Friday, October 29, 2004

World Champion Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox victory in the World Series certainly deserves a blog entry. As you can see if you visit our website ( and check out the “photo gallery,” registry employees supported the team by wearing Red Sox outfits all week. The Halloween 2004 photos also have a baseball theme. Personally, I don’t feel the same euphoria I experienced when the Patriots won their first Super Bowl back in 2001. This is more a sense of relief; of disaster avoided. My earliest baseball memories are of the Impossible Dream team of 1967 and, while great catches and timely hits by Carl Yastrzemski are certainly prominent, so is the beaning of Tony Conigliaro and Jim Lonberg’s post season broken leg suffered in a fall while skiing. Both injuries cut short their talented careers. Then it was on to 1975. Dramatic home runs by Carlton Fisk and Bernie Carbo in game six are most memorable, but if Jim Rice hadn’t broken his hand late in the season, the addition of his offensive production to the World Series team might have been enough to beat the Reds. Then there was Bucky Dent’s playoff winning home run in 1978. Enough said. The closest one had to be 1986 where the world championship was cut short when Mookie Wilson’s ground ball rolled through Bill Buckner’s legs and Calvin Shiraldi, the Red Sox “closer” just couldn’t nail it down in game seven. After the game, some Mets said Shiraldi looked like a “deer in the headlights” and they knew they would win. And so the long awaited victory in 2004 has, for me, an aura of disaster avoided. Maybe like the Patriots, the Red Sox will quickly win a second world championship. That, I am sure, will feel more like winning than like not losing.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

World Series Thoughts

If the Yankees wait as along as the Red Sox just did to win their next
World Series it will be 2090 before the New Yorkers celebrate again.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

One Down... One to Go

One of the reason we are back scanning Registered Land documents is our microfilm machines have seen better days. Although not very old, their technology is out dated. It really is amazing. When these machines were purchased they were "state of the art", now they are cumbersome and slow. It is simpler to explain the way they work than use them. Each "page" must be individually scanned, that's correct, not the entire document. This means that a twenty page mortgage needs, well...twenty scan actions. Printing the mortgage requires twenty print commands, one for each page also. The reader/printers we used before, printed directly from the microfilm. A simpler concept, but the machines just didn't work most of the time. They jammed constantly. I would call the maintenance company, stamp my foot, jumped up and down, yell, beg, cry and eventually pull my hair. The machines still wouldn't get fixed(it really does take more than meets the eye to keep a registry properly running). Presently, enough Registered Land documents have been scanned to allow one of the "newer" microfilm machines to be taken out of service(one to go). This saves maintenance money, counter space and the little hair I have left...and of course, makes life easier for the public.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Registered Land Developments

We've started the planning process for scanning all of our registered land certificates of title and memoranda of encumbrances. Certificates created since July 2002 all exist on paper and on the computer system, but all earlier ones really only exist in the books maintained in the registered land department. Historically, these books have been updated on a daily basis. As new documents get recorded, annotations are made on the appropriate certificates. There are two reasons we should scan these books. First, that will make the contents of the books readily available on our computers and the Internet. Second, there is no real backup for these books. If we ever had a fire at the registry and these were destroys, there's no ready replacement. I guess the theory is that we could recontruct all of these certificates and encumbrances from the recorded documents (they are all backed up off site on microfilm), but that would be a near impossible task.

Monday, October 25, 2004

"It wasn't me...I swear"

Recently, two interesting articles related to home computer security were published in prominent periodicals. Last week the "Boston Globe" wrote about the vulnerabilities of wireless Internet access. The opening sentence is a real grabber..."If you have wireless Internet access at home, your next door neighbor could have it as well, without paying for it. He can just use yours". Some wireless systems can connect up to 300' with signals strong enough to penetrate brick walls. You may be thinking... "Who cares...It's nice to share...the only one getting hurt is the Internet provider". Wrong! If some shady character parks outside your house and downloads illegal material guess who the authorities are going to question first? Right! If this does happen try... "It wasn't me...I swear". However, it seems easier and more effective to "lock down" your wireless technology. This process is readily available, inexpensive, but better explained by an expert. In a second related topic, a study funded by America On-Line and the US National Cyber Security Alliance revealed that 80% of home PCs had been infected with spyware. And the users have no idea. Spyware can allow your internet usage to be tracked: what sites you visit and for how long, what you bought online and from whom. The study states that most users are unprotected from online threats and largely ignorant to the dangers. According to the findings 60% of home computer owners do not know the difference between a Firewall and antivirus software. In addition the large majority of PCers using antivirus software do not updated it regularly (that would be me). But back to more pleasant topics, two down...two to go...Go Sox

