Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Assistant Register of Deeds Tony Accardi will be in the registry chat room this Friday at 3:00 P.M. Tony's the guy who runs the registry on a day-to-day basis, so it will be a great opportunity for you to learn more about how we operate. I'm sure he'll have some interesting things to say. Business does seem to be picking up. Historically, the last day of the month (i.e., today) has always been busy, but this has not been the case in January and February. But today, both Lowell and the Cambridge satellite office had a steady stream of customers. The (relatively) new ACS computer system in Cambridge certainly was sluggish by the end of the day. That system went online in mid-January and, because of the lull in business, this was the first day that had a high enough number of recordings to put some strain on the system. (Was this just my imagination, our did anyone else find the system to be working slowly this afternoon?). Hopefully, it's just a matter of a few adjustments with the program to keep it running at a reasonable speed.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

The electronic recording initiative is about to heat up. You may recall that we had an initial meeting with potential users at the end of January, but soon thereafter our website suffered a major malfunction. That proved to be quite a distraction, but now that the website's been working reliably for six weeks, we can resume our planning for electronic recording. Our computer company, ACS, will also provide our initial e-recording system. The ACS process, known as eRX, has been customized to Massachusetts requirements and thoroughly tested in the ACS labs. By mid-April, we hope to have a test system installed in Lowell. This will allow us to learn how it works and to adapt our operations to incorporate electronic recording. It will also allow us to demonstrate the process for customers before they are asked to use it to record live documents. Stay tuned for more information about this.

Monday, March 29, 2004

One reason our record books remain valuable to registry users is the presence of marginal references within their pages. These notations are the book and page numbers of related documents that were written in the margin - hence the name "marginal references" - some time after the record book was created. The most obvious example is when a mortgage is paid off. A discharge of the mortgage is recorded and placed in a new record book. In the past, a registry employee would go to the book where the mortgage being discharged was located, open the book to that mortgage, and write in the margin "see discharge at Book 1234, Page 567." That way, when someone looked at the mortgage, they would immediately see from the marginal reference the location of the discharge of that mortgage. Information about the discharge was entered in the Grantor and Grantee Indexes, but the primary means of finding the discharge was by the marginal reference on the mortgage. Eventually, computers that created a type of hyperlink from document to document made this whole marginal reference concept obsolete. But those scribblings in the margins of record books remain valuable which is why we've spent many hours capturing marginal references from years past. Soon this data will be imported into our current computer system which will cause related documents that were recorded years ago to be linked electronically.
The Sunday Boston Globe had two related stories about busing and neighborhood schools. Comparing two Boston elementary schools, the stories compared the pros and cons of the two school assignment models. The way these stories were written, the neighborhood school seemed much better than the school attended by students who all arrived by bus. The busing story highlighted problems with buses arriving on time and drivers disputing which children were to get on the bus. In contrast, the neighborhood school spoke of the benefits of having 90% of the parents waiting at the front door each day at dismissal. This allowed teachers to hold impromptu conferences and get to know the parents better. No one would argue that when a parent has the flexibility to bring a child to and from school each day, the child benefits. But the reality is that most children come from households where both parents (or the one parent in a single parent household) work and work schedules rarely coincide with arrival and dismissal times of a child's school. For many, putting a child on the bus and having that same bus deliver that child to a day care provider in the afternoon is a big help schedule-wise. Busing is no bargain - the millions of dollars spent on transportation could certainly be used elsewhere. But for many, the nostalgic longing for "neighborhood schools" is a search for a world that doesn't exist anymore. For working families, a more useful discussion would involve before school and after school care and activities that would serve as affordable, safe and productive substitutes for expensive day care and stressful juggling of parental schedules to accommodate school start and end times.
Friday's chat session featured a lively discussion about the future of record books. With images on a reliable computer system, duplicated on the Internet, the need to have physical record books available to registry users is greatly diminished. Because we stopped making books several years ago, the registry in Lowell has not experienced the pressure to find new shelf space every day. Still, the limited space we do have could be put to better use and, if a new Judicial Center is ever built in Lowell, the registry would be able to fit into a smaller space than we now occupy. Users involved in our chat session expressed a number of concerns: What happens if the computers are down? What about the marginal references that are only written in the record books but are not in the computer? When making copies, putting an open book on a copier gives you two pages for fifty cents while printing from the computer costs you $1 per page. These are all legitimate concerns. For those of you who weren't able to join us on Friday, the blog will answer these and other book-related questions over the next few days.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Be sure to join us at 3:00 P.M. on Friday for our live chat session. We'll start the discussion with an explanation of our plans to place most record books in storage since all of the information contained in the books is also available on the in-house registry computer and on the Internet. We will also talk about the Department of Revenue's plans to record child support and tax liens state wide and not just at the registry the includes the town in which the debtor lives. And, of course, we'll talk about anything else that interests you. To participate, just click on the "Chat" link on the first page of our website. Because the chat service we use is free of charge, there are a few ads and it takes some time - close to a minute - to fully open. Not exactly state of the art, but the price is right. Please check it out.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

