Thursday, August 29, 2013

Some Registry of Deeds history

At yesterday's meeting of the Massachusetts Registries of Deeds Modernization and Efficiency Commission meeting held in Springfield, Mary Olberding, the Register of Deeds of the Hampshire Registry of Deeds, gave the following testimony during the public hearing phase of the meeting.  Her remarks include important historical background on registries in Massachusetts.  She agreed to allow me to post them here:

Thank you to Legislators, my fellow Registers, Mr. Maresco and all members of the Commission who are generously giving their time to serve the Commonwealth. Thank you for traveling to Western Massachusetts for this public hearing.And thank you to my colleague, Register Ashe for hosting us.

I welcome the opportunity for review of the Registries of Deeds by this Commission and the Legislature, for I believe this exercise will demonstrate that the Registries are completely dedicated to continuous improvement in the areas of efficiency, technology and management.

Before there was even a United States, they were recorded documents in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. And before we elected our first President of the United States, we elected Registers of Deeds.
Each Registry district has unique characteristics; the types of property, the geography, the topography. The formation of their boundaries is based on a history that predates the formation of all of the counties in the Commonwealth.
The Registries of Deeds, as they exist today, were established under the First Modern Recording Act of 1640. For most of the Colonial period, the Clerks of the County Courts maintained the public record but in 1715, a law was enacted calling for the election of Registers; to represent the people of their district; so there would be an elected representative of the people, accountable to them, who would know the land and know the landowners. This is as true today as it was then.
The Legislature, the Courts and the Registries have partnered for centuries to protect property and the rights of ownership.
Each Registry operates independently, but they coordinate efforts and share best practices through meetings of the Registers Association.
There is no statutory requirement to record an instrument to transfer title. The Registry’s purpose is to provide an accurate, reliable recording of all documents related to property, and, make them available for immediate public notice thus protecting from possible future claims on that property. This service is delivered by a well-trained staff with the latest technology that makes it possible.  
The land record management system is the cornerstone of the orderly transfer of property in the Commonwealth. Maintaining that system is the job of the Registers of Deeds.
And they do so with great efficiency.
Efficiency is delivering a service in the manner that the customer wants it. That delivery of service is different depending on the Registry.  How, then, would you measure efficiency of the Registries?  The volume of business at each Registry is subject to the economic forces that govern the real-estate industry.  
It is not possible for any Register to exert any influence over these forces; no marketing strategy will increase recordings, no investment will increase earnings.
A measure of our success is not the number of documents recorded, or a ratio of documents per capita.  It is not possible to measure efficiency based on statistics of use, because use is driven by the market economy. No uniform standard or statistic can measure our efficiency.
Rather, it is the users who decide if the Registers deliver their service efficiently; with a balance of speed and accuracy.
The Registers, as elected officials, have modernized as necessary throughout the history of the Commonwealth. When you think that deeds and documents have been recorded for over three hundred years, it is easy to see the evolution of technology used from the early days when documents were transcribed and attested, to documents retyped, then microfilmed and now scanned and digitized.
Electronic recording is the next phase of delivering efficient customer service. It is another example of the ways Registries are responsive to the needs of our users. The efficiency of e-recording is the customers. E-recording, like service provided at the counter, requires an element of human judgment by the staff to ensure documents are recordable. And, with e-recording comes the additional responsibilities for the staff to train and enlist new users.
For over three centuries, the job of the Registry remains the same: to record documents, verify they meet the Deed Indexing Standards and ensure the orderly transfer of property within our district.
The true measure of efficiency for the Registers doing this job, as with any elected official,  is whether or not the taxpayers and users of the Registry are getting the service they need.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Restrictions on electronic devices in courthouse next week

Because of a high profile case (Commonwealth v Walter Shelley) that is to be tried in the Middlesex Superior Courthouse in Lowell next week, the trial judge Hon Janet Kenton-Walker) has issued an order banning "cell phones, laptops, notepads, tablets, cameras and electronic recording devices" from the courthouse during the trial.  The order specifically exempts "court employees, title examiners, law enforcement officers and jurors."  Members of the news media who are registered with the Supreme Judicial Court's public affairs office and who receive prior approval of the trial judge may be permitted to cover the trial.  Copies of this order are posted prominently at the entrance of the courthouse.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Median sales price in Lowell: 2000 to 2012

