Friday, July 29, 2005

Old Middlesex South Books

We’re well on our way to having all documents in the registry scanned and available on our website. One of the last groups left to be scanned are our oldest documents, those that were recorded before this registry came into existence in 19855. Prior to that year, any documents related to land in the towns that subsequently became the Middlesex North District (Billerica, Carlisle, Chelmsford, Dracut, Dunstable, Lowell, Tewksbury, Tyngsboro, Westford and Wilmington) were re-copied in new books that were divided by town name and then sequentially numbered. The placement of documents within these books was based on what town the relevant property was part of in 1855, not when the document came into existence. For example, a 1776 deed to a parcel at the corner of Andover and High Street was then in Tewksbury, but by 1855 that area had become part of Lowell, so that deed would be placed in one of the Lowell books. To give you a sense of the relative size and volume of real estate activity within the Middlesex North District towns prior to 1855, here are the number of record books containing documents from 1639 to 1855 for each town: Billerica – 21 books; Carlisle – 13 books; Chelmsford – 19 books; Dracut – 16 books; Dunstable – 12 books; Lowell – 91 books; Tewksbury – 16 books; Tyngsboro – 7 books; Westford – 20 books; and Wilmington – 14 books. There are also 16 books in a category called “Doubtful” which presumably includes documents for property of an indeterminate location. There is also Grantor Index (21) and Grantee Index (17) books. The indexes are consolidated, meaning all of the names are grouped alphabetically, and contain dual book entries. One is the book and page number of the original Middlesex South book; the other is the newer, Middlesex North reference (“Lowell book 2, page 450” for example). We are now analyzing how to best convert these documents to digital form and hope to have them available on our website by January 2006. These documents tend to make fascinating reading, so they’ll be valuable from a historical as well as a title examining perspective.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Lowell Folk Festival

The annual Lowell Folk Festival begins this Friday night and runs through Sunday. All weekend, downtown Lowell will be filled with musical performances, craft demonstrations, and ethnic food stands. The types of music and performers that may be heard include an African/Cuban Ensemble, American Piano Styles, Appalachian Bluegrass, Azerbaijani Music, Blues, Bulgarian Vocals, Cajon Music, a Cape Breton Fiddler, Greek and Near Eastern Music, Irish Music, an Italian-American Brass Bank, Klezmer music, Korean Dance, Drumming and Music, Music of Mali, Mexican Calentiana, Quebecois Music, Rockabilly and a Slovenian Polka band. Craft demonstrations include Abenaki baskets, a blacksmith, a boatbuilder, Byzantine icon painting, duck decoys, hooked rugs, Nantucket lightship baskets, an Oud maker (an Oud is a stringed instrument in the Lute family and is played by Greek, Armenian and Middle Eastern musicians), Penobscot clubs, Portuguese instruments, Portuguese lace, a Puerto Rican Cuatro maker, a steel pan tuner and Ukrainian egg art. Ethnic food will be sold by the African-American Merrimack Valley Branch of the NAACP, the African Cultural Association, the Armenian Relief Society, Iskwelahang Filipino, the Holy Trinity Hellenic Orthodox Church, the Hellenic American School PTA, Jamaican Celebration of Life, Laotian American Community of Massachusetts, the Lao United Church of Christ, the Wat Lao Mixayaram of New England Inc, the Wat Buddhabhavana of Massachusetts, the Lowell Southeast Asian Water Festival, the Lowell Latin Catholic Community of St Patrick’s Parish, the Lowell Polish Cultural Committee and the Portuguese American Veterans Center. As you can plainly see, there is something for everyone, so please come to Lowell this weekend. Detailed information about the festival, a schedule of performances and directions and parking information are available at

