Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Happy Anniversary . . . to me?

Yesterday was my 20th anniversary as Register of Deeds of the Middlesex North District.  It was on January 5, 1995 that I took the oath of office for the first time.  My tenure has passed so quickly that the actual anniversary date slid by unnoticed. 

Due primarily to the information revolution that has coincided with my time as register, the changes in operations from 1995 to now have been substantial: no more books, everything available on the internet and electronic recording are some of the biggest changes. 

The change process is far from over.  This is the registry's 160th year of existence and all of them have been spent at this same location, but when the new judicial center opens in Lowell (hopefully in 2018) the registry will move into it.  Technical changes are also on the horizon.  These include linking registry records to those of the local assessors to provide true one-stop-shopping for land-related information.  Electronic recording which now accounts for nearly 40% of our incoming documents will continue to grow with municipalities likely to embrace the technology as a means of filing documents such as tax takings and lien certificates in the next year or two.  Electronic signatures and notarizations should also become a reality during the same time.  Even registered land recordings could find their way into the electronic recording process.  There is much to be done in the coming years.

Monday, January 05, 2015

2014 E-Recording Recap

The number of documents recorded electronically dropped in 2014 compared to 2013, but that was a function of the drop in overall recording numbers – they were down 20% overall – since the percentage of documents recorded electronically held steady at 38%.  Having started electronic recording in 2005, we now have ten years of experience with the technology.  Here is how it has grown over time, showing the year, the number of documents recorded electronically, and the percentage of all document recordings the e-file total constitutes:

2005 – 1057 – 1%
2006 – 1871 – 3%
2007 – 3491 – 5%
2008 – 3956 – 7%
2009 – 8168 – 12%
2010 – 9013 – 14%
2011 – 14736 – 30%
2012 – 24210 – 34%
2013 – 25251 – 38%
2014 – 20306 – 38%

Of the 20,306 documents recorded electronically last year, 2169 (11%) were deeds, 5260 (26%) were mortgages, 4729 (23%) were discharges, and 8146 (40%) were “other.”  For documents recorded by all means – electronic, by mail, and walk in - the percentage breakdown changes.  Of the 53584 documents recorded last year, 12% were deeds, 17% were mortgages, 19% were discharges and 52% were “other.”  This suggests that when the refinancing market rebounds the percentage of documents recorded electronically will increase significantly since mortgages and mortgage discharges are more likely than most other documents to be recorded electronically.

The busiest days for electronic recording in 2014 were September 30 (182 documents), May 30 (171 documents) and June 30 (169 documents) came in by that method.  The largest percentage of electronically recorded documents (58%) came in on June 4, October 3 and November 5.  Electronic recordings accounted for 50% or more of daily recordings on 25 of the 247 recording days in 2014.   

Friday, January 02, 2015

End of year statistics for 2014

Welcome to 2015.  Here's a look back at our document recording stats for 2014 compared to the 2013 numbers:

Deeds were down 2%, from 6718 to 6561

Mortgages were down 31%, from 13272 to 9190

Foreclosure deeds were up 3%, from 150 to 155

Orders of notice were up 4%, from 333 to 347

Total documents were down 20%, from 67001 to 53584.

For the month of December 2014 compared to December 2013:

Deeds were up 17% from 6718 to 6561

Mortgages were up 24% from 787 to 974

Foreclosure deeds were up 50% from 8 to 12

Orders of notice were up 31% from 16 to 21

Total documents were up 14% from 4480 to 5116.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Top Ten Registry Events of 2014

Here are ten items of significance to the registry of deeds that occurred in 2014:

The total number of documents recorded in 2014 dropped 20% compared to the number recorded in 2013.  The main cause was the virtual disappearance of the mortgage refinancing market; 13,272 mortgages were recorded in 2013 but only 9,161 were recorded in 2014.

The number of foreclosures remained stable with 155 foreclosure deeds recorded in 2014 compared to 150 recorded in 2013.  The same was true for orders of notice with 346 recorded in 2014 versus 333 in 2013.  Unfortunately, the volume in both years is still high relative to a stable or improving real estate market.  Contributing factors include a large number of homeowners who are still underwater on their existing mortgages and consistently low interest rates which led anyone who would benefit from refinancing to have already done so in a prior year.

This year we received official word that the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds will be a tenant in the new Lowell Judicial Center which is scheduled to open in 2018.  The prior plan was to exclude the registry from the new facility and have it remain in the current location or to occupy leased space elsewhere.

As of the end of 2014, twenty of the twenty-one registries of deeds in Massachusetts offer electronic recording.  Having near universal acceptance of this technology by registries should lead to a greater volume of recordings to be done using this technology.