A few weeks ago I wrote about a Department of Revenue proposal to establish a separate index for child support and tax liens. Under this scenario, DOR would maintain the index and, no matter where in the state your property was located, you would have to check this lien index to be sure you had clear title. Today I joined some folks from the Secretary of State's office in a meeting with DOR officials about this proposal. The meeting was very productive. We agreed to work with DOR to find a way for them to record their liens within the traditional registry system in a fast, efficient manner. If successful, that will avoid the need for a separate index which would be good news for anyone doing business at the registry of deeds.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

We'll be back in the chat room this Friday at 3:00 P.M. Although it's a completely open forum, I expect to talk about our plans to put our record books into storage. There's no time table yet and we won't do anything before we get some feedback from our users, but with the computer system we now have, books are pretty much obsolete. So, if you have any thoughts or comments on this topic, please join us on Friday. If you can't make the live chat session, however, please send me your comments by email beforehand.

Monday, March 22, 2004

In a sign of the times, the U.S. District Court for Massachusetts has issued an order that all pleadings be filed electronically. Failure to comply with this order will result in sanctions which could include the court ignoring pleadings not filed electronically. This system of electronic filing has been in use for some time, and lawyers who have used it praise it, particularly its use of the Adobe PDF format. Several have urged me to look into the technology in use in the District Court for possible adoption by the registry. I'll certainly try to do that, but in the meantime, we're looking into expanding our use of PDF for a variety of data maintained by the registry.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

There is some talk in the Sunday papers about a resurgence of the home refinancing market. Rates today are within two-tenths of a percentage point of last June's 5.21 percent. Who would refinance today? Well, someone who was late applying last summer and lost out on the lowest rates, or someone who went through with their mortgage but ended up with a higher rate. Others, still, might refinance to "cash out" the equity in their homes, taking advantage of the continued high home prices. I hope these projections are correct. The volume of recordings at the registry have been way down since last September. We had all gotten used to working at a good pace, processing at least 800 documents per day. Now, we're doing data entry projects that will benefit everyone in the long run, but staying busy makes the day go by faster.

Friday, March 19, 2004

IMPORTANT NEWS - The Middlesex South website is now operational. They are supposed to use but if you go there you won't find anything. Instead, go to and from the drop down menu, select "Middlesex South." Then you're in business. I had some other stuff to write about tonight, but nothing can compare to this news. If this is the first you've heard of it, please tell your friends about it. You might also tell them that they, too, can keep up on the latest registry news by visiting our blog each day.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

