Thursday, July 29, 2004

Big changes are in the works for our website.  We're working on a design that's much more interactive, that allows for more interaction by the users.  Look for the new format for the website, at least a preview of it, early next week.  One feature is apparent right now, and that's a new "comments" feature to this blog.  If you click on the word "comments" below, you can easily contribute your thoughts and ideas to the community of registry blog readers.  The comment box does try to get you to register with Blogspot, but it allows you to choose "anonymous" for the posting name.  You are welcome to post your comments anonymously, but we'd also appreciate your leaving your name.  To do so without the hassle of registering, just select the anonymous posting option, but add your name at the end of your text.  This feature allows you to make comments upon comments, as well, so we should be able to construct some interesting dialogues.  We look forward to hearing from you. 

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

The Massachusetts Association of Realtors reported this week that the housing market in Massachusetts is still going strong. Amazingly, the average sale price in the state has risen to $360,000. Single family home sales are up 15% over last June and Condominiums are up a staggering 42% with an average price of $265,000. Condo’s have once again become a first time buyer magnet. I saw something similar happen in the mid eighties when I worked as a Real Estate Broker. Buyers were willing to pay more and more for Condo’s partly because their value increased so rapidly . Many investors also entered the Condo market. The philosophy was “buy high, sell higher”. They were great equity builders. It wasn’t long before the price of a Condominium exceeded the price of a small Cape or Ranch. As you would expect, this led to a correction in the market place. Condo prices sank like a cannon ball. It didn’t end there. As condo values plunged, first time Condo buyers became financially trapped. If they sold, they would lose money or break even at best. This diminished the pool of homeowners that could  “buy up”. The effect rippled through the entire real estate market... I remember sitting in the kitchen of a potential Condominium seller explaining a market analysis to him. Suddenly, a huge moving truck pulled up to a Garden Style Condo across the way from his. He looked out the window, turned to me and said in a serious voice “looks like someone is escaping”...  This is not an opinion of what I think will happen in today’s market, it is more my recollection of what happened then.  Of course, every economic market is different, and no one knows for sure what will happen in this one.  

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

The entire real estate market must be on vacation this week.  Apparently, everyone involved heeded the warnings of road closings and gridlock and went on vacation, because not much is happening at the registry, either at the Cambridge satellite office or at the Middlesex North recording counter.  While it's comforting to know that people have not been seriously inconvenienced by all of this, we were geared up to absorb an increase in business that otherwise would have gone closer to Boston.  On another note, the 2004 Lowell Folk Festival was a great success despite the rainy start on Saturday.  The following link shows a few pictures of festival activities.  Folk Festival pictures.  

Monday, July 26, 2004

With the arrival of DNC week we were expecting a dramatic increase in recordings at the South Satellite Office in Lowell. With media warnings of traffic nightmares for commuters heading to Boston and its surrounding communities, the Satellite Office offers an easy alternative.  Surprisingly, the Satellite recorded more documents than normal, but not as many as we expected. The recording line never had more than two people waiting. And, as usual, our staff moved the line very quickly so no one waited more than ten minutes to complete their entire transaction. Interestingly, reports say that Middlesex South in Cambridge was relatively quiet. And rumor has it business was also off at the Registry of Probate. It seems that many people may be scheduling around the convention, either taking vacations, working at home or delaying recordings until next week. 
    But we have taken the advice of the Boy Scouts, "be prepared". The South Satellite is fully ready if there is a large increase in recordings. And don't forget, the hours of operation have also been extended until 4:00PM for the public’s convenience.

Friday, July 23, 2004

During the past few days, four different customers have contacted us by email or phone to express frustration over their inability to find their way from the first page of our website to our database.  Of course, the link is "Search Land Records" but these folks were all first-time registry users and "Search Land Records" didn't quite describe what they were trying to do.  Instead, they each clicked on the "Deed - how to get a copy of yours" link on the website.  Unfortunately, that only connected them to a rather stale Frequently Asked Questions page that was of no help.  Fortunately, they contacted us and we did what we should have done long ago, added some instructions on how to find documents on our website.  Even you experienced users might want to take a glance at this PDF document that you can reach by the link underneath "Search Land Records" or from "Deeds - Get a Copy . . ."  If you have any comments about this new document, please send them along.  I mention this episode for several reasons.  I want to thank those individuals who took the time to give us feedback about the website.  I believe their comments have caused us to improve the site.  And I use it as an example of how the website can allow for two-way communications between us and our users (although it doesn't take four - or three or even two - comments to get us to change something).  On another note, don't forget to visit the Lowell Folk Festival this weekend in downtown Lowell.  If you haven't checked it out before, you'll be very pleasantly surprised by what you see, hear, smell and taste.  I always enjoy overhearing festival-goers from out of town saying things like "I can't believe Lowell is this beautiful."  Check out the Festival's website at