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

National Figures

Once again the national real estate market has set a record for the sale of existing homes. The median sale price in the country rose to $219,900 in June. This is a 6.3% jump, the biggest in history. Housing prices have increased five times the rate of inflation in the country. Incredibly even this is not stopping buyers. Higher family income and lower interest rates are keeping sky-high prices reachable for would-be buyers. These record prices are being fueled by the lowest mortgage rates in fifteen months. The news is the same throughout the country. Prices have increased in all four regions. The West and the Northeast showed the largest gains. In the West the median price went up 17.4% to $317,000 and in the Northeast the median price increased to $250,000 a 13.6% increase from last June. The number of sales also rose in the Northeast by 3.5% but the West (which obviously includes) California out paced even that with a 5.5% increase. The National Association of Realtors is forecasting another increase next year. One thing interesting to note…on a national level yearly housing medians have not dropped since 1950.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Condominium Sales

A story in today’s Globe attributed the continued strength of the Massachusetts real estate market to soaring condominium sales. While condo sales are up 24% from the same period last year, sales of single-family homes are slightly down. It’s apparent that buyers at both ends of the market – first time home buyers seeking an affordable place to live and older folks seeking to downsize and cash in on the appreciation of their suburban residences – have made the condominium market very attractive. The story does report, however, that sales of high-end units in Back Bay, Beacon Hill, South Boston and Charlestown are slowing, with less units sold in those areas so far this year as compared to the same period in 2004. This could have significant consequences in Lowell since many of the purchasers of downtown residential condominium units have chosen to live here for economic reasons – a unit in Lowell is affordable while a comparable one closer to Boston is not. With prices in Boston sliding, that dynamic might change. The growth of the condo market here in Lowell is evident from the following statistics: In May and June of 2004, we recorded 742 deeds for the city of Lowell. Of those, 197 (27%) were for condominiums. In May and June of 2005, we recorded 772 deeds, 243 (32%) of which were condominiums. While the number of all deeds recorded for these two months increased by 4% from 2004 to 2005, the number of condominium deeds increased by 23%. Unfortunately, this means that the number of non-condominium deeds decreased by 3%. This transition to a real estate market dominated by condominiums is demonstrated by the number of Master Deeds (the document that creates the condo complex) that have been recorded over the past few years for Lowell. In 2001, there were 7. In 2002, there were 22. In 2003, there were 15. In 2004, there were 41. Up to today in 2005, there have been 25 with many more under construction or in the planning stages. Unfortunately, past experience has shown that when a real estate bubble bursts, condo prices collapse precipitously. If there’s a slow down of the real estate market, this increased dependence on condominiums for housing stock could have dire consequences for the city of Lowell.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Website Woes

Thank you all for your patience with the problems we experienced with our website over this past weekend. As I understand it, a board within the website server which is located in Boston burned out over the weekend. I started receiving emails from customers reporting the problem on Saturday night. In the process, we discovered a flaw in our maintenance procedures: the people who can fix the computer can’t get access to it after hours and the people who can get access to the computer room after hours aren’t the ones who can fix the machine. In the past, the necessary parties have teamed up when confronted with a major outage, but things just didn’t work out this time. On a more optimistic note, we’re formulating plans that will add the rest of our holdings to our computer system which means everything will be available over the Internet, hopefully by the first of the year. All registered land documents have now been scanned and are available electronically. We have just started to experiment with ways of scanning old registered land certificates. Ultimately we want all certificates available electronically, but this must be done carefully and in conjunction with land court. To find the best way of accomplishing this requires some behind the scenes, unofficial, trial and error on our part. As for recorded land, we now have the scanned images of documents recorded in books 1 through 1129 (1855 to 1950) and should have them loaded onto the computer system in early September. Our marginal reference project in which we are entering all pre-computer marginal references in an electronic database is back to book 1100. Once this project is complete, we will switch back to the old grantor and grantee index project in which we’ve made the grantor index from 1950 to 1975 available as an electronic book in the PDF format. We plan to use this same methodology to make all indexes available electronically.

