Friday, September 30, 2005

Google Earth

The indicators were wrong this month – the last day of September turned out to be very busy here at the registry. We recorded 712 documents, a significant increase from the 601 that were recorded on the last day of August. This afternoon, it was difficult to move around the record hall since so many of the tables were being used for closings. So it was a long day, but before the weekend starts, I want to put in a plug for Google Earth, a free GIS program from, you guessed it, Google. Here’s the link that you have to follow to download the program - - unlike most other Google features, Google Earth requires you to download and install software on your computer. But it’s easy and unobtrusive and, for the standard version, free. Once you’ve installed the program, you are confronted with a picture of the earth on one side of the screen and some data windows on the other. All you do is enter the address you’re interested in – say “360 Gorham Street, Lowell, Massachusetts” for the registry of deeds – and then click the appropriate button and, like some high tech ride at Disney World, you zoom into that particular spot on the earth, viewing the roof of the building from above courtesy of an overhead photograph. It’s a terrific way to do a computerized “route reconnaissance” when you’re about to drive somewhere new, but it’s also a glimpse into the future of registries of deeds. We have been exploring ways of linking our records with the overhead imagery of Mass GIS (which is the provider of overhead pictures to Google for this part of the globe). In the not too distant future, you’ll be able to click on one of our records and have the overhead photo display in a new window. The process will also work the other way. While you’re waiting, try out Google Earth.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Scan & Return

How would you like to walk away from the recording counter with your recorded original document stuffed snuggly in your briefcase? A new program at the registry of deeds in Worcester is allowing that to happen with selected documents. Here’s how it works: the document is recorded in the usual manner with the registry clerk entering all applicable indexing data and then collecting the appropriate fee. Once the financial part of the transaction is entered into the cashiering terminal, the computer system assigns that document a book and page number and notes the time of recording. A receipt and a bar code label which is affixed to the document are also produced. At this registry, we then hand the customer the receipt and we keep the original document, scanning it within a few hours. Once the document is scanned, we shoot microfilm from a paper print of the scanned document image, but we hold onto the original document until the microfilm is developed and we view it frame by frame to confirm that good images have been obtained for all documents. Then, we either return documents to those who have pickup boxes or who have provided us with self-addressed, stamped envelopes or we place the document in our unclaimed “no postage” storage area. Either way, it’s a laborious and time consuming process. Worcester’s experimental program has eliminated much of this work. There, immediately after the document is recorded and while the customer is still standing there at the counter, the registry clerk scans the document at a scanner that’s immediately adjacent to the cashiering terminal. The clerk then opens the newly scanned image in the Search program to ensure it was captured adequately, and prints it for backup purposes. If all is in order, the clerk hands the original document back to the customer. There registry doesn’t have to worry about storing or handling that document ever again. Right now, Worcester is experimenting with this process for documents of only a few pages. Handling a multi document, multi mortgage transaction in this way wouldn’t work very well – there’s be too many pages to scan while the customer stood there. But it’s certainly a start and an idea we are looking into.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Red Sox Effect

Many of you may have seen the recent medical study reported in the national press that emergency room visits to Boston hospitals dropped during important Red Sox games. I’m starting to think that the same phenomena holds true for registry of deeds activity. My theory is that when the Red Sox reach a critical point in the season, everyone in the real estate business becomes so focused on baseball, that all conveyancing activity ceases. The next couple of days will allow us to test this hypothesis. When the end of the month falls on a Friday like it does this month, we have historically seen the highest level of recording activity of the year. This time, however, the Red Sox are in a tight pennant race and moving into a three game series with the New York Yankees beginning Friday night. If the registry of deeds is empty this Friday, September 30, the only explanation can be that the Red Sox are to blame.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Document Formatting Standards