Thursday, July 22, 2004

This coming weekend is the Lowell Folk Festival - the largest free folk festival in the United States - six outdoor stages, three days of traditional music and dance, street parades, ethnic food of all types.  For more information, check out their website at  I hope to see you there.  Some more news from yesterday's ACS Users Group meeting: There's a growing trend among registry users to attach a variety of documents to the end of another document being recorded (attaching a death certificate to a deed, for example).  It seems that most registries will treat this "packet" as a single document and charge only the fee for the primary document.  In this case, however, nothing contained in the attached documents will be entered in the index.  If the customer wants the attached documents to also be indexed, they will be treated as separate documents and charged accordingly.  Another issue discussed was the presence of social security numbers on documents presented for recording.  Because everything is now on the Internet, including social security numbers on documents creates a risk of identify theft, so most registries will not record social security numbers (we ask the person recording the document to cross them out).  Of course, this rule doesn't apply to tax liens.  Apparently, the taxing authorities have concluded that people who don't pay their taxes on time don't need to have their social security numbers protected.  Finally, the registries have asked ACS for a better way to index property that resides in more than one community.  Right now, we use the town code "Multiple" for such properties, but if you try to search for such a property and limits the search to one or the other town names, you won't find anything because the town code is Multiple.  (That's why we advise people to use the minimum information possible when starting searches - you can always make it more restrictive if too many results are returned).  

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The ACS Computer Users Group met today in Worcester.  This group consists of the registries that use the ACS Computer System, representatives from the Secretary of State's Office, and key personnel from ACS.  We discussed a range of topics which I'll write about in the coming days but for now, two things warrant mention.  The new search program that disregards spaces and punctuation (which will be a big benefit to registry users) will become active on August 1, both in the registries and on the Internet.  The other "new thing" is the ability to search on the Internet by document type, town, and date range.  This will allow Internet users, for example, to retrieve all deeds recorded in Lowell during June 2004 or all mortgages for Tewksbury for March 2003.  You can already do this at the registry, but because such searches tend to be large and consume a lot of computer power, they weren't allowed over the Internet.  Now they will be (with a limit of 1000 records per search).  We'll let you know when this feature becomes active.  The only bad news to emerge from today's meeting was that John Harvell, the man who has overseen the installation of the ACS computer system in Massachusetts from the beginning up until now has left ACS.  Back in June 2002, this registry and Harvell's ACS team were given the challenge of doing the first ACS installation in Massachusetts in an extremely short period of time.  We did it, but without John Harvell's intelligence, experience, determination and judgment, it never would have happened and we would not now be able to offer our users the quality of service that we provide.  Everyone here in Lowell will miss John and we all wish him well in his future endeavors. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

I just finished "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" by Joe Trippi.  It's an account of Howard Dean's presidential campaign (Trippi was his campaign manager) and how the Internet was used to propel Dean from an unknown former governor of a very small state to the front runner (for a time, at least) for the Democratic nomination for president.  I was anxious to read the book since it was the Dean campaign's use of the Internet, especially its Blog, that inspired me to create this Blog for the registry of deeds many months ago.  This book is not the standard post-campaign memoir, for Trippi spends as much time discussing the future of the Internet in politics, government and business as he does the Iowa caucuses.  Some of his advice: "If you aren't responding to customer emails, if you don't have a blog . . . then you're wasting your time on the Net."  So far, so good for the Lowell registry.  But Trippi goes on: "Build a community.  Get people involved.  This is not top-down, one-to-many anymore.  The Internet is side-to-side, up-and-down, many-to-many.  Use it that way.  It's the dialogue, stupid!"  Well, I guess we have some more work to do.  We're already discussing ways to get you, our customers, more involved in our website and, by extension, in how the registry operates.  If you have any suggestions, please send them along by email and please watch for future opportunities to participate in our dialogue.   

Monday, July 19, 2004

     The seventh original text of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden will be on display in the Thoreau Baker Farm in Lincoln, MA next week. Many regard Thoreau was one of America’s most ardent conservationists. He lived for two years in the woods around Walden Pond in Concord, MA. Thoreau shares these experiences in this famous book appropriately titled “Walden”. The book has become a classic and Thoreau an icon. I first read Walden while working a summer maintenance job for Middlesex County in 1970.
      I remember one day while digging a water trench, asking one of the supervisors “who is this Thoreau guy?
     “Well” he answered, “I guess the best way to describe him is he was one of the first hippies". Then he added "and you know that place in the woods where they say his cabin was? That is nothing but and old hot dog stand…now keep that shovel moving” (I don’t think this guy would have been in favor of the Community Preservation Act). 
     After reading Walden I became immediately intrigued with the author and his works. August 9 marks the 150 anniversary of the publication of the classic. The manuscript is available for viewing until September 13.