Senate bill 1987, “An Act Clearing Titles to Foreclosed Properties,” a measure that would set time limits on asserting Ibanez-type title defects in foreclosed properties, nearly made it into law.  It did pass both houses of the legislature in the closing days of the session, however, Governor Patrick did not sign the bill but sent it back with suggested amendments.  Because the formal legislative session had ended by then, no further action was taken and it is unclear whether this or a similar bill will be addressed in 2015.

In Haskins v Deutsche Bank, the Appeals Court held that the notice of the right to cure a default that MGL c.244, s35A requires to be sent by the mortgagee to the mortgagor prior to foreclosing, met the requirements of the statute when it was sent by the servicer of the loan rather than the record title holder of the mortgage.

In April, Middlesex North began a pilot program with the town of Wilmington by sending deeds recorded for the month for the town to the assessor in PDF rather than TIFF form.  We expect to expand this change to other towns in the district during 2015.

The early months of 2014 were plagued by frequent snowstorms that caused the courthouse and the registry to be closed early or for the entire day several times in January and February.

During 2014 we had several encounters with customers seeking to record questionable documents that appeared to be associated with the “redemption” or “sovereign citizens” movements.

At the Massachusetts Digital Government Summit held in early December, top technology officials for the Commonwealth and the city of Boston made predictions of the direction that government technology should and will take during the coming years.  Generally speaking, this and other registries of deeds are on the right track.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

2014 Holiday Schedule

The Middlesex North Registry of Deeds will be closed on Christmas Day (December 25) and New Years Day (January 1, 2015).  The registry will be open regular hours (830am to 4:15pm) on Friday, December 26, Wednesday, December 31, and Friday, January 2, 2015.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Technology and Legal Liability

Last week at the Massachusetts Digital Government Summit spoke about how much technology will transform the way cities operate.  Perhaps to most exotic prediction to me was the speaker's assertion that self-drive automobiles are already feasible and nearly available.  These cars use radar, cameras, other sensors and lots of computing power to navigate and "drive" a car safely and smoothly whatever the destination.  The scenario in which this technology might first come available could be driving in traffic.  Imagine being stuck in the bumper to bumper morning commute on Rte 93 and being able to engage your "self-drive" feature and then break open whatever novel you were reading that week as the car nudged its way forward in the midst of all that traffic.

While the technology currently exists to make this scenario feasible and even affordable, the biggest obstacle is a legal one: existing laws don't permit computer driven cars and, perhaps more importantly, the law of liability has not developed sufficiently to encompass this type of usage.

Liability and insurance coverage are also big issues in another area in which technology has already disrupted establish ways of doing business.  Companies like Uber and Airbnb use technology to allow private individuals to use their own cars and their own houses to provide transportation and lodging for a fee.  This is called "the sharing economy" and it's revolutionizing the way some people live and earn livings.  But as this short article on the Esurance website makes clear, if you're regularly getting paid to drive people around in your car, you are operating a livery service and your auto insurance policy specifically excludes that from coverage.  Get in an accident and your auto insurer will decline coverage.  Recognizing this gap, companies like Uber are now providing some insurance but it's an unsettled area and might not cover the driver or vehicle (just passengers and others outside the vehicle).

These are a couple of examples of how society, aided by technology, often outpaces the legal system.  The law catches up eventually, but not before some people get hurt by rapid changes in society and business.  That's not a reason to stifle progress but it is a reminder that the world is a complicated place.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Foreclosures in 2014

One of the bright spots in real estate this year is the consistently low numbers of foreclosure documents being recorded.  We're on a pace in 2014 to record 156 for the year.  In 2013 we recorded 150.  Compared to the 602 foreclosure deeds recorded in 2008, those figures look pretty good.  But if we look back to the time before the housing bubble inflated and then burst, we can see that today's foreclosure rates remain inflated.  For instance, in 2001 there were 44 foreclosures, in 2002 there were 45; and in 2003 there were 42.

Of the foreclosures already recorded this year, 72 were for property in Lowell.  The majority of them - 83% - were of mortgages that were originated in 2007 or earlier which is when housing values were at their inflated peaks.  A little fewer than half of these mortgages were used to purchase the property while 54% were refinancings, mortgages obtained after the property was obtained by the owner.  Sadly, in eight of these cases the homeowner had obtained title through gift or inheritance meaning that he or she did not have to pay anything to acquire the property.  These mortgages were all used to extract equity from the properties.

Thus far in 2014 there have already been 326 orders of notice recording which suggests that foreclosures will continue to be with us into 2015.