Friday, January 31, 2014

Recording Methods

There are three methods for recording documents available to customers.  They are walk-in recording, electronic recording, and mailed-in recording.  Recently we looked at the source of all documents recorded during three randomly selected weeks in the second half of 2013 to determine what percentage of documents arrived to us by which method.  We found that 42% of all documents were from walk-in customers, 36% came via e-file, and 22% came by mail, Fedex or UPS.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Registry Revenue

The registry of deeds collects revenue from a variety of sources.  Recording fees and the deed excise tax are the two big ones.  Tracking how those amounts change from year to year give an indication of how the real estate market is performing in this vicinity.  Here are the numbers from 2008 through 2013:

Recording Fees

2008 - $4,140,975
2009 - $4,914,845
2010 - $4,712,310
2011 - $4,287,200
2012 - $5,323,121
2013 - $5,131,680

Deed Excise Tax
2008 - $6,310,086
2009 - $5,139,387
2010 - $5,109,201
2011 - $4,631,891
2012 - $5,689,329
2013 - $7,232,687

Friday, January 17, 2014

Record Books

Even though we stopped making physical record books in 2001, we still keep track how many "books" we create each year.  In 2013, there were 1102 new books, each consisting of approximately 300 pages.  That adds 330,600 pages to our inventory.

By the end of 2013, we had 27,925 record books containing 9,590,900 pages.  Of those books, 15,482 are virtual books, meaning that they were created after 2001 and never existed in paper form.

Our first book technology was handwritten pages that were sewn together in large format books.  These began with the opening of this registry in 1855 and were used up until 1924.  This format accounted for 702 books.  In 1924, we switched to type written pages that used the same type of binding.  This method continued until 1949 and accounted for 1127 books.  Book pages were printed from microfilm beginning in 1949.  That method continued up until 1995 with the book format moving from the large format to the small white plastic covers.  In 1995, we began printing book pages from scanned images using the same plastic covers.  That continued until 2001 when we stopped printing altogether.

Besides these documents, we also have hundreds of thousands of pages of registered land documents and index pages.  I'll account for them in a future blog post. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Joint ownership of real estate by unmarried couples

According to a story in today's Globe, married couples account for 62% of all homes that are jointly owned.  Unmarried couples account for nearly 8% of jointly owned homes.  The Globe story mentions some considerations for unmarried homeowners prior to purchasing real estate.

One obvious decision mentioned briefly in the story is the form of joint ownership.  Unmarried couples may hold real estate as joint tenants (which provides a right of survivorship) or as tenants in common (which would have no right of survivorship). 

The story wisely recommends that the co-owners draft a contract that clearly defines in advance such matters as how much each person is to contribute to the purchase, the mortgage payments, property taxes and upkeep.  Another thing to address is how any equity in the home would be split should the place be sold.  As we approach tax time, another item would be who takes how much of the mortgage interest and property tax payments as income tax deductions.  The story covers much else and is worth reading.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Where have all the mortgages gone?

The total number of documents we recorded in 2013 (67,001) was down 6% from the number recorded in 2012 (71,596).  A major factor in that change was a steep decline in the number of mortgages recorded.  For the entire year, mortgages were down 16% compared to 2012 but for the final quarter of 2013, the decline was much more dramatic.

In October 2013, mortgages were down 47% from October 2012; in November, the decline was 52%; and in December the decline was 49%.  The first two weeks of January suggests things could be getting even worse.  In the first two weeks of January 2013 we recorded 638 mortgages.  For the same period this January, we recorded only 251.  I won't calculate the percentage decrease but it would be a big one. 

Why the big drop?  There seem to be multiple factors.  The most important one is that interest rates went up by an amount that is relatively slight, but still might be enough to have a substantial impact.  Another factor is the new regulations on home lending imposed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  Even though they are designed to protect consumers, when regulations are first implemented, it's almost inevitable that things will move slowly and that seems to be the case now.  The pending increase in flood insurance premiums is also a factor.  One banker cited all these items but added another event: last fall's shutdown of the Federal government.  This banker identified the shutdown as the start of the recent decline in mortgage activity.

Even in the best of times, the winter months are slow for real estate.  Hopefully this is just a seasonal lull and not the early stages of an extended period of stagnation in the home sales and refinancing markets.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Land Court & Condominiums, c.1972

I came across a memo dated December 8, 1972 from Margaret M. Daly, Recorder of the Land Court, to all Assistant Recorders of the Land Court (i.e., Registers of Deeds) explaining the process for handling condominiums in registered land.  Here's part of what the memo said:

