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.