Monday, May 21, 2018

Deed statistics by town

Each month I compiles some statistics of recordings here at the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds. This helps us measure our volume of recordings but it also serves as an indicator of the state of the local real estate market. However, as with all quantitative analysis, unless you know exactly what is being measured, the numbers presented can be misleading.

For example, when I post something about total number of deeds recorded for the month, that almost always refers to all Recorded Land deeds and does not include Registered Land deeds. One reason for that is that registered land is a relatively small percentage of our recordings and, in most cases, are distributed evenly among the towns in the district (with the one exception being Billerica, which has a lot of registered land).

A second caveat on "number of deeds" involves the amount of consideration stated on the deed. A significant percentage of deeds recorded each month transfer property between related parties (as in a sole owner transferring to herself and her spouse; or a married couple transferring it from them as joint owners to them as trustees of a family trust). The consideration stated on these deeds is usually $1 so they can't be considered arms-length transactions.

Because I've been consistent in (1) not counting registered land deeds and (2) counting $1 deeds, the comparisons have been consistent and are able to reflect recording volume and real estate trends. Going forward, I won't change how existing reports are compiled.

However, I plan to add a new deed report into the statistical mix. This one will be done at the end of each month and will compare deed recordings for the entire year up until that point ("year to date") for the current year with the same period of the previous year. For each annual period I will show "all deeds" which will reflect Recorded and Registered Land without regard to consideration. For the same periods, I will also show the number of deeds with consideration greater than $60,000 and less than $1.2mil. These boundaries are meant to eliminate non-arms length transactions at the lower end, and properties of extraordinary value at the upper end. I will use that set of deeds and their values to calculate the median price of deeds recorded during the respective periods.

Perhaps it's best to illustrate for the period January through April for 2017 and 2018:

Billerica
All deeds: 2017 = 265; 2018 = 297; up 12%
Deeds >$60K: 2017 = 140; 2018 = 167; up 19%
Median price: 2017 = $382,500; 2018 = $392,000; up 2%

Chelmsford
All deeds: 2017 = 279; 2018 = 256; down 8%
Deeds >$60K: 2017 = 147; 2018 = 147; no change
Median price: 2017 = $335,000; 2018 = $350,000

Dracut
All deeds: 2017 = 261; 2018 = 268; up 3%
Deeds >$60K: 2017 = 160; 2018 = 177; up 11%
Median price: 2017 = $250,000; 2018 = $322,000; up 29%

Lowell
All deeds: 2017 = 638; 2018 = 620; down 3%
Deeds >$60K: 2017 = 412; 2018 = 399; down 3%
Median price: 2017 = $235,000; 2018 = $256,000; up 9%

Tewksbury
All deeds: 2017 = 235; 2018 = 224; down 5%
Deeds >$60K: 2017 = 122; 2018 = 106; down 13%
Median price: 2017 = $357,500; 2018 = $385,500

Tyngsborough
All deeds: 2017 = 106; 2018 = 83; down 22%
Deeds >$60K: 2017 = 64; 2018 = 48; down 25%
Median price: 2017 = $275,000; 2018 = $337,000; up 23%

Westford
All deeds: 2017 = 142; 2018 = 174; up 23%
Deeds >$60K: 2017 = 79; 2018 = 92; up 16%
Median price: 2017 = $407,500; 2018 = $500,000

Wilmington
All deeds: 2017 = 166; 2018 = 198; up 19%
Deeds >$60K: 2017 = 83; 2018 = 85; up 2%
Median price: 2017 = $430,000; 2018 = $484,000; up 13%


Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Community Preservation Act funding increase


Here's an article I wrote for this month's Merrimack Valley Housing Report about potential changes to the Community Preservation Act. 


In the fall of 2000, the Massachusetts State Legislature adopted the Community Preservation Act (CPA) to provide a mechanism and funding source for cities and towns to preserve open space, provide affordable housing, preserve historic structures, and provide recreational space. To participate in the CPA, residents of a community must choose to impose on themselves a property tax surcharge of up to 3 percent. This decision is made by voters by referendum at a municipal election. If the CPA is adopted, the community creates a Community Preservation Committee that recommends projects to the board of selectmen or city council which have the ultimate authority over the expenditure of CPA funds.

When it was first implemented, the CPA proposed a dollar for dollar state match to any funds raised locally for CPA projects. The state’s matching fund, called the Community Preservation Trust Fund, obtains its money from a surcharge imposed on documents recorded at the registry of deeds.

