Friday, April 17, 2015

Patriot's Day

The Registry of Deeds will be closed on Monday, April 21, 2015 in recognition of the Patriot's Day holiday.

Monday, April 13, 2015

"Big Data's Big Dig"

That's what the Boston Globe called the 19-year, $75 million effort of the Massachusetts Trial Court to computerize its operations.  A story in the Sunday, April 12, 2015 Globe reviewed the trajectory of that undertaking.  While some progress has been made, much is left to be done.

Although the various registries of deeds in Massachusetts have done a pretty good job of computerizing operations (the Middlesex North Registry, for example, has every record from 1629 to the present freely available to the public on our website and receives more than 40% of its new recordings electronically), many government offices seem slow to automate operations.  I suspect that many businesses have similar problems, only a business faces less public scrutiny than does a government office so we hear more about failures in the public sector.

My theory for this technology tardiness is that many of the people still in charge are from the pre-computer era and lack a reasonable amount of aptitude when it comes to technology.  In such cases, too much is left to the IT people who, while they may understand technology, might not fully grasp the entire operation of the enterprise.  Computers are, after all, just another tool for a company or government office.  Unless they are integrated into normal operations, they will never be used to their full potential.  Fortunately, this situation does have a limited life-span.  As people who have grown up with computers ascend to top leadership positions, this upper management digital divide will become very rare.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Electronic Recording Volume

The month of March continued our streak of electronic recording volume in excess of 40% of all recordings.  Electronically recorded documents accounted for 44% of all recordings in January, 47% in February, and 42% in March.  Of the 4796 documents recorded in March, 2007 were recorded electronically.  That works out to a daily average of 91 electronic documents to 127 walk-ins or mail-ins.

For the 1st quarter of 2015, we recorded a total of 11,610 documents by all methods; 5108 of them were recorded electronically which is 44%.  Discharges accounted for 1177 of the electronic documents; deeds 462, mortgages 1484, and all other types 1985. 

From all sources we recorded 1215 deeds during that time period .  The 462 that were recorded electronically represent 38% of the total.  Mortgages were much more likely to be recorded electronically: 1484 of 2334 (64%) mortgages recorded came to us electronically. 

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Some Relief for Purchasers of Previously Foreclosed Homes

Earlier this year, the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office reached a settlement with Bank of America, Chase, Citi and Wells Fargo that will provide people who bought previously foreclosed homes that are now recognized to have title defects due to missing or late pre-foreclosure assignments with assistance in clearing those defects.

The following is from a release on the AGO's website:

In 2011, the Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General brought suit against the banks for allegedly violating the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act (G.L. c. 93A, §§ 2 and 4) by foreclosing on homes before receiving an assignment of the mortgage. Under Massachusetts law, a bank, or other foreclosing entity, must strictly comply with the state’s foreclosure laws in order to transfer the ownership of a property through foreclosure. When a party conducting a foreclosure does not strictly follow the foreclosure laws, the foreclosure is “void.”  People who purchase properties after a void foreclosure may have a title defect that could prevent them from refinancing their mortgage or selling the property.
The settlement provides a hierarchy of assistance to be extended to the "downstream purchaser" of these properties by the lender that did the foreclosure.  Some of the options include assistance with making claims against title insurance, with obtaining a deed from the original mortgagor, or with redoing the foreclosure.  This only applies to the four lenders who were parties to this settlement, but they did many foreclosures in Massachusetts so it should provide some assistance to homeowners.  How effective these measures will be remains to be seen.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Taking data hostage

Today's Globe has a story about how computer hackers were able to insert a virus into the computer system of the nearby Tewksbury Police Department and lockup all of the department's computer files.  The article reports that neither the state police nor the FBI were able to crack the virus and, because the department's backup tapes were similarly infected, Tewksbury ended up paying a ransom of $500 and got its data back.

Stories like this reinforce my opinion that it's critical for registries of deeds to continue creating microfilm of recorded documents.  Many scoff at the idea of microfilm, saying it's an obsolete technology but if properly created and stored, it lasts a long time.  While microfilm does have some vulnerabilities, computer viruses aren't among them. 

Monday, April 06, 2015

Sufficiency of property description in a mortgage

A query from a major national lender recently found its way to me.  Here's the question posed:

Must a Schedule A (property description) be attached to a mortgage to be recorded?  Do most registries require the metes and bounds information as a separate attachment?  If so, must it be freshly typed or can it be a legible copy from a previously recorded document?  Or, is it sufficient to just add the property address, property tax ID number and deed book and page information to the mortgage?

Here is my answer:

There is no specific rule on what constitutes the minimum property description for recordability.  In Massachusetts, a mortgage is a deed so the rules for deeds apply to mortgages.  The property description in a deed must “describe the land [being conveyed] with such particularity as to make it capable of identification.” 

I think the property address plus the book and page of the deed that established title in the seller/borrower with some contextual language would be the bare minimum required.  Something like "Property description: The land and buildings located at 360 Gorham Street in Lowell, Middlesex County, described more fully in the deed from Middlesex County to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts dated June 27, 1997 and recorded in the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds at book 12345, page 321.”

I think the better practice is to include the full property description from that deed in the new mortgage.  Whether that is done by inserting that language in the body of the mortgage or attaching it as an Exhibit A, including that full description helps eliminate any potential ambiguities plus it is probably considered by many (lawyers and registry employees) to be a requirement.  While I don’t think it is a requirement, the potential hassles involved in convincing people the shorter description is sufficient probably outweighs any time savings in dispensing with it when the document is first created.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

March recording statistics

The end of March recording statistics have some good news.  Total document recordings and mortgages are both up substantially over the number recorded in March 2014.  Here are the numbers for the four major document types that we track:

Deeds - no change - 484 in March 2014 vs 483 in March 2015

Mortgages - up 66% - 593 in March 2014 vs 982 in March 2015

Foreclosure Deeds - up 60% - 10 in March 2014 vs 16 in March 2015

Orders of Notice - up 26% - 19 in March 2014 vs 24 in March 2015

Total documents - up 23% - 3886 in March 2014 vs 4796 in March 2015