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Sports Memories

As a youth I grew up watching the Boston Celtics dominate the NBA. Thirteen World Championships in a row. Something like that. But it was the 1968-69 season I remember the most as a kid. The most vivid sports memory I have came from that post season. It is of Bill Russell, the Celtic's legendary center. The Celtic only won 48 games that year. Sam Jones was 35 years old and Bill Russell 34, both about to retire. They barely made the playoffs and were huge underdogs. Against all odds they did win the 68-69 Championship. I can't remember who they were playing...the 76ers, the Knicks or the Lakers. But I can visualize Russell as if it were yesterday. The Celtics had come from behind and locked up a crucial post season victory. No one could believe it. This aged team with just 48 wins was doing it again. During a time out, Russell stood slightly slouched with both hands on his thighs. His head tilled looking up toward the basket. I could see the character in that face. It didn't matter that most doubted him and his team. He gave his all. I thought, "this is a real Champion". Not because he won...but because of intensity with which he played. I can still see that image. Through the years I turned off on professional sports... the agents, the money and the wining. Last night I watched a hurting Curt Schilling fire 94 mile an hour fastballs from the mound in Yankee Stadium. No excuses. I was impressed. Then the TV camera zoomed in on his foot. It was bleeding. You could see the blood seeping through his sock. The same feeling I had thirty five years earlier came rushing back to me. For Schilling, like Russell, it isn't about the money. I thought...this is a real Champion.
Go Sox!

Mortgage Debt

The "New York Times" ran an interesting article on Tuesday. Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board Alan Greenspan recently defended the big increase in homeowner debt over the past five years. Greenspan acknowledged that consumer debt has risen sharply in the last five years but feels that family finances are still in reasonably good shape. Mortgage debt and housing prices have both soared since 2001. Some economists worry that rising interest rates will increase monthly payments for homeowners with adjustable first mortgages or equity lines. This could spell trouble if housing prices fall. Critics feel that the Feds contributed to an artificially high housing market by keeping interest rates at record low levels. Greenspan disputes this thinking. He feels the fears are exaggerated since people do not buy and sell homes as easily as stocks. In other words, housing doesn't lend itself to being a bubble since it is harder to buy and sell. Greenspan also notes that while mortgage rates increase so have housing prices. At this time there is not a decline in housing prices. On the other hand "according to Federal Reserve data, homeowner's equity was equal to 66% of the value of their real estate during the 1970's. That share declined to an average of 56.8% in the 1990's and is now 55%".

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

When to Record a New Homestead

More thoughts on the confusing and unsettled law surrounding the Massachusetts Declaration of Homestead. A married couple with both spouses under the age of 62 (and not disabled) may only file a single homestead. Since the purpose of the law is the protect the family home, the filing exempts $300,000 (soon to be $500,000) of the equity of the home from creditors of either. But what happens if both spouses are jointly liable? Does the $300,000 exemption get apportioned between them? That's probably what happens. Now assume one of the spouses attains the age of 62, should that spouse now file a new homestead under the "Elderly and Disabled" section of the law? Like most lawyerly answers, it depends. It depends on which spouse filed the original homestead. If it's the one who has now turned 62, then no new homestead should be filed by that spouse because that would just void the earlier one. But what if the younger spouse had filed the original homestead. Once the older spouse reaches 62, he can file a second homestead. The original homestead would stay in effect for the debts of the younger spouse giving that spouse the full monetary protection of the homestead, and the older spouse would receive full protection from the new homestead. Sound confusing? That's because it is. Rather than go through these intellectual gyrations each time a homestead question arises, we should just amend the statutes and clarify all of these ambiguities. If anyone has any suggestions for language for such an amendment, please send them along.