Friday, July 16, 2004

The Massachusetts Legislature is now considering Senate Bill 2386 ("An Act to Provide Remedies to Consumers For Clearing Title After Payoff of Mortgages").  This bill, proposed by the Real Estate Bar Association for Massachusetts (REBA) would address the ongoing problem of missing or incorrect mortgage discharges.  One of the major changes contemplated would be the prepayment of the recording fee for discharges.  After enactment, the recording fee for mortgages would rise from the current $175 to $250, however, when the mortgage was ultimately paid off, the resulting discharge would be recorded with no additional fee.  This legislation would also simplify and strengthen the current procedure that allows a mortgage to be discharged by an affidavit.  Today I joined several other Registers of Deeds in meeting with representatives of REBA to discuss the impact of this legislation on registry operations.  While the registers had some relatively minor suggestions, the overall bill should be viewed as very positive, consumer friendly legislation.  We'll try to keep you posted on the status of this bill as it works its way through the state house.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Despite our location 25 miles north of Boston, the impact of the Democratic National Convention (July 26 to July 30) will be felt here in Lowell. The Middlesex North Registry will be open and will conduct business as usual. The satellite recording office for Middlesex South will also be open although we will be extending the hours of operation slightly. The satellite office normally stops recording at 3 pm but that week, we will continue until 4 pm to accommodate the expected increase in business. Unfortunately, we still will be unable to accept Registered Land documents or plans for Middlesex South. We also will be opening a temporary office of the Corporations Division of the Secretary of State's office for that week. We'll provide additional information about the services that will be available. Although the Corporations addition will only be for that week, if it proves useful, perhaps we can make the case that it should be a permanent addition to our operations. As for Tuesday's trivia question (Where is the key to the Bastille located?) the answer is at Mount Vernon in Virginia. Lafayette presented the key to George Washington and it hangs over the doorway in our first President's home. Congratulations to Assistant Register Tony Accardi for correctly answering the question.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

With the close of the first half of 2004 we have begun to compile recording statistics for the past decade. The totals below are a combination of registered and recorded land. The right column shows the change in the number of documents recorded from the previous year.

Middlesex North Registry of Deeds
Document Total Analysis 95-04

Year TOTAL % Change
1995 65719
1996 72861 11%
1997 76000 4%
1998 101138 33%
1999 96830 -4%
2000 77447 -20%
2001 105555 36%
2002 125298 19%
2003 158827 27%
2004 54507 -31%

2003 turned out to be the biggest year in the history of Middlesex North. Although, things have certainly changed. The first half of 2004 ended with a total of 54507 documents. If we continue at this pace we will end 2004 with an approximate total of 109,000. This represents a 31% decrease in recordings from last year. The most interesting fact regarding these statistics is the extreme fluctuation throughout the decade.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

A major change to the way registry users search records on our computers will soon take effect. Unlike the current system, the new search program will disregard spaces and punctuation. With the current system, if you are searching for the "ABC Realty Trust" and type "ABC" with no spaces between the letters, but an attachment has been previously recorded that had the name "A B C Realty Trust" your search would not yield the attachment. The new system would find it. We've already tested the in-registry version of this system and will examine the Internet version soon. The whole thing should be implemented by the end of July. It will be a major improvement. Having recently returned from a trip to France, I can't let tomorrow (July 14) pass without wishing everyone a pleasant Bastille Day. For those unfamiliar with that phase of European history, the Bastille was an infamous jail in France that was attacked, captured and then dismantled during the 1789 Revolution. Now in Paris, there's only a simple monument in the midst of a traffic circle where the Bastille once stood. In a related trivia question, where is the key to the Bastille now on display? Email your answers to me by Thursday.

Monday, July 12, 2004

I hate to bore people with numbers, but it is the best way to provide an update of our registered land "back scanning" project. First some history: We began the project in March, 2004 scanning documents that were recorded in 1994. In a earlier project we had scanned reg land docs 1-12000. We knew this project was quite an undertaking. But we figured if business continued to decline we would have the manpower to complete it. Let me also mention that it is a very important project. I would assess that things have gone rather well so far. To date we have scanned close to 40,000 documents covering a seven year period (1987-1994). Some unforeseen events have caused a few delays. Now the math(I promise no square roots)...There still are over 100,000 documents to be scanned. We average about 12,000 per month. Let's see...100,000 divided by 12,000 equals 8.3(months that is). Of late, we have picked up the pace by having other registry employees do document preparation during their down-time. This has really helped. Now the scanners just, well scan. And they stay with it most of the day. Our hope is to finish this project by the end of the year(cross your fingers).

