234,000 while the Massachusetts tax liability would be based on 28% of $325,000 which equals $91,000. 

This is not a situation that occurs frequently, but it's good to know how it is to be handled, just in case.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Bank of America found liable for bad mortgages

The New York Times reports today that a jury in a US District Court in Manhattan found Bank of America liable for bad mortgages that were originated by Countrywide and then sold to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac which sustained more than $1 billion in losses on the mortgages.  Bank of America purchased Countrywide in 2008 for $4 billion and has already paid $50 billion in fines, penalties and settlements for Countrywide-related claims.  In this case, the evidence was that Countrywide created a system of bonuses for its brokers that were based on how quickly they originated loans without regard to the credit-worthiness of the borrowers.  Despite representations by Countrywide to the contrary, a large percentage of these mortgages defaulted which lead to the big losses by Fannie and Freddie.  Today's article indicates that while the potential losses to Bank of America in the case will not be particularly onerous (the trial judge will set the damages but they are expected to be less than $1 billion), the government's success in this case could open the floodgates for additional litigation against Bank of America.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Observations on home sales from Northeast Association of Realtors

Yesterday afternoon I received the following press release from the Northeast Association of Realtors.  The topic is recent trends in home sales and since it includes the communities in the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds district, I decided to share it with our readers:

Local Housing Numbers Show Improvement in All Categories

Prices and Volume are Up for Single-Family, Condominium, and Multi-Family Homes

(MERRIMACK & NASHOBA VALLEYS) — The Northeast Association of REALTORS® (NEAR) reported today that the combined sales of single family homes sold in the 15 cities and towns from Boxford to Littleton in September had a median sales price of $332,960  an increase of  5.7  percent compared with the median of $315,000  in September of 2012.  The median sales price for condominiums sold in September was $185,000, a 10.1 percent increase over the median of $168,000 recorded in September of 2013.  Multi-Family prices increased 5 percent, with a median of $252,500, compared to $240,450 in September of 2012.   This report is based on data from MLS Property Information Network in Shrewsbury. 
Commenting on the area’s home sales market, NEAR President Christopher Doherty said, “One story that shows through in our numbers this month is that the market is improving at many different price points, as 34 percent more condos were sold this September when compared with the previous September. ”  Doherty added that, “The improving numbers in terms of sales volume and prices in every home category provides real cause for optimism in our local housing market.” 
Doherty also remarked that, “Our rapidly increasing prices show that low inventory is a problem and sellers are in a good position right now, yet it is heartening that the volume of single family homes sold this September was 15.7 percent higher than September of last year, so we can see that the market is improving on all fronts.” 
                The Northeast Association of REALTORS® is one of 1,500 local chapters of the National Association of REALTORS®. Officially, NEAR covers 15 cities and towns from Boxford to Littleton, though it has members from more than 50 cities and towns in the Merrimack and Nashoba valleys as well as southern New Hampshire.  The term, REALTOR®, is a trademark for use exclusively by members of the National Association of REALTORS®, whose members subscribe to a strict Code of Ethics.