The documents recorded here at the Registry of Deeds don't identify the use of the property (residential, retail, industrial, etc) but deeds recorded here do tell us how much was paid for the property.  I recently queried our database to determine the median price of deeds recorded in Lowell each year from 2000 through 2012.  To eliminate really high or really low prices, I restricted this analysis to deeds with consideration greater than $75,000 and less than $750,000.  Using that method, here's the median price of properties in Lowell for the years indicated. 
  • 2000 - $140,000
  • 2001 - $162,000
  • 2002 - $187,375
  • 2003 - $217,000
  • 2004 - $238,600
  • 2005 - $254,900
  • 2006 - $247,000
  • 2007 - $225,000
  • 2008 - $184,900
  • 2009 - $178,500
  • 2010 - $180,000
  • 2011 - $170,000
  • 2012 - $175,000

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Blackberry and Wang

New York Times columnist wrote yesterday about the troubles of Blackberry, comparing the communications device manufacture formerly known as Research in Motion (RIM) to Wang.  Not too long ago, Blackberry was the almost exclusive device of corporate America and the Federal government.  Just watch a Washington-based drama produced five or ten years ago and everyone important is constantly pulling out a Blackberry to check the latest news.  Devices like iPhones were seen as toys that were not appropriate accessories for serious people.  But even though iPhones and equivalent devices like the Android still aren't as good as a Blackberry for email and messaging (I've owned both and have that opinion), the touchscreen smartphones do so many other things well that customers are tolerant of the lesser typing technology and have almost universally switched to Apple and Android leaving Blackberry in tough financial straits. 

Nocera suggests that it was Blackberry's dominance that made it arrogant, or at least blind to the threat to its standing, thereby allowing competitors with different products to surpass the standing-pat leader.  The columnist asserts that this is not unusual in business and points to Wang as a further example.  Before the advent of the PC, nearly every major business and office in America had a Wang word processor.  Wang was very slow to pick up on the desktop revolution and once it did, it didn't do it very well and was left behind, filing bankruptcy in 1992 and being mentioned most often these days in answer to trivia questions.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Foreclosure Update

There have been about 50 foreclosure deeds recorded for property in Lowell so far this year (there are a few others that are "confirmatory" or something other than a standard foreclosure).  For the same time period in 2012 there were 121 so this is definitely a positive trend.

Another positive trend is the shrinking of the time gap between the auction and the recording of the foreclosure deed.  The property is in a kind of legal limbo during this period and last time I measured which was a few years ago, it was often a year or more.  Now, however, the average gap is 5 months and quite a few (13 of 50) were recorded in one month or less.

As for the circumstances involved in these current foreclosures: most of them were of mortgages that originated during the boom.  Of the 2013 foreclosure deeds, for instance, 7 were of mortgages that were executed in 2004, 15 were from 2005, 12 were from 2006, 4 were from 2007, and no other year had more than 2.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Registry website user instructions (Part II)

Yesterday I posted some instructions on the use of our and websites.  Here's the rest of them:

“Advanced” – To the far right of the search boxes at the top of the screen is the “Advanced” button. Click this to display additional search boxes such as town, document type and date range to further refine your search.

Registered Land – Most property records in Massachusetts are “Recorded Land.” However, about 10% of all property is “Registered Land.” Registered Land falls under the jurisdiction of the Massachusetts Land Court.  While Registered Land documents are kept at the registry of deeds, they are stored in a separate database.  If you are unable to find a document, be sure to also search in the Registered Land database (see “search criteria” above).  To determine if property is Registered Land, look in the property description section of a document.  If you see a reference to a Certificate of Title, then it’s most likely Registered Land.

“Basket” -  Once you have displayed a document image, you can also print it.  Because every computer/printer/software combination is different, it is sometimes better to download the document to your computer and then to print it. (Downloading also allows you to email the document image).  Use the Basket function to download a document.  With the document displayed, click “Add to Basket” which is to the top right of the document images. From the box that appears, select “Add [all] pages” and click “next.”  On the upper menu bar, click “Basket” and then check the box next to the document you want to download.  Click “download PDF” and wait for the download process to complete.  Once the document file has been downloaded, you can open, print, email or save.

Hints -  The primary method of indexing documents is by owner name, not by address.  Most liens are against all the property owned by the debtor so they do not specify and address; restricting a search to records from a particular town will exclude many relevant liens.  If you can’t find a record, look in Registered Land.  The best way to find a recorded subdivision plan is to find its plan book/plan number from the property description portion of another document and then retrieve the plan by its plan book number. Plot plans do not get recorded.

