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, 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.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


Besides maintaining official copies of land records for land located in the registry district, the registry of deeds also collects revenue for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, mostly in the form of recording fees and documentary stamps.  The total amount collected here at Middlesex North was $13,475,328 which averaged $1,122,944 per month.  Through September of 2013, our average monthly collection is $1,198,533 which is ahead of last year's average.  Gains have occurred in both recording fees (a monthly average of $443,593 in 2012 and $463,542 in 2013) and in documentary stamps (a monthly average of $501,427 in 2012 and $558,363 in 2013).  The highest monthly total for recording fees for both 2012 and 2013 was in September 2013 with $633,130 collected and the highest monthly total of tax stamps was in August 2013 when $832,556 was collected.  So even though the volume of recordings seems to be down for the past two months, the revenue generated during those two months is a positive indicator.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012

An attorney who was recording documents this afternoon volunteered that new flood insurance rules and policies that are just now going into effect are having a detrimental effect on the real estate market.  The problem is that lenders require anyone whose property is in a flood plain to have flood insurance and the premiums for that are rising significantly, so much so that some applicants are becoming dis-qualified for mortgages they previously could obtain.

Last week at meetings of the Northern Middlesex Council of Governments (NMCOG) and of the Northeast Association of Realtors, similar concerns were expressed so this is likely a widespread and detrimental issue.

More information about the Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 is available on the FEMA website which also offers the following explanation for these changes:

In July 2012, the U.S. Congress passed the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 (BW-12) which calls on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and other agencies, to make a number of changes to the way the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is run. Some of these changes already have occurred, and others will be implemented in the coming months. Key provisions of the legislation will require the NFIP to raise rates to reflect true flood risk, make the program more financially stable, and change how Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) updates impact policyholders. The changes will mean premium rate increases for some—but not all—policyholders over time. Homeowners and business owners are encouraged to learn their flood risk and talk to their insurance agent to determine if their policy will be affected by BW-12.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Northeast Association of Realtors annual meeting

Yesterday I was the guest speaker at the annual meeting of the Northeast Association of Realtors at their Westford headquarters.  Advertisements for the event suggested the main topic of my remarks would be the workings of the Registry of Deeds Modernization and Efficiency Commission of which I am a member, and I certainly did talk about that, but a more accurate title for my talk might be "everything you want to know about registries of deeds but were (previously) afraid to ask."

Besides the makeup and work of the Commission, I devoted time to registry computer systems, both how the ones currently in use came to be and the characteristics of a future system; electronic recording including its basic operation, the business models currently in use, and the manner in which that technology might affect their profession.  The distinction between recorded land and registered land was another topic.  Most have some understanding of the two systems but it always helps to be reminded.  There were many questions on a wide range of topics and it was an enjoyable and useful discussion.   

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Northern Middlesex Council of Governments celebrates 50 years

Last night the Northern Middlesex Council of Governments (NMCOG) celebrated its 50th anniversary at the Westford Regency Hotel.  Consisting of the city of Lowell and the towns of Billerica, Chelmsford, Dracut, Dunstable, Pepperell, Tewksbury, Tyngsborough, and Westford, NMCOG is one of thirteen regional planning agencies in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  These agencies were an outgrowth of the move towards centralized government planning in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  In many parts of the country where county government was (and is) more far-reaching in its bureaucratic responsibilities, regional planning was a more natural fit.  In Massachusetts, however, almost all bureaucratic authority resides with the individual communities so making regional operations a success required more innovation and negotiation.  Through the years, NMCOG has been successful in doing that, especially since adding local elected officials such as city councilors and town selectmen to the council along with local planners.  One added benefit of this evolution was that it provided a forum for town-to-town communications at the elected official level that would not otherwise exist.  Since the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds nearly overlaps the NMCOG region (they have Pepperell; we have Carlisle and Wilmington), the registry has worked very closely with NMCOG on a number of projects particularly in the GIS area.  So congratulations to NMCOG for 50 years of outstanding service.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

News about planned Lowell Judicial Center

Yesterday afternoon Harry Spence, the Court Administrator of the Massachusetts Trial Court, visited Lowell tour the Superior and District Court.  He was accompanied by State Senator Eileen Donoghue and State Representatives Tom Golden, Kevin Murphy and Dave Nangle.  I joined them during the visit to Superior Court which also houses the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds.