Monday, October 18, 2004

On the Move

We have begun to do some space analysis in preparation of the possibility of moving the registry. Currently the registry occupies slightly over 10,000 sq Ft in the Superior courthouse in Lowell. Our three record halls account for about forty percent of the space. This includes record books, work tables and some computers. Thirty percent is used for internal work areas. This would contain functions such as the recording counter, registered land, the South satellite, scanning stations etc. In addition there are large spaces inaccessible to the public that are used to store: plans, microfilm, Registered land, consumable supplies and other miscellaneous items. Hallways and public computer stations occupy the remaining twenty percent of our area. The present registry is not laid out well. Departments are scattered about, some registry work area are too close to public areas and the basement level is not handicapped accessible. A few years ago we stopped printing record books. In spite of this, the registry still has about 1,500 linear feet of 7' book shelves. We did our first space analysis about seven years ago when the registry was still part of the now defunct "Middlesex County". We were running out of room and hoped the County would finance a move(boy were we naive). Middlesex County ended up going broke which yielded significant benefits for the registry. When the Commonwealth took over, it provided financial resources that we never had with the bankrupt county. We used the new funding to install Cat 5 wiring and to purchase several computer servers with huge memory capacity. These upgrades allowed us to store fifty years of images (approximately 7 million) and make them available to the public both here and on the internet. The moving plan conceived under Middlesex County provided for twenty years of needs. It required massive amounts of space for record book expansion alone. Today we are designing a much different plan. In the past record book storage determined spaces needs, today technology leads the way.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Disaster Recovery

The Secretary of State's office takes Disaster Recovery very seriously having hired a private company to assess the preparedness of the various state registries to respond to a disaster. This type of planning requires a tremendous amount of effort, so it is often overcome by events. There always seems to be something more pressing - another customer, another phone call - than spending the time necessary to come up with a Disaster Recovery Plan. One reason so much effort is involved is that there are so many things that can happen. Scenarios range from the failure of a computer server to the outright destruction of the building from fire, natural disaster or some other means. We have good reason to take this all very seriously in Lowell since our building was the site of a terrorist bombing back in 1976. Back then, it was a radical group called the Weathermen, but their explosives were just as devastating as those used by today's terrorists. Yesterday we had an all day planning session in Boston to begin updating and improving our existing plan. As the experts say, "No one plans to fail, but if you fail to plan you will fail" or something like that. Enjoy the weekend, and if you're in Lowell on Sunday morning, stay away from the Merrimack River. The Baystate Marathon will cause the closure of many of the city's bridges until well after noon.

Thursday, October 14, 2004


Some brief thoughts for today.
* Last week we began posting the last document number completed in our Registered Land back scanning project. Obviously, people need to know what documents have been scanned to switch from microfilm to computer use.
* For the past two months our Middlesex South Satetille Office has increased its recording percentages. On some busy days, such as the first and last day of a month, Lowell has done up to 25% of Cambridge's total documents.
* Three 90 minute Presidential Debates is plenty.
* With half of October gone we have recorded approximately 77,000 documents. Chances are we will not break 100,000 documents this year.
* The response to our website is great. This includes both professional and casual users. Homeowners are especially thrilled when they find out they can get deed copies online rather than travel "all the way to Lowell".
* How about the Red Sox, huh. Don't forget "it aint over til it's over". That's what Yogi said. Oh, yeah. He was a Yankee.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Debt Consolidation Loans

A recent Federal Reserve study estimated that at least 25% of those who refinanced during the past two years have done so to consolidate their debts. Rising home values and low interest rates can make this an attractive option. Why pay 18% interest on your credit card debt when you can simply refinance your home mortgage and lump the balance on your credit cards in with the amount you owe on your home and pay it all off at a relatively low interest rate. The problem with this approach is that it makes it twice as likely that you will lose your home to foreclosure. It seems that most people who consolidate large credit card debts as part of a home refinance just run up more credit card debt which, when added to the higher monthly payment of the new mortgage, puts incredible strain on their finances. State government and consumer groups are scrutinizing questionable practices in the mortgage industry including inflated appraisals and income statements and the practice of paying a mortgage broker a commission based on the size of the loan which provides the broker with an incentive to get the homeowner to borrow a larger amount than is really needed. Here at Middlesex North, the number of Orders of Notice, our best indicator of how many foreclosures are in process, has remained stable, but we are watching closely for any rapid increases in that type of activity activity.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Red Sox Win

The September Sales and Foreclosure Reports were added to the website today. Business was slow. Many of those who did show up were clad in Red Sox jerseys and hats and even they cleared out before the start of the 4:05 p.m. baseball game. After watching the Sox blow a 6 to 1 lead and then win in the tenth inning on a walk off home run by David Ortiz followed by the 90 minute presidential debate, I certainly don’t have anything useful to say about the registry of deeds. Enjoy the Columbus Day weekend – we will, since the registry will be closed on Monday