Friday, July 22, 2005

New Courthouse for Lowell

Earlier this week the Lowell Sun reported that the governor formally proposed the construction of a $115 million, 280,000 square-foot judicial center in downtown Lowell, across the street from the Lowell Memorial Auditorium. Plans for such a facility have been discussed for several years, but the actual site has been unclear. While the judicial center is by no means a sure thing, the latest events move it closer to reality. The local legislative delegation has long advocated this proposal, so it should find strong support in the House and the Senate. Presumably the Superior Court and the District Court will find homes in this facility. Hopefully, the additional space will allow for a full-time presence of the Probate Court in the city. While the Juvenile Court should logically be included, that court is in the midst of a long-term lease in a private facility, the former Post Office on Appleton Street. It’s unclear whether that lease could be voided by the state. Of course, the new facility might not even be completed by the time that lease expires. (Plans call for the new court to be occupied in spring 2010). As for the registry of deeds, it’s unclear where we will be located. The state’s master plan does not see courthouses to be the appropriate place for registries of deeds in the future. The primary rationale for that belief is the enormous expense of constructing courthouses. Between security concerns and the legitimate desire to have a formal, imposing setting to lend dignity and respect to court proceedings, judicial facilities are costly to build. A registry of deeds, on the other hand, has needs closer to a library than a court with a much more affordable price tag. And with almost our entire holdings available online and electronic recording about to become a realistic option for many customers, the location and physical structure of the registry are of decreasing importance. So there’s nothing definite, but we’ll certainly keep our readers informed.

Thursday, July 21, 2005


On Monday we will begin our next scanning project…. The registry has approximately seven hundred unique documents refer to as Miscellaneous Jurisdictions. These are made up of a variety of document types… Judgments, Statements, Petitions etc. They use a numbering system separate from Recorded or Registered Land... it uses both digits and letters…example Misc Jurist 436b. The first phase of the project will involve scanning the “Misc Jurist” into an independent database in “tiff” format. Registry users will be able to view these images using “stand alone” computers that are no connected to the ACS system. During the days of Wang’s proprietary computer system we used a similar system to make images available to the public. If you are a frequent user of the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds you will remember this system… we called it “Image Inquiry”. The Misc Jurist will be made available in much the same way. I know you have hear me say this before…but…these documents are old and many are in bad condition. This means that many will have to be copied before being scanned. Also, when completed the images will be put on CD and copies will be offered to the public.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Identity Theft Legislation on Beacon Hill

Today’s Globe reports that a legislative committee is about to report out a bill increasing the penalties for stealing someone’s identity. The full legislature is expected to consider the bill later this summer. One rather controversial provision that has been omitted from this bill deals with “credit freezes.” As I understand it, in a state with a credit freeze law, a consumer can direct credit reporting agencies to freeze that person’s report, preventing the credit agency from issuing a copy of the report to anyone seeking it. Let’s say a wrongdoer applies for a credit card using your name and personal information such as your social security number. Before any company will issue a new credit card, that company will want to see the applicant’s credit report. With a credit freeze in effect, no report may be given and presumably, no new credit card will be issued. When the consumer legitimately wants to obtain a new credit card or a car or home loan, the consumer must request a limited “thaw” of the credit freeze to allow a report to be issued to the new creditor. Sounds like a lot of work which invites the question, who will pay for it. In most states that have such a law, it is the consumer who pays, usually something like $10 to freeze the credit report and $5 each time it has to be thawed. Because there’s a fee involved, not many people utilize this even where it is allowed by law so its effectiveness is questionable. But at least the state legislature is trying to address this problem. All this talk of freezes and thaws seems a little out of place on such a warm, sunny day. On another note, thanks to Assistant Register Tony Accardi for the superb job he did in maintaining the blog while I was vacationing in Canada. It was a great trip although the temperature never made it beyond 33 degrees any day we were there.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

First Look

Update on the Social Security number project we started last week. A quick review…we assigned an employee to go through record books dated from January 1,1995 to June 30,1995. He is writing down the “book and page” and “document type” of documents that contain a social security number. Today I received a small sample of these to review. As of this morning we have checked 80 record books containing approximately 4,000 documents. We found 375 documents containing Social Security numbers. This is approximately 5 per book or 9% of the documents. As expected the vast majority with SS# are Mass and Federal Tax documents. The list also included a very large number of death certificates. Mortgages and Mass Assistance Liens were also listed, but there were significantly fewer than the other document types. I would like to caution …this is a small sample and the picture may change as more information is collected.

Monday, July 18, 2005


We are beginning to replace our older computers…hopeful you will begin to see some new public access terminals in the next week or so. It take a little time to set up both the hardware and the especially the software.