As we’ve mentioned here before, a new version of the Massachusetts Deed Indexing Standards is in the works. Next week, the Registers of Deeds Association will meet to refine the most recent draft. We expect the new version will go into effect on January 1, 2006, however, the “Document Formatting Standards” section, because it has such far reaching consequences for document preparations, should have a one year grace period. For the first year, therefore, the Document Formatting Standards should be advisory only but will become mandatory on January 1, 2007. Of course, this is just my expectation of what will happen – nothing is definite yet. Here is a preview of the formatting standards that are being proposed – all subject to revision, of course. Documents shall be on white 20-pound paper without watermarks. All document pages and attachments must be on paper that is a minimum size of 8.5 inches by 12 inches or a maximum paper size of 8.5 inches by 14 inches. Printing shall be on one side of page only; no double-sided pages will be accepted. On the first page of a document, the top margin shall be 3 inches; the side and bottom margins shall be 1 inch. On second and subsequent pages of the same document, all margins shall be 1 inch. All documents must be printed or typed in a font size no smaller than 10 point Times New Roman or equivalent. Blanks in an instrument and corrections to an instrument may be made in pen. Signatures shall be in either black or dark blue ink. Names shall be typed, stamped or printed beneath all written signatures.
All documents must display on the first line of print on the first page a single title identifying the recordable event that the instrument represents. Do not use colored markers to highlight text. That’s it. Please send me any comments you may have.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Scanning Update

Detail Courthouse Foyer

Update on the "missing image scanning project". In a week we checked approximately one thousand books. That's about two hundred a day. This is an excellent pace in my opinion. Up to this point the results are a little surprising. Of the one thousand books that have been checked, only three are missing in their entirety. Mostly we are finding small two and three page gaps. Some books have as many as seven or eight of these. The plan is to make copies of the missing images from the books themselves…then scan them. You may recall from an earlier post that our electronic images were taken from microfilm…This has made us a little concerned that the missing “electronic images” may also be missing on the microfilm. Since the possibility does exist (although small) that the film is incomplete we intent to microfilm the paper copies after scanning…we’ll sleep better.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Visitors from Tomsk

Today we had the pleasure of having some judges and law professors from Tomsk, Russia visit the registry of deeds. They’ve spent the week in Massachusetts, visiting various courts and government offices. Since hearing about the registry of deeds can get a bit tedious even for listeners who are fluent in English and have some background in American property law, we highlighted some of the unique features of this place, especially our electronic recording system and our website. While they seemed suitably impressed when we recorded a discharge electronically (the image and data was submitted by a remote user), they seemed astounded at the amount we charge to record documents (a justifiable and boundary-less response to our high recording fees). There were also several questions about the risk of fraudulent documents being recorded and what we can (and can’t) do to prevent it. Everyone also crowded around one of our oldest record books to see a 1640 deed from several Indian tribes. The locus was a 50 mile wide swath of what is now northern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire, extending from the eastward bend in the Merrimack River in Lowell all the way to the Atlantic Coast at what is now Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Oh, and the purchase price for this sale was “a wagon load of winter coats and the love and affection we have for our English king.” A buyer’s market, I suppose. What made this document particularly interesting was the manner in which the tribal chiefs signed it, not with signatures, but with uniquely individual pictographs – small stick figures, each slightly different in appearance, each representing a different chief. Finally, we used the Google Earth program to demonstrate how we plan to link overhead photographs and maps of the property in our district to the documents recorded here at the registry.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

More on National Lumber

Yesterday the Legislative Subcommittee of the Massachusetts Registers of Deeds Association held a meeting in Worcester. We discussed the implications of the National Lumber case at length. While we all disagreed with the decision in the case – it interprets archaic statutes in a way divorced from the reality of the recording business – we are compelled to follow its dictates until the relevant laws can be changed. The Appeals Court, in interpreting sections 14 and 26 of chapter 36 of the Massachusetts General Laws essentially decreed that a document is deemed to be “recorded” when it physically comes into the custody of the registry of deeds. After that, the registry has 24 hours to fully index the document. Until this case, every registry (and every attorney, for that matter) has considered a document to be recorded when the registry enters the document in the index and affixes some recording information (usually date/time of recording and instrument number) to the document. An unwritten rule has evolved that says, if you are concerned about when your document is to be recorded, have a human being bring it to the registry and stand there while it is recorded. Not unreasonably, registries have treated mail as “time non-sensitive” meaning that anyone who mails something to the registry can’t be all that concerned with how quickly the document is recorded. Obviously, the registry has a duty to record documents received by mail within a reasonable amount of time. But what is “reasonable” is a variable concept: mail received on a Wednesday in the middle of the month is recorded much quicker than a document received on the last day of the month when our walk-in business usually doubles. Tony Vigliotti, the Register of Deeds in Worcester, gave some historical context to this situation when he recalled that when he started as register (at a very young age) back in 1978, the registry would record all mail before taking a single customer. That changed because the public wouldn’t stand for it, but if one was to follow the letter of the law and of this decision, that’s exactly how recording should be done. Here in Lowell, our mail arrives at approximately 11:00 a.m. each day. If we were to follow the prescribed steps (without modification) we would have to immediately stop all walk-in customer recording, concentrate all of our efforts on recording that day’s mail, and only begin to record walk-in customers again when the mail was all recorded. Now that would be a big change.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

mea culpa

This morning will began a “long, long” overdue project… First some background…Way Back When…we had approximately 2 million document images captured from archived microfilm and placed on CD’s. Later, when money became available these images were loaded from the CD’s onto our computer server…of course, this made the images available for viewing both internally and on the Internet. The images were captured using an “automated” scanning system…fast yes, but…no “human eye” was checking to see if an image was missing. Up until this morning we relied upon our computer users (you) to let us know if an image was missing. When someone mentioned a problem …we fixed it (not very scientific or efficient I must admit). Finally, we took the bull by the horns…This morning we assigned an employee to search from book 2705 forward looking for missing images. The process is not as time consuming as you might think…When we bring up a document entry (the indexing information) a flag appears beside the information if an image is connected to it. Fittingly, we call this an “image flag”…Simply put, the missing images are identified by finding the entries without “image flags”…and what makes this even easier is that a complete book can be brought up in one search. The checker simply scans the entire book’s entries looking for missing “image flags”. A book can be checked in about five minutes. A second employee has been assigned the task of "scanning in" the missing documents. We are starting with book 2705 because these later books are bound in plastic covers and can easily be disassembled, scanned then reassembled. A second phase of this project will be to attack the earlier books. As I began... this is a long overdue project…mea culpa, mea culpa, and mea culpa.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

National Lumber v Lombardi

A disturbing and far-reaching decision by the Massachusetts Appeals Court is the lead story in this week’s Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly. “Registry’s late recording won’t bar lien enforcement” reports on National Lumber v Lombardi, a case about the enforceability of a mechanic’s lien. After filing the applicable notice requirements at the registry, the plaintiff filed suit and then sent an attested copy of the complaint to the registry of deeds with the correct filing fee by Federal Express. The document was received by the registry well within the 30 days required by statute to perfect the lien, but the registry did not actually record the document for nearly five weeks, a delay that put the time of recording outside of the statutory period. (This happened in 2002 when historically high recording volumes caused most registries to fall far behind in the recording of mail). The defendants moved to dismiss the mechanic’s lien on the grounds that the required complaint was not timely filed. The Appeals Court disagreed, stating that the registry of deeds had a duty to record documents received by mail correctly and within 24 hours of receipt. The court further stated that the registry’s failure to do this could not be used to harm the party that had mailed the documents. The court’s remedy seemed to be to deem a document to be “recorded” at the moment it is received by the registry of deeds and not the time it is actually entered into the registry’s computer system and assigned an instrument number and an official time of recording. The implications of this decision for registries and title examiners are enormous. As long as the customer gets the document to the registry, it places the duty of recording it in the right place (registered or recorded) within an impossibly short (given our present staffing levels) period of time. The implications for title examiners are even worse: now you have to be concerned not with the time the registry recorded the document but with the time the registry received the document. Good luck figuring that out. This certainly won’t be the end of our discussion of this case, so check back in the future for more analysis.

Monday, September 19, 2005

E Ink?

According to an article in this morning’s Boston Globe a Cambridge based company has invented electronic paper. E Ink Corp calls its invention “RadioPaper”. It is a flexible display that looks and feels like regular paper, but it has the capability of changing its print. The technology behind “RadioPaper” is far above my understanding, but deals with microcapsules that are white when positively charged and black when negatively charged…letters are formed by sending various charges to the microcapsules. E Ink Corp believes that black print on a white background will always be more comfortable to a reader than a computer screen. The developers also believe that a newspaper “printed” using “E Ink” could be updated many times each day. Imagine this…finish reading “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”…electronically change the RadioPaper into Patricia Grasso’s “To Charm A Prince”. The possibilities for this changeable paper are endless…train schedules, restaurant menus, supermarket displays etc…and there certainly is no shortage of investors that see the potential. Since its establishment in 1997 E Ink Corp has raised more than $100 million in venture financing. These investors even include several prominent newspapers. It may be time to rephrase Mark Twain’s famous quote… “Don’t pick a fight with a man that buys E Ink buy the gigabyte.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Who Wants To Record Electronically?

In yesterday’s posting, I indicated that there were two big issues that must be resolved in order to proceed with full-scale electronic recording. The first, discussed at length yesterday, was the apparent inability to bridge the “run down gap” that exists between the time a document is sent and the moment it is recorded. The second issue that must be resolved is who exactly will be allowed to submit electronic documents. Thus far, we’ve worked with ACS, the company that provides us with our computer system. Another arm of ACS (called eRX) is in the electronic recording business, so when we began experimenting with electronic recording, it seemed simple and logical to work with ACS. No one intends for ACS to have a monopoly on electronic recording, so our goal is to open up the process to others to become document submitters. Before doing so, however, we must establish minimum criteria for such entities. Before being permitted to submit documents, a company would have to be licensed by the Commonwealth. Things like bonding, criminal record checks for employees, minimum technical standards for encryption and authentication are just a few. As I said yesterday, the system has worked quite well so far, but to expand beyond our pilot program, so large policy questions must first be resolved.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Electronic Recording Update I

We recorded our 300th electronically submitted document earlier this week. Electronic recording is still being done on a test basis, but the system seems to work quite well. There are two big issues that must be addressed before this goes into full-scale use in this registry, at least. The first issue is the process of doing an up to the minute run down electronically from a remote location. With the registry website being continuously updated with new recordings, that addresses a big part of that problem. Unfortunately, being able to do “a big part” of your pre-recording rundown really is inadequate for the ordinary, prudent conveyancer. Our recording system has a “look-back” feature that bridges the gap between when you do your final run down and when the document is actually on record. Anytime that a name we enter in the computer has been entered within the preceding hour, a popup box alerts us that the name was recently entered, giving the book and page number of the document where it was located. When the customer is standing across the recording counter, it is easy for the registry clerk to ask “Do you know about this other document? Do you want me to proceed?” The customer can respond immediately. With electronic recording, however, the customer is at some remote location with no effective means of instantaneous communications. We’re not in a position to decide when to proceed or to reject the transaction, so we’re left with an all or nothing approach. Because the popup box appears most often because of bank or mortgage company names, it’s usually innocuous and we’re instructed to proceed. But every so often, it might be an attachment or a mechanic’s lien and the new documents are pulled back. My conclusion is that until we get some kind of gap insurance here in Massachusetts, electronic recording will serve primarily as a substitute for recording documents by mail. This posting has gotten long enough, so tomorrow we’ll continue