Almost all registry of deeds recording fees include a $20 per document Community Preservation Act surcharge. When you record a deed, for example, the total amount you pay is $125. Of that, $100 is the actual recording fee, $20 is the CPA surcharge, and $5 is a registry of deeds technology surcharge. The exceptions are municipal lien certificates, which carry a $10 per document surcharge; and declarations of homestead, which have no CPA surcharge.

As with all funds collected, the registry of deeds transfers these fees to the Department of Revenue on a daily basis. The DOR is the administrator of the CPA Trust Fund.

One of the problems with depending on registry of deeds recording fees to fund the CPA (or anything else) is that the revenue stream is tied to the real estate market. When real estate is booming, a substantial amount of revenue is collected, but when the market slows, so does the money coming in. For example, in 2003 when the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds recorded 146,956 documents, $2.8 million was collected for the Community Preservation Act. But in 2014, only 53,584 documents were recorded. That yielded just $983,000 is CPA funds.

This decline in funding for the CPA Trust has coincided with an increase in the number of communities choosing to participate in the CPA. This increased demand for matching funds has caused the match to decline from 100 percent in the early days of the CPA to matches of less than 30 percent of the amount raised by the municipality today.

To address this issue, the Massachusetts State Legislature is now considering an increase in the CPA surcharge on registry recordings from $20 to $50 per document. Whether this change (or any other) is made should be known by the end of this legislative session in June.


As for the local impact of the Community Preservation Act, eight of the ten communities in the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds district have voted to participate in CPA since its inception. Carlisle, Chelmsford, Dracut, Tyngsborough and Westford all adopted it in 2001; Dunstable and Tewksbury in 2006; and Billerica in 2016. Only Wilmington and Lowell have failed to take advantage of it. This is especially unfortunate for Lowell since the surcharge on documents recorded at the registry of deeds for properties in Lowell since 2000 has generated $5.8 million in CPA matching funds, all of which has gone to other communities.
 

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

REBA Spring Conference Report

Yesterday I attended the 2018 Spring Conference of the Real Estate Bar Association of Massachusetts at the Four Points Sheraton in Norwood, Massachusetts. My Register of Deeds colleague Mary Olberding (Hampshire County) and I formed a two-person panel for a breakout session on the Massachusetts Deeds Indexing Standards.

Two of the topics that dominated our discussion were acknowledgements and addresses.

Here is what we said about acknowledgements:


The Deed Indexing Standards contain a list of documents that must be acknowledged before being recorded. If a document is not on that list, it does not need to be acknowledged to be recorded.
The minimum information needed to make an acknowledgement sufficient for recording is the signature of the notary; the printed name of the notary; the expiration date of the notary’s commission; and some language that reflects that the document has been acknowledged.
Most registries will reject a document that lacks the written name of the person whose acknowledgement has been taken in the acknowledgement clause.

Most registries do not require the notary stamp to be affixed in order to record a document. (But since the notary statute requires a notary to affix his stamp when taking an acknowledgement, the notary should comply with the statute and always use the stamp).  

On a document that has multiple grantors, it is sufficient if the signature of just one grantor has been acknowledged. However, on a declaration of homestead executed by two people, both signatures must be acknowledged for the document to be recorded.

For out-of-state and out-of-country acknowledgements, registries will defer to the person recording the document to determine the adequacy of the acknowledgement. Because the law of the place where the acknowledgement is taken controls the adequacy of the acknowledgement, registries will assume compliance with the appropriate law and record the document.

Regarding out-of-state or out-of country acknowledgements, these standards use the terms “notary public” and “justice of the peace” as generic references to any public official authorized to take an acknowledgement in that jurisdiction. For example, a document acknowledged in Connecticut by a “commissioner” could be recorded in Massachusetts.

Here is what we said about addresses:

A deed must contain two addresses: the mailing address of the grantee and the address of the property being conveyed by the deed. The grantee mailing address is so the municipal tax collector will know where to send the property tax bill. The property address is so the municipal assessor can identify the property to update ownership information in assessing records.

In many cases, a deed presented for recording fails to state that property address. When confronted with this omission, the customer presenting the document for recording will hurriedly write an address in the margin of the deed. The address so written is often wrong. However, this is the address entered by the registry of deeds in the searchable index. While those in the real estate law business understand that an incorrect address does not negate the property transfer, most homeowners think it does and will become very agitated when they discover the discrepancy. To avoid an expensive fix, please make an extra effort to ensure the correct property address is clearly stated on a new deed before it reaches the registry of deeds.