As I mentioned last week we have begun taking inventory of our Registered Land images. Up to this point it appears most of the documents that need to be re-scanned are multiples that we intentional skipped during the back scanning project.

We get between 10 and 20 E-Recordings everyday. Some days a large percentage of these have to be rejected because they out of district. Believe it or not…sometimes we send a “wrong registry” document back to a bank only to receive it again the next day.

Friday we finished quality checking the last of the “plan images”. This was a long, tedious project, but it is behind us now. If you see an image that needs to be re-scanned (plan or any other) please let Customer Service know.

The computer images from 1987 to 1950 were captured from microfilm using an automated system. Some of the older books…especially the 2000 series have problems. If the film had been spliced during its processing it muddled the automated scanner/counter. These books need to be re-scanned. They are very big, seven hundred pages or more. We experimented by making copies using a copy machine, then scanning the copies. This took much too long. The alternate plan (and the better one) is to use our Microdax microfilm scanner. We are going to make hard images then scan them…This should be faster.

Friday, July 15, 2005

One Will Get You Two

In the old days…(you know, before technology guided our lives) the saying was “two heads are better than one”. Well, it looks like Sharp TV has just changed that to “two TV pictures are better than one”. Sharp Corporation has developed a liquid crystal display that shows totally different images depending on the angle from which you view it. Look from the left see CSI Miami…look from the right watch CSI New York. Why would someone want this?…As an example, Sharp says one person can be surfing the Internet while another is watching a movie (I can hear that conversation…Left Side: "Wow, what a price on these tickets to Florida"; Right Side: "Duck Rambo duck!”) This two-way viewing angle LCD is going into mass production this month…and will cost twice as much as a regular TV(sounds fair to me…get twice as many pictures…pay twice as many dollars). I can hear the TV Ad now…"it’s two, two sets in one”. There is one problem with the two-picture TV…if you stand in the middle you see parts of both pictures(seriously)…Just imagine, you might see Ray Ramano being thrown off the Survivor Island…Or Dan Rather on Fox News…or Tom Brady throwing to Alex Rodriguez (today that sounds better than letting Schilling do it). I usually like to try and think of ways new advances in technology can be used to improve the registry…In this case I think I’m stumped.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Back Scanning Project

We finished back scanning the remainder of our Registered Land documents two weeks ago. Since we finished the project earlier than expected we reassigned the scanners to do an additional 22,500 documents. These documents, which are available on the old Image Inquiry computer program, are not on the ACS system. All 22,500 documents have been prepared for scanning and the majority of these have actually been scanned. Today we began to review the “list” of these documents looking for gaps. The gaps are actually very easy to find…when we bring up the document entries an image flag appears beside documents that have been scanned. Simply put…the gaps are entries without image flags. Once this portion of the project is completed will we deal with special scanning problems. As an example… we found early tax liens with newspaper pages attached proving public notice. These papers are large and fragile. Although there are only about eight of these… they will take time and much work to re-scan.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005


The world of Podcast is growing daily. It is difficult to pick up a magazine or newspaper without seeing some reference to this new entry in the information world. I recently “googled” the phrase “real estate podcast” just to see what would happen. The results were interesting to say the least. Below are a couple of samples of google hits:

Access Realty World: this is a podcast that features news from the real estate world as well as insider hints and tips. It shares information on how to buy and sell and make profits on Foreclosures

Realize the Realty: this podcast, (well it’s actually a BlogPod), is directed toward homeowners, builders and investors. The show’s blurb brags “Know more about the real estate industry using well-researched information through this blog and podcast.

Rich Buckley Show: (do you think this guy is really named…”rich”???... a real estate podcaster named “rich”… sounds very convenient). Anyway…”Rich” talks about hot trends in California real estate. The program also includes interviews with successful real estate entrepreneurs and discussions on hot button issues.