We're taking advantage of the lull in recordings (our volume is down about 40% from last year at this time) by adding more data and images to the computer system. Thousands of marginal references have been entered in a database that will soon be imported into our regular computer system. We have also rescanned more than 900 plans to improve the quality of those images. Back in 1998 when we purchased our first plan scanner, it was relatively unsophisticated (as were we when it came to creating plan images), so quite a few of our early plan scans were not of the best quality. Since then, we've added a very accurate Xerox plan scanner that yields a much better quality image. That's what we've used to do these rescans. We are also scanning thousands of Registered Land documents. As most of you know, Registered Land is a separate recording system. Unlike recorded land, where we return original documents to the owners, all Registered Land documents are retained by the registry of deeds. Providing the paper original to a customer for viewing is a very inefficient way to operate, however, so we're scanning all of these documents right into our computer system. It's a big project - there are more than 150,000 documents to scan, but we've started and will keep you informed of our progress. Finally, don't forget our live chat session tomorrow (Friday) at 3:00 P.M. Just follow the link from our webpage.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

A user recently suggested that we add the Plan Regulations for the registry to our website. We've done that - they'll be visible to you in the morning as a link in the "Connections" section. In the process of adding the regulations to the website, I discovered that they became effective on January 1, 1976. As far as I can tell, they've never been updated. And they seem seriously out of date, calling for linen plans and ink that affixes permanently to the plan material. If my memory is correct, there weren't a lot of CAD programs in use 28 years ago, so the archaic language is understandable - but it's only understandable as a historic artifact, not as a relevant, useful guide for modern practitioners. So, I'm asking for your assistance. Please view the plan regulations once they come on line, then send me your thoughts and suggestions on how they should be updated. And don't forget to check out our new bulletin board and, if you're not too busy on Friday at 3 p.m., visit our chat room so we can converse electronically in real time.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

We activated two new features on the website today. One is a bulletin board that allows users to post comments on various topics. We hope that many of you will take advantage of this opportunity to share your thoughts with other registry users. The other feature is a chat room. We intend to use this in two ways: we'll do regularly scheduled chat sessions (I'm tentatively scheduled for Friday's at 3 P.M.) where I will be available online for live dialog with anyone who cares to join in. The second use for the chat room will be for special meetings that arise as needed. Both the bulletin board and the chat room are experimental - we think they will prove quite useful (much like this blog has), but we're not sure exactly how to best employ them. That's one of the reasons we're using free software and services for all of these things. The ads might be a bit annoying, but we're not spending a dime of our budget obtaining these capabilities. Of course, once we've developed a track record with these features, perhaps will invest some money in improved software. Until then, please join us and try out the chat room and the bulletin board.

Monday, March 15, 2004

A blog reader emailed that occasionally, he'll discover a typo in our index and pass it along to the registry staff. This reader suggested that a list of the changes we make could be made available online. It's a good suggestion since it addresses a topic of great importance to us all. Here's the nightmare scenario for you users: You're doing a rundown of Donald Trump, let's say. Earlier that day, the sheriff recorded an attachment against Mr. Trump but when we typed the name in the computer, it was entered as Thump. Well, when you searched "Trump" you didn't find anything, so you passed on the property. A few days later, someone tells us of our mistake, and we change Thump to Trump in the index. A few days after that - the way life works it's undoubtedly Friday at 5 P.M. - you get a call from someone telling you that you missed an attachment. How can you prove that you didn't miss it? Don't worry: you can subpoena the Keeper of the Records of the Registry to your malpractice trial. We keep a journal in which we record the date and content of all changes. The computer system actually keeps track of it too, but we've yet to master how to generate the appropriate reports, so we keep the old fashioned record book. If you have any suggestions about this, please let me know. And thanks, John, for suggesting this topic.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

We're about to add a significant amount of new information to the registry's computer system. Although documents recorded between 1976 and 1987 have an index that allows you to search by name and address, that index does not have book and page numbers in the marginal reference field. This prevents users from easily seeing related documents. Since the document images for those (and earlier) years were obtained from microfilm that was created right after the documents were recorded, marginal references that were written in the margin of the record books are not captured on the electronic images either. To solve this omission, registry employees have spent the last few months going through thousands of record books, page-by-page, and entering all marginal references into a computerized database. After some testing, we will import this data into our computer system. Once that's done, the marginal reference links for pre-1987 index entries will be operational.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Even though we don't get many comments posted by readers using the blog comment feature, many of you have sent me emails responding to prior postings on the blog. I'm grateful for these messages for a number of reasons. First, they tell me that people are actually reading this. But in addition, the comments tend to be substantive and very helpful. For instance, a reader asked whether our regulations for plans are available electronically. They are not, but that's only because we hadn't thought about it. Tomorrow we will add our plan regulations to the website. Another person asked about the range of data and images on our website. That made me realize that nowhere on the website is that information mentioned. That will be fixed tomorrow, as well. If you can't wait until tomorrow, our index goes back to 1976 but our images go back to 1950. So if you have the book and page number of a document, you can retrieve it from our website provided it was recorded in 1950 or more recently. If you want to search by owner name or property address, however, you can only do that as far back as 1976 (for now, at least). These are just two examples of how readers and registry users are helping to improve the quality of service available to you electronically. If you have any similar suggestions, please don't hesitate to send them along - just CLICK HERE.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Even though "multiple documents" was an item on the agenda for the recent register's meeting, we ran out of time and didn't discuss it this time. What is a multiple document? It's a single piece of paper that tries to do two different things. Registries tend to calculate the recording fee for that one piece of paper as if it was two separate documents. It's indexed as if it's two separate documents, as well. But it is only one document and it gets only one instrument number. The purpose of this practice is to equate the fee with the amount of work performed. If you're indexing a single piece of paper as if it were two different documents, the registry would be doing twice as much work for the same fee (which would be unfair to all other customers). In Lowell, when confronted with such a document, we ask the person doing the recording whether they want it indexed as two different documents (say, an appointment of trustee and an acceptance) and if they are ready to pay twice the recording fee. When they hesitate or say no, we just record it and index it as if it were just one, simple non-complex document.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Today's Registers' meeting was dominated by a lively discussion on the governor's recent executive order regarding notaries. Many registers - certainly the majority - plan to reject documents with notary clauses that do not strictly comply with the format set out in the executive order. In Lowell, we plan a much less restrictive interpretation. In our view, the executive order is directed at notaries and clearly tells them how to perform certain tasks. Those of us who are notaries will comply explicitly with the order when notarizing documents. The order is silent as to the effect of any deviation from the order's standards on the recordability of a document with a non-complying notary clause. In my view, the notary involved would have violated the order, but the document should not be rendered unrecordable. But as I said, when the order goes into effect on April 19, you can expect to have some of the documents you present for recording at some registries rejected due to noncompliance with the executive order. More on this tomorrow.

Monday, March 08, 2004

The Registers of Deeds Association is meeting tomorrow (Tuesday) in Worcester. Tomorrow night's blog entry will be a complete report of all substantive items discussed. The agenda items vary widely: a representative from the state's Department of Capital Asset Management (a/k/a "DCAM", the folks who are in charge of all state buildings) will be there to discuss the need for additional space at some registries. How to get access to the money that's been raised through the $5 per document technology surcharge that went into effect last March is also on the agenda as is a discussion of the governor's Executive Order regarding Notary Publics. The final agenda item is "Fee for Multi-Document Recordings Camouflaged as a Single Document." I guess we can tell how the creator of the agenda feels about that topic. Please check back tomorrow night for a full report.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Each month, with economic reports show a depressingly low number of new jobs being created in the US, stories about outsourcing - sending jobs that have always been done within the United States overseas - start appearing. Yesterday's New York Times ran a story about outsourcing with a focus on companies that have backed off their prior policy of keeping jobs within the US. One company profiled was Countrywide Financial, one of the nation's largest mortgage lenders (how many times did we type "Countrywide Home Loan" in our index last summer?). Back in October, the chairman of Countrywide was quoted as saying "I feel it is Countrywide's responsibility to create jobs in the US, not outside the US." Well, Countrywide just leased 40,000 square feet of office space in Bombay and plans to create 250 customer service jobs there over the next two years. Seems like Countrywide's self-promoting statements about keeping jobs in the US lasted as long as the refinancing boom - you can't expect them to let patriotism mess up their bottom line.

Friday, March 05, 2004

At 2 P.M. I received a call from our computer company. They had just been informed that the state office building which houses the computer equipment for the Internet database for the registry of deeds will be without power tonight and during the day tomorrow. The reason is to repair the building's air conditioning system. Not counting the February 2 power surge (and all the problems that flowed from that), this is the third time the Internet database has gone down on a weekend for electrical work in this building. Unfortunately, moving the equipment to some dedicated computer data center with all kinds of extended back up power would be prohibitively expensive right now. But we do have to find ways to work around these types of problems. We just can't afford to have the system keep going down like this.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

A blog reader sent an email suggesting that registries standardize the way they charge for marginal references and so-called multiple documents. Previously, registries would add $1 to the recording fee for each marginal reference beyond the first one, but last year's fee increase legislation eliminated the charge for extra marginal references. Now, a customer should be allowed an unlimited number of marginal references at no extra charge. A "multiple document" is something different, however. A single piece of paper that does more than one thing is called a multiple document. Let's say someone records a declaration of trust that also conveys real estate into the trust. That document does two things - it creates a trust and it conveys real estate. The document is given only one instrument number, but it is indexed as two separate documents (in this case, a deed and a declaration of trust) and incurs the recording fee of both documents. Here's an example that's more ambiguous. Let's say a borrower recorded a mortgage and an assignment of leases and rents. When the loan is paid off, the bank issues a document that discharges both the mortgage and the assignment of leases and rents. Some registries treat that as a multiple document, (a discharge of mortgage and a discharge of the assignment) and charge two fees. Other registries treat it as a single discharge, make marginal references to both the mortgage and the assignment of rents, and charge only one fee. The registries must figure out a standard way of charging for these types of documents so that users will know how much money to collect from their clients for recording fees.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Next Tuesday the Massachusetts Registers of Deeds Association has its winter meeting in Worcester. All registers and assistant registers are members of this organization that meets several times each year. One of the group's biggest accomplishments thus far was the creation and adoption of Deed Indexing Standards back in 2000. Hopefully, this meeting will be the start of an effort to update these standards to include many of the gray areas that have developed in the past few years. These meetings are always interesting because the group has many friendly factions: big versus small registries and county versus state registries to name just two. If any readers of the blog have suggestions about topics that should be raised at this meeting please let me know. I haven't seen the agenda yet, but there's always an opportunity to raise new business.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

We did more testing on our chat room feature today. To keep our costs low, we're going to use free software. The only problem with that is that the "free" chat software is paid for by advertising on the site. Entering the chat room causes a few pop up ads to appear on your screen (annoying but not particularly offensive), but you just have to close the boxes and proceed. The software works very well. You type your end of the conversation and press send, and your remarks show up in a box that's seen by everyone who has logged into the chat session. Our plan right now is to have our first chat session with me this Friday from 2 pm to 3 pm. You can log in and just watch what's going on, or you can ask questions or make comments and I'll respond right away.

Monday, March 01, 2004

We're experimenting with a chat room function for the registry website. The mechanics of it seem easy enough, but we haven't quite figured out how we will use it. We may set aside a certain time each week, say Fridays from 2 pm to 3 pm, and have someone from the registry (me, in most cases) available to answer questions or discuss issues with anyone interested in an open forum. The other likely use is for virtual meetings on a specific topic such as electronic recording or indexing standards. Any suggestions or ideas would be welcome.