Remember that most liens are indexed only by the debtor’s name, not by any property address or town. Consequently, trying to narrow a search by limiting the results to a particular city or town will exclude things like attachments and federal tax liens that are indexed with a town code of “none.”

While searching by property address can be a useful starting point, it can also be unreliable. Most registries of deeds did not consistently enter property addresses in the index until the late 1990s. Also, the registry will index an address however it appears on the document presented for recording. While a post office address may be 3-5 Main Street, one-third of the documents recorded will say 3 Main Street; another third will say 5 Main Street; and the remainder will say 3-5 Main Street. Similarly, a street with a numeric name – like 3rd Avenue or Third Avenue – will be entered in the index in whatever way it appears in the document being recorded.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Are Signatures Becoming Extinct

Today's New York Times business section gives prominent placement to a story informing us that credit card signatures are about to become extinct in the United States. By the end of this month, American Express, Discover, Mastercard and Visa will all eliminate the requirement of vendors that they collect the signature of the person using the card. It is optional for the vendors, so some might continue with the requirement, but many will not.

The article explains that for centuries, the signature was accepted as a reliable means of verifying the identity of a person, but with digital signatures and the demise of hand-written documents, traditional signatures no longer serve that function in a reliable manner.

But the signature will not be totally extinct: the reporter predicts it will "relegated to a few special circumstances" like "sealing a giant transaction like a house purchase."

From the registry of deeds perspective, I'd have to dispute that assertion since we are heading towards entirely paperless transactions in the near future. Sure, the parties may be asked to make their signature on a tablet, but that act will have more to do with providing evidence of the intent of the person executing the document than it will with identifying that person.

Perhaps a more reliable method of verification will be to video and audio record the person acknowledging who he is, what he is doing, and what his intent is, and then embedding that video in the digital document itself. After all, the signature just provides circumstantial evidence of who signed the document.  Seeing and hearing the person executing the document would be stronger evidence. Other than nostalgia and habit, there's nothing to stop us.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Chelmsford Real Estate Map, 1st Qtr 2018

One of our new initiatives at the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds is to utilize online mapping tools to display real estate data. To illustrate the possibilities, I have created a Google Map of all real estate sales from Chelmsford, Massachusetts for the first quarter of 2018. The map has blue markers positioned at the location of each sale. By clicking on a marker, you will display the property address, the sales price, the date of sale and the registry book and page number of the deed.

CLICK HERE to see the Chelmsford map.

For a list of these sales sorted alphabetically by street, CLICK HERE

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Delayed opening Wed March 14, 2018

Middlesex North Registry of Deeds will open at 10am tomorrow, Wednesday, March 14, 2018 due to snowstorm.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Registry closed Tues March 13 2018

The Middlesex North Registry of Deeds (and all state courts in Mass) will be closed tomorrow, Tuesday, March 13, 2018, due to impending winter storm.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Registry opens at 10am on March 8

Due to overnight snowstorm, the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds will open at 10am on Thursday, March 8, 2018.

Here's the official notice from the Massachusetts Trial Court:

All courts, except those in Bristol, Dukes, Plymouth and Nantucket counties will have a delayed opening of 10:00 a.m.. The courts in Bristol, Dukes, Plymouth and Nantucket counties will be open their regular hours.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Martin Luther King Day reminder

Next Monday, January 16, 2018, is Martin Luther King Day which is a state and federal holiday. The Middlesex North Registry of Deeds will be closed that day, and will reopen on Tuesday, January 17, 2018, at 8:30 a.m.

Monday, January 08, 2018

2017 Recording Statistics for Lowell

Last week I wrote a blog post with recording statistics for the entire Middlesex North Registry of Deeds district for all of 2017 and for just the month of December. Here's the equivalent information just for the city of Lowell, comparing the numbers for 2017 to those from 2016:

Deeds: in 2017, 2,018 were recorded v 2,086 in 2016, a 3% decline

Mortgages: in 2017, 2,512 were recorded v 2,768 in 2016, a 9% decline

Foreclosure Deeds: in 2017, 100 were recorded v 122 in 2016, a 18% decline

Orders of Notice: in 2017, 146 were recorded v 188 in 2016, a 22% decline

Total Docs: in 2017, 13,878 documents were recorded v 15,143 in 2016, a 8% decline

Here are the numbers for December 2017 compared to December 2016:

