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

If you go to the city of Lowell assessor's site (
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 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,

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.