  1. All condominium documents are numbered in the usual way as registered documents.
  2. The Registry thereupon issues a Master Condominium Certificate of Title, which he numbers with the prefix "C."  The first condominium in a district is C-1, the second C-2 and so on.  These certificates are kept each in a separate book together with all memoranda of unit ownership so that a Title Examiner will find all certificates and memoranda relating to any on one condominium in one book. . . .
  3. The first deed out of each unit must, before registration, be approved by the Deputy Recorder of Chief Title Examiner.  It must have attached the plans required by Section 9, with the "as built" certification.
  4. Upon the registration of a unit deed a Memorandum of Unit Ownership is issued by the local Registry District.  It is numbered with the prefix of the particular condominium and a serial number.  For example C1-1; C1-2 and so on.
  5. An owners duplicate IS issued to the unit owner.  He can then convey, mortgage and so on just as any other owner.  For voluntary transactions, he must present his owners duplicate memorandum, in the event of loss or death, and so on.
  6. Every document is noted on two encumbrance sheets. (1) The encumbrance sheet of the Master Certificate; and (2) The encumbrance sheet of the unit ownership memorandum to which it relates.
Things have certainly changed.  There is no more Owners Duplicate Certificate of Title.  Plus, the registered land certificate system in place when I arrived here did not have a separate book for each condominium.  Instead, there are three separate sets of books, two involving condominiums.  The "C" Certificate books hold only condominium master deed certificates.  The "U" Certificate books hold certificates of title for individual condominium units.  The third set of books contain all non-condominium certificates.  The C and U books contain the certificates in the order they are received and are not grouped by separate condo developments.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Certified copies

Earlier today a customer called to ask what were our requirements for a document to be considered a “certified copy.”  Was an original signature from the registry required? An original date? Or was the rubber inked stamp sufficient?

The Massachusetts Deed Indexing Standards state the following about the recording of certified copies:

Copies certified by another registry of deeds, a court, or a governmental entity at the federal, state, county or municipal level may be recorded at the registry of deeds. If the certification appears on a
separate page, that page shall be treated as another page of the document (i.e., a single piece of paper that contains the printed document on one side and the certification on the other should be considered to be a two-page document).

Out own process for certifying documents is to use an inked rubber stamp that contains the following language:

This is a true copy of an instrument recorded in MIDDLESEX NORTH DISTRICT REGISTRY OF DEEDS at the time and date noted on the first page thereof.
A true copy Attest            Richard P. Howe Jr., Register

We don’t add a date to the certification stamp nor do we add a raised seal or a ribbon.  It’s very minimalist.  The annotations we make to documents during the recording process have also been reduced.  Up until a decade ago, we used to place the book and page number on each page of a document.  Now, that recording information is only placed on the first page of the document.  Formerly, we used a rubber stamp to add “End of Document” at the end of document.  We no longer do that, either.  The main reason we have dispensed with these added annotations is efficiency.  With more documents and fewer employees, streamlining the recording process was essential to the continuation of prompt document processing.  As for the ability to authenticate that what purports to be a certified copy of a document is in fact the entire document as recorded, with all document images freely available online at any time, any questions that arise as to the completeness of one of our certified documents can be immediately answered with an internet connection.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Electronic recording in 2013

Electronic recording continues to be a big part of our operations although the percentage of documents recorded electronically dipped a bit towards the end of the year.  I believe this had more to do with a drastic slowdown in the refinancing market than it did with the viability of e-recording.  When I last checked, I found that 55% of all mortgages were recorded electronically so when the volume of that document type decreases, so does the overall rate of electronic recording.

Of the 66,690 documents recorded at the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds in 2013, 25,251 (38%) were recorded electronically.  Here's the month-by-month breakdown of e-filing as a percentage of our overall recordings:

January - 41%
February - 40%
March - 40%
April - 39%
May -  39%
June - 35%
July - 40%
August - 37%
Sept - 38%
Oct - 35%
Nov - 34%
Dec - 34%

Breaking this down by monthly averages, we find that of the 5,558 documents recorded during a typical month, 2,104 were recorded electronically.  Of those efiles, 734 were discharges, 164 were deeds; 586 were mortgages; and 625 were in the other category.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Interuption of Service

It doesn't happen very often but occasionally the registry of deeds is forced to close early or to refrain from opening.  Such was the case last Thursday and Friday when a major winter storm hit the region. 

The best source of information remains the Trial Court website ( which is updated in a timely manner with news of court closings around the state.  This usually works for us because even though we are not part of the Trial Court, we are a tenant in one of their buildings so if they don't open the building, we can't open for business. 

Because it is possible (though unlikely) that the Court would remain open but the registry close, we should have a secondary means of notification.  The website is an obvious method, however, we can only change the content on the site from here at the registry.  If the weather prevents us from getting here in a timely manner, it also prevents us from changing the website.  That's where this blog comes in.  I can update this blog from anywhere that has an internet connection including my phone.  The blog, therefore, seems like the best choice for the latest information on registry operations.  Today I updated the main page of with the following notice:

For latest registry news including storm closings see LowellDeeds blog
So in the future, if you have questions about whether the registry of deeds will open and when, be sure to visit the LowellDeeds blog

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Registry closed ALL DAY on Friday, January 3, 2014

Due to the ongoing winter storm, the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds will be closed all day on Friday, January 3, 2014.

Million dollar sales in 2013

We had 52 sales of more than $1 million in the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds District in 2013:
  • Carlisle had 15
  • Billerica had 11
  • Lowell and Wilmington each had 9
  • Chelmsford had 8
  • Westford had 6
  • Dracut and Tewksbury each had 3
The most expensive deed was $49,050,000 for property on Plank St in Billerica recorded in February.  Other $40 million dollar deeds included Old Boston Road in Tewksbury in August; Littleton Road in Westford in December; Concord Road in Billerica in December; and Bowden Street in Lowell in June.

The 15 million dollar deeds in Carlisle went from a high of $1,555,000 to a low of $1,025,000 and all appeared to be for single family homes.