Deeds: in Dec 2017, 154 v 174 in Dec 2016, a 11% decline

Mortgages: in Dec 2017, 194 v 248 in Dec 2016, a 22% decline

Foreclosure Deeds: in Dec 2017, 5 v 4 in Dec 2016, a 25% increase

Orders of Notice: in Dec 2017, 17 v 12 in Dec 2016, a 42% increase

Total Docs: in Dec 2017, 1,074 v 1,478 in Dec 2016, a 27% decline

Friday, January 05, 2018

Median Prices in 2017

All deeds recorded at the registry of deeds must state the amount of consideration paid, so the registry has a record of every sale made for the towns in the registry district. However, the registry is concerned with who owns the land, not what is built upon it or its use (in the zoning sense of the word). Consequently, registry records do not differentiate between residential, commercial, industrial or other uses. That said, performing statistical analysis on the consideration of deeds recorded can provide some insight into real estate trends.

Here are the median prices of deeds recorded in 2017 for the ten communities in the Middlesex North District. To eliminate outliers, like related-party transfers or the sale of a multi-million dollar industrial building, the query for each community considers only those deeds with consideration greater than $60,000 and less than $1,200,000.

Town - Median Price - No. of Deeds
Billerica - $400,000 - 579
Carlisle - $730,000 -    74
Chelmsford - $361,500 - 694
Dracut - $290,000 - 633
Dunstable - $489,000 - 67
Lowell - $250,000 - 1475
Tewksbury - $369,950 - 552
Tyngsboro - $339,900 - 225
Westford - $460,000 - 399
Wilmington - $460,000 - 355

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Registry of Deeds to open at 10am on Friday

Just got word via Trial Court Twitter account that all courthouses in Middlesex County will open at 10am tomorrow, Friday, January 5, 2017.

That means the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds will also open at 10am.

Here's the full text of the Trial Court tweet:

Courts in the following counties will have a delayed opening of 10 a.m. on Friday, January 5: Bristol, Suffolk, Essex, Middlesex, Norfolk, Plymouth & Worcester. Courts in all other counties will be open at their usual time.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Registry of Deeds closed Thursday Jan 4, 2018

Just got word that the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds will be closed all day tomorrow due to impending blizzard.

Check back here for updates.

UPDATE: Thur, Jan 4, 2017 at 6 a.m.: All courts in Massachusetts are closed today (as are all registries of deeds). The latest forecast calls for more than 12 inches of snow in Greater Lowell, beginning at about 8:30 this morning and continuing throughout the day.
 

Bad Weather and Registry Operations

Forecasters are calling for a blizzard to arrive in eastern Massachusetts sometime late this evening/early tomorrow morning with an expected snowfall of 8 to 12 inches in the Lowell area.

The registry of deeds is a tenant inside the Middlesex Superior Courthouse. When the courthouse closes, the registry closes. So on stormy winter days, the best way to learn whether the registry will be closed (or will have a delayed opening), is to use the public resources of the state's Trial Court system.

These are:

The Trial Court website which will be annotated with any court closing information relatively early in a storm - http://www.mass.gov/courts/

The Trial Court Closings account on Twitter, which is used to tweet-out news of closures - @macourtclosings;

The Trial Court recorded phone message line at 800/222-5178.

Of the three, I have found the Trial Court website to be the most reliably up-to-date.

Also, as soon as I have any news of closings or decisions that would otherwise affect our operations, I will put something on this blog and also on my own Twitter feed, which is @DickHowe.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Recording Statistics for 2017

Here are the number of recordings of major document types at the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds in 2017 with 2016 totals included for context:

Deeds: in 2017, 7268 were recorded v 7776 in 2016, a 7% decline

Mortgages: in 2017, 10,647 were recorded v 12,639 in 2016, a 16% decline

Foreclosure Deeds: in 2017, 194 were recorded v 270 in 2016, a 28% decline

Orders of Notice: in 2017, 379 were recorded v 471 in 2016, a 20% decline

Total Docs: in 2017, 59,064 documents were recorded v 65,521 in 2016, a 10% decline

Here are the numbers for December 2017 compared to December 2016:

Deeds: in Dec 2017, 605 v 697 in Dec 2016, a 13% decline

Mortgages: in Dec 2017, 892 v 1145 in Dec 2016, a 22% decline

Foreclosure Deeds: in Dec 2017, 12 v 16 in Dec 2016, a 25% decline

Orders of Notice: in Dec 2017, 47 v 28 in Dec 2016, a 68% increase

Total Docs: in Dec 2017, 4790 v 6125 in Dec 2016, a 22% decline