Podcasts and their topics have expanded greatly in the last six months. You can find podcasts on Politics, Arts, Science, Business, Teen Issues, Computers and just about any other imaginable topic. In fact we have discussed the possiblilty of a "registry of deeds" stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Social Security Number Update

As discussed earlier this month we have decided to take a sample of a small group of documents to determine how many contain social security numbers. The work began this morning. One employee has been assigned the task of reviewing record books from January 1, 1995 to June 30, 1995. This span, books "7353-7540" contains 187 books. The “Book, Page and Document Type” of records that contain social security numbers are being recorded on a spreadsheet to be analyzed later. Since each “page” of a book must be checked it will probably take a considerable amount of time to complete the test sample. It is a tedious process, but we have learned that large projects, which seemed insurmountable in the beginning, are managed with diligence. It is expected that the vast majority of these documents will be Massachusetts and Federal tax documents. This information will help us determine if we are dealing with hundreds or thousands of documents containing Social Security numbers. It is worth repeating that effective July 1, 2005 no document containing a social security number will be accepted for recording.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Peter Pan

Have you heard about Google Earth yet?…Well if you haven’t… you’re in for a treat. Google earth is a new satellite imagery based mapping system. It combines buildings and terrain with mapping capability. Google Earth allows you to “fly” around the world zooming in and out of satellite photos. Let me explained my first experience with Google Earth…When I first logged on I saw a map of the world…I picked a location. In this case it was my home. I typed the street name in the search field and hit enter (Wow…it was like a Disney ride)…The earth began to slowly turn …when the program found my home it zoomed in…closer and closer. Before I knew it I was looking at the roof of my house (now I know how Peter Pan felt)… spin the image left…spin the image right…tilt it… zoom even closer…closer (gee, I’ve got to mow the lawn). Let me see…I wonder were the nearest school is…simple, just check the “find school” option…the Dewing School appears…nearest train station…nearest water-way…it’s all right there. You can even combined multiple layers if you want…restaurants, video stores, grocery stores, gas stations, volcanoes (come on, in Tewksbury, I'd know about it...I think)…it all appears. Of course, the next logical step for digital mapping systems like “Google Earth” is to make the information available on your cell phone or PDA. The benefits would be incredible. You can try Google Earth at “”… It’s cheaper than going to Disney World…In fact it’s FREE.

Friday, July 08, 2005

More on Social Security Numbers

Up until yesterday, the social security number of Porter Goss appeared on his local registry of deeds website in Florida. Who is Porter Goss, you ask? He’s the Director of the CIA. Needless to say, now that the press has reported this situation, the social security number has now been blacked out on the records. According to the Associated Press article reporting this, Florida law already has set a deadline of 2007 for all social security numbers to be blacked out from online land records. I understand that there are a number of proposals pending in the Massachusetts legislature to deal with social security numbers in online records. Here in Lowell, we are going to do a sampling of a small group of our existing records to determine how many of them contain social security numbers. This will take some time to allow us to obtain a large enough sample (probably a six month period) and we will identify how many are attributable to federal tax documents, how many to Massachusetts tax documents and how many to other types of documents. Once we get this survey done, we will post the results here on the blog.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Sales & Foreclosure Reports

I have to apologize for the delay in posting the May sales and foreclosure reports. That just happened yesterday. The reports had been prepared for some time but June turned into such a busy month with meetings, projects and our traditional end-of-June spike in recording activity that I just never loaded them onto the website. As the month dragged on, more and more of you sent emails checking on the status of the reports, so I know you make use of them. If it’s any consolation, the June sales and foreclosure reports went online earlier today and I’ll make an extra effort to post future reports in a timely manner. It’s unfortunate that our computer system is very limited in its ability to perform sophisticated analysis of sales data because the information in our computer has value that far exceeds its traditional use in examining titles. There are ways for us to export the data into other computer applications such as Crystal Reports, but we have no in-house experts on that software and it doesn’t lend itself to self-teaching. We’ll do what we can with what we have. As the summer progresses, we will try to give you more information on sales data and statistics and maybe you will have some ideas on how we can best use or information.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Historical Perspective

Yesterday I “revisited” a bar graph I created a number of months ago comparing document totals for the past twenty-five years. No question… 2003 was a record breaker. That year the registry recorded 146,956 documents. As I considered these yearly totals I thought it might be interesting to list some significant registry events with the yearly total:

1986- The Wang computer system wasn’t installed in the registry until September of 1987. This means that in 1986 (the highpoint of the 80’s real estate boom) employees recorded 82,575 documents “by hand”.