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Canal Heritage Days

This coming weekend, the Lowell National Historical Park and the Middlesex Canal Commission Billerica Section will celebrate Canal Heritage Days with a wide variety of interesting activities. For the schedule, directions and more information check out and Canals are an integral part of Lowell’s history with the earliest ones predating the city itself. In America, rivers were the highways of the Eighteenth Century and so the Merrimack was the logical route for transporting timber and furs from New Hampshire to the Atlantic. At one point, however, waterfalls and rapids made the Merrimack impassible for boats. In the late 1700s, a group of businessmen built the Pawtucket Canal in an attempt to bypass these obstacles. This was initially successful, but a rival company soon constructed the Middlesex Canal, connecting the Merrimack to the Charles River and the port of Boston. The company running the Pawtucket Canal soon went out of business. But when the Industrial Revolution in America took off in the 1820s with water power as the primary means of power generation, the existence of the Pawtucket Canal caused developers of the day to chose it as the site for the first planned industrial city in the world. The water flowing through this failed transportation canal went on to power the textile mills that made Lowell famous.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Picture This

For over a year we have been providing town Assessors with deeds on CD. This procedure saves us time, materials and labor. It also allows the local town the opportunity to create an electronic library if they wish. Although, with these deeds are easily accessible. Registry of Deeds are required by law to provide district assessors with copies of deeds. Local Assessors in conjunction with town collectors use ownership records for tax billing and to establish an owners database. As an aside, these CD's have offered us an opportunity to have some fun. A few years back one of our staff members was a local history buff. For a few months we assigned him the duty of scanning pictures of old schools, people, mills, churches and parks in our ten communities. We really weren't quite sure what we would do with them, but they have proven very useful. The Assessor's CD that we send out every month is embedded with a picture of the Lowell Superior Court House, our home. The CD case features an historical picture from the community. Each month we try to pick a theme...schools, parks, gazebo's etc. One community even asked that we forward one of these pictures so they could use it as a screen saver. As I said it's fun.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Comments on Homestead Blog Entry

My September 16 blog entry on a Bankruptcy Court decision on the effect of refinancing on a Declaration of Homestead has prompted some replies from the legal community. Your feedback is terrific - we want this to become more of a dialogue than a monologue. In keeping with that concept, here's the gist of one comment:

I read with interest your recent blog on the Lawyers Weekly article on the DesRoches Bankruptcy case. I agree with you that it is a confusing decision, and one must read it with care, the problem that I have is with your "unscientific" conclusion at the end of the blog. I fear that people, including those who should know better, will read your blog and conclude that they should re-record a homestead when they should not. You have the opportunity to influence because of your position and the presumption that you know about these things. I also think that the percentage of lawyers who say that you should not re-record is significantly greater than 50%. I personally think that in most cases, it is not necessary to re-record a homestead and it is costing people needless money to do so, and possibly hurting them vis a vis creditors. The VAST majority of mortgages contain a release of homestead, including all FNMA/FHLMC mortgage forms, and most HELOC forms. Under DesRoches analysis and its emphasis on the fact that the mortgage did not contain a release of homestead, the court made it clear that if there were such a release, the mortgage would act as a subordination. In either case the result would have been the same for the DesRoches, release or subordination since they had no equity in the property beyond the mortgages. They were really looking for a benefit that most would not expect them to have received.

If you have any thoughts on this topic, please use the "comment" feature below to respond.

Monday, October 04, 2004

City and Town Taxes

The "Average FY04 tax bill" for each town in Massachusetts is listed in the September issue of "City and Town". "City and Town" is a publication of the Department of Revenue's Division of Local Services. The tax chart provided in the publication also compares "average property value" for the past two years and lists the percentage change. According to "City and Town" the average tax bill in the Middlesex North District towns were as follows: Billerica-$3,162; Carlisle-$9,016; Chelmsford-4,212; Dracut-$2,752; Dunstable-$4,675; Lowell-$2,216; Tewksbury-$3,143; Tyngsborough-$3,911; Westford-$5,396; Wilmington-$3,108.
I know what you are wondering. Well here it is...the top five towns in Massachusetts with the highest "average tax bill" (according to City and Town) are Weston-$11,238, Sherborn-$9,591, Lincoln-$9,394, Carlisle $9016 and Dover-$8,412.
There are three towns in Massachusetts that "City and Town" lists with average property value over $1 million: Chilmark $1,524,515; Weston $1,162,135; Lincoln $1,022,243. Chilmark? It is a small town on the Island of Martha's Vineyard with a year round population of 931. This swells to 6,000 in the summer time.