While Spence lamented the relative state of disrepair of the entire building (while acknowledging its stunning interior architecture), he seemed mostly concerned with the day-to-day safety of the Probation Office which is located on the third floor of the front part of the building.  The office has only one means of egress, a narrow iron stairway, and is not accessible to people with mobility limitations.  In case of a fire that blocked that stairway, the Probation Department has a chain-link emergency ladder that can be tossed over the balcony, but such a method of escape is filled with its own risks.

Spence and the city's state house delegation hope to convince Governor Patrick to include money in the next capital plan for the new judicial center which is to be constructed on a vacant site alongside the Lord Overpass.  The city has long hoped that the judicial center would serve as an anchor of the Hamilton Canal redevelopment project.  Fortunately, other aspects of that project are proceeding at their own pace.

Initially the judicial center was to be built by 2012 but its timetable has been continuously slid back so that now the earliest it could be operational would be in 2017.  

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Development in downtown Worcester

Today's Globe has a story about the challenges facing the city of Worcester as it tries to revive its downtown.  Much of the activity in Worcester involves large scale commercial developments but the city's downtown still seems lacking.  One city planner quoted in the article says that Worcester needs "the interesting and eclectic mix that will draw people downtown, interest office workers, and eventually get full-time residences there."

It's interesting to compare Worcester as described in the article to Lowell.  It seems that Lowell has taken a different approach by converting downtown buildings to residences and shaping many policy decisions to attract artists and other participants in the "creative economy."  What Lowell seems to lack is a major employer in the downtown.  The presence of office workers during the day would provide additional support to restaurants and retailers who have a tough time making it when relying solely on downtown residents, many of whom depart the city or at least the downtown during the day since their work brings them elsewhere.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Electronic recording since 2005

# of efiles
% of all docs
013 based on 9 month projection

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Columbus Day and remaining 2013 holidays

This coming Monday, October 14, 2013, is Columbus Day so the registry of deeds will be closed. 

The office will also be closed on Monday, November 11 for Veteran's Day; on Thursday, November 28 for Thanksgiving; and on Wednesday, December 25 for Christmas.  We will remain open all day on Friday, November 29 (the day after Thanksgiving); on Tuesday, December 24 (Christmas Eve day); and on Tuesday, December 31 (New Year's Day).

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

E-filing stats for September

Electronic recording continues to be a big part of our overall volume of document recording.  In September, we recorded a total of 5089 documents including 1958 that were recorded electronically (38%).  For the year through the end of September, we have recorded 52,948 documents of which 20,539 were electronic (39%).  The monthly average based on those nine months is 5883 documents overall with 2282 being electronic.  Using this nine month average to project over the course of the full year, that would give us a total of 70,597 documents for 2013 which would be slightly less than the 71,423 recorded in 2012.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Homestead seminar in Billerica this morning

Today I traveled to the Billerica Council on Aging to talk about the homestead.  More than 30 people attended and we had a lively discussion about the Massachusetts homestead and related real estate issues.  Quite a few of the attendees had previously recorded homesteads and were curious to learn if they had to record new ones since the law changed in March of 2011 (the answer to that is no in almost all cases since the new law grandfathers in existing declarations).  Because this event took place at the Senior Center on a weekday it was predictable that the crowd would tend to be on the older side, so there were several questions about homesteads and the payment for stays in nursing homes (liens for money owed to the government are exempt from homestead protection).  Still other questions involved transferring an interest in real estate to adult children or into trust.

For more information about the Declaration of Homestead check out the Massachusetts Law Library website

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

September recording statistics

Here are the recording statistics for September 2013 compared to September 2012:

There was a 24% increase in the number of deeds recorded, up from 462 to 575.

There was a 28% decline in mortgages, down from 1332 to 964.

There was a 72% decrease in foreclosure deeds, down from 25 to 7.

There was a 52% decrease in orders of notice, down from 31 to 15.

There was a 13% decrease in the number of documents recorded, down from 5877 to 5090.

Here are the year-to-date statistics through the end of September:

There was a 18% increase in the number of deeds recorded, up from 4422 to 5215.

There was a 3% decline in mortgages, down from 11245 to 10951.

There was a 61% decrease in foreclosure deeds, down from 297 to 117.

There was a 51% decrease in orders of notice, down from 581 to 282.

There was a 2% increase in the number of documents recorded, up from 52281 to 53260.