Coverage – All documents from 1629 to the present are available online.  Documents from 1950 to the present can be retrieved with “Book search”, from 1855 to 1950 with “Unindexed property search” and before 1855 with “pre-1855 document search”

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Registry website user instructions (part I)

This is the first in a series of blog posts that will provide some practical instruction on the use of the registry of deeds website: – Home page of the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds. Contains information on filing fees, indexing standards, sales & foreclosure reports and a LINK to the statewide land records database (click the yellow “Search” box). – Statewide land records database. Records are added by individual registries of deeds but site is maintained by Secretary of State’s office. The default search is by name, however, other search methods are available (see below).

“search criteria” – An option on the upper left menu bar. Moving your cursor over “search criteria” will display a box filled with search options. The most commonly used besides name search are Property Search (when you have the property address) and Book Search (when you have the book and page number).

“search options” – Also on the upper menu bar. Hover over this and de-select “Popup Image Viewer.”  The default setting on the website is to display images in a popup viewer but the antivirus software on many computers makes this complicated. By removing the check mark from the “Popup Image Viewer” option, images will display onscreen.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Electronic recording statistics

Here are some electronic recording statistics for July and through the end of July:

In July, 40% of the documents we recorded came to us electronically (2529 of 6392).  Of those, 825 were discharges, 205 were deeds, 692 were mortgages and 807 were other types.

Our seven-month average for 2013 shows that 39% of recorded documents come to us electronically (2349 of 6011). Of those (on average for the month) 885 are discharges, 163 are deeds, 668 are mortgages and 651 are other types.

One thing to point out is how much higher the number of deeds recorded electronically in July (205) was than the monthly average for the first seven months of 2013 (163).  This could reflect a wider use of electronic recording in doing full real estate closings.

As for our total volume of documents, using the total number recorded through July to project 2013 totals would give us 72,127 for the year which would be up slightly from the 70,558 recorded in 2012 and quite a bit more than the 59,173 recorded in 2011.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

GSAMP Trust 2007 NC1

That's the name of a bond produced by Goldman Sachs that is now the subject of litigation in which Goldman finds itself as a defendant.  The plaintiffs are US Government lawyers.  They are involved not in their role as regulators or prosecutors (that's a whole other story) but because large slices of the bond had been purchased by Fannie Mae which had to be bailed out by the Feds.  That gave the Federal government a large ownership stake in Fannie Mae and standing to litigate this issue.

An article in today's New York Times provides some valuable context for all of this.  The "bond" in question contained 9393 subprime mortgages originated by New Century (that's what the NC at the end of the bond's name comes from).  Of those mortgages, half have already been foreclosed, another quarter are underwater, and the final quarter have already been modified.  I have no idea if any of the mortgages in this bond are recorded at this registry but I do know that our index has a great many entries for "New Century" so even if we don't have any from this pool, there are or were plenty of others.

Now it's nearly six years since the bursting of the real estate bubble.  It seems that most of the country wants to just move on and forget all that happened.  In Federal courtrooms around the country, however, lawyers will be fighting about who is responsible for the losses sustained for many years to come.  Publicizing such lawsuits is important since that might be the only way anyone will be held accountable for what happened.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

The Future of Fannie and Freddie

Yesterday in Phoenix President Obama endorsed a Senate proposal that would wind down the quasi-government housing agencies Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.  The President criticized the two agencies and the way in which they treat profits as part of a private business and losses as the government's obligation.  Under this new system, funding for home loans would come mostly from private sources, however, there would remain some Federal government involvement to ensure the survival of the 30 year fixed rate mortgage, a product that would probably disappear in a purely private sector system.  President Obama also said that our nation's housing policy should be recalibrated with more emphasis placed on affordable rental properties and less money devoted to subsidizing expensive residences for wealthy individuals.  A full report on the speech from the New York Times is here

Thursday, August 01, 2013

End of month document breakdown

We recorded 417 documents yesterday which is higher than an average day but not unusual for the last day of the month.  Here's a breakdown by document type (and check back in coming days for additional statistics on this typical day):

  • 6D certificate - 18
  • Affidavit - 4
  • Amendment - 2
  • Assignment - 10
  • Attachment - 1
  • Certificate - 21
  • Death Certificate - 9
  • Decision - 1
  • Deed - 73
  • Discharge - 46
  • Execution - 4
  • Homestead - 45
  • License - 1
  • Modification - 3
  • Mortgage - 99
  • Municipal Lien Certificate - 55
  • Order - 1
  • Partial Release - 8
  • Power of Attorney - 1
  • Release - 2
  • Subordination - 9
  • Trust Declaration - 1
  • Trust Terms - 4
  • Waiver - 1