1994- The first imaging system was installed in the registry in 1994. 71,427 documents were recorded that year. Interesting fact…with the new imaging system computer responsibilities and document flow were not completely establish in 1994 so the MIS director scanned all documents himself.

1995- Register Howe took office. The registry recorded 60,681 documents that year, less than half of what was recorded in 2003(146,956).

1997- The Massachusetts legislature abolished Middlesex County. That year 70,128 documents were recorded. That July Middlesex North was placed in the office of the Secretary of State.

1999-Thank you Y2K…because of the dreaded “Y2K” bug the Wang computer system was convert to work on a window’s based system called “lightspeed”…and new servers with large memory capacity were installed in the registry. This made it possible for us to scan and store 55 years of images. While "teams" of computer experts upgraded our system, the staff recorded 89,506 documents.

2001- The ACS computer system was installed. That year began the incredible rise in documents... 2001-97,180... 2002-115,890... and finally 2003 a historic 146,6956. The ACS system provided us advantages that allowed us to handled 2003 in stride.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Quality Control and Quill Pens

Sometimes it seems that quality control at law offices is going the way of the quill pen. I’m not talking about the content of the documents as much as I am the organization of the documents. Time and again, customers will present themselves at our recording counter and thrust a stack of pages at us with the expectation that we will sort out what pages go with what document, the order in which the documents should be recorded, and even whether the document is recorded land or registered land. Worst of all is the attitude displayed when we ask these customers to put the papers in the proper order and groupings. Surly describes the response of many. While we certainly try to be as helpful as possible, it is not the registry’s responsibility to ensure that registered land goes to the land court section, that the homestead that is stapled to the back of the mortgage be dislodged and recorded separately or that the first mortgage be recorded first and the second mortgage second. We have tried to address this by instituting a rule that all documents should be fastened with either staples or paperclips prior to approaching the recording counter, but all this has done is caused some of these customers to staple entire packages of documents – an MLC, a deed, a mortgage and a homestead – together into a single group. I’m not quite sure how to handle this and would welcome any suggestions. Maybe we will require all multi-page documents to be stapled before reaching the recording counter. Requiring a cover sheet that lists the documents and their order, similar to that in use at the Middlesex South satellite office, might be another option. As always, when you discuss something like this, there’s a risk that the many people that do it right will somehow be hit with the broad brush of criticism. That’s certainly not my intent. We have many customers who are role models of professionalism. But the number who don’t know what they are doing and who are unwilling to acknowledge that they don’t know what they’re doing is rising at a frightening rate.

Friday, July 01, 2005

June Wrap Up

First, some history: June 30 has always been the busiest day of the year at this registry and yesterday was no exception (which is why we didn’t have time to write a blog entry). Often when we cite statistics, we only refer to recorded land documents, primarily because their numbers are the easiest for us to analyze and count, but our total recordings also include registered land documents and documents recorded at the Middlesex South satellite office. So you can get a sense of the proportions involved, yesterday we recorded 716 recorded land documents, 38 registered land documents and 456 Middlesex South documents. As busy as it seemed yesterday, it was actually our slowest June 30 since 1998. Here are some recording totals for other June 30ths: 2005 – 716; 2004 – 756; 2003 – 922; 2002 – 856; 2001 – 826; 2000 – 882; 1999 – 720; and 1998 – 661. This June was a busy month in other ways. We started receiving electronic recordings on a regular basis; the microfilm of documents in books 1 through 1128 are now being scanned off site and will be added to our computer system in website by the end of the summer; almost all registered land have now been scanned; and our marginal reference project – we’re entering into the computer all marginal references made in all (pre-computer) record books – is now back to book 1291. New projects on the horizon include linking our computer system to the Mass GIS mapping site; scanning all registered land certificates, and reformatting this blog so that it includes a subject index that will allow readers to easily and quickly find all entries about a particular topic. That’s it for now. Have an enjoyable Fourth of July.