Friday, July 09, 2004

We've made some changes to the Registry website. The most significant one occurs when you click on the "Search Land Records" link. Now, a new browser window that contains the search screen opens. Conduct your research just as you always have, but when you're done, just close that window (click on the X in the upper right hand corner). The registry home page stays open in its original window. The reason we made this change is that the old link didn't work for many of our users - when they clicked on "Search Land Records" all they got was a blank screen. We think that problem's been resolved. The other changes are the addition of a monthly report showing foreclosures. Two features that we experimented with - a bulletin board and a chat room - did not seem to catch on, so we've temporarily pulled them off the website. That's a summary of the changes. We hope to add more features soon.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

My thanks to Assistant Register Tony Accardi for maintaining the Blog (and, more importantly, the Registry of Deeds) during my just completed vacation. Tony will continue to post Blog entries on a regular basis, so don't despair. To my surprise, some readers have asked for a report on my trip, so here it is: My family traveled to France for 2+ weeks that began with seven days in a Paris apartment, a nice base for riding the Metro to all the monuments and museums. That was followed by a stay at a 1790 Normandy farmhouse that doubled as a bed and breakfast, highlighted by visits to the D-day invasion beaches and the American cemetery at Colleville. If there are anti-American sentiments, the French did a great job of disguising them, for we were treated wonderfully by everyone. Most folks seemed more interested in the Euro2004 soccer tournament than in foreign policy. Other observations - French bread is overrated, but their croissants alone justify the transatlantic flight; with gasoline costing nearly $5 per gallon, you understand why even their SUVs are smaller than the smallest of American cars; their supermarkets are much like ours, although you can't find paper cups, plates or towels - not only are they more into recycling than we are, they don't throw as much away in the first place. And the ATM card from your local bank produces Euros on the Boulevard St. Germain as easily as it does dollars on Merrimack Street. But enough of the travelog. It's nice to be back. Registry news will return tomorrow.

Friday, July 02, 2004

July 4th makes me reflect on the many men in the Merrimack Valley that were involved in the early history of our country. Captain John Trull of Tewksbury fired his musket from his bedroom window, warning citizens in Dracut that the British were marching to Concord. Captain John Harden of Wilmington marched a company of men to Concord to fight. Westford’s Col John Robinson led the assembled minuteman across the North Bridge on April 19, 1775. Copies of land records of these Patriots and their family’s can be found in old books in the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds. After Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, it was Boston’s John Adams that convinced the Colonies to accept it. Adams argued that while Congress sat in Virginia “discussing” freedom, Massachusetts Patriots had already begun “fighting” for it. It is truly exciting to think that within a twenty-five mile radius of this registry America began its fight for Freedom. A monument honoring Captain Trull sits across the street from my home in Tewksbury. He trained his minuteman in the field which is now part of my back yard. I love to brag about it. Sometimes I look out across that field in awe. This vast Nation began it’s fight for “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” right here in Massachusetts. And many of those that first raised arms to secure the liberties that Jefferson so eloquently articulated were from the Merrimack Valley. Records of other patriotic notables are here in Middlesex North also: Asa Parlin of Carlisle, John Minot of Chelmsford, Joseph Varnum of Dracut and William Thompson of Billerica. All these men were delegates to the Massachusetts State Convention to adopt the federal constitution in 1788.
Have a happy, safe July 4th. Can you tell it’s my favorite holiday?

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Today, July 1 is the first anniversary of the opening of the Middlesex South Satellite Office in Lowell. The Satellite is a great success to say the least. One day the office took in over one thousand documents. The installation of the ACS computer system in Cambridge last fall gave the Satellite more flexibility and capabilities. We are now “scanning” as well as recording South documents here in Lowell. In a past blog entry, it was mentioned that we expect an increase in recordings at the Satellite Office during the Democratic Convention. The convention takes place the last week in July and will significantly increase the traffic around Greater Boston. Recently, we have had more phone inquiries regarding procedures at the South Satellite. These calls seem to indicate that this expectation is accurate. We expect the DNC will channel many users, especially new ones, to Lowell. As a reminder, the Satellite Office does not record “registered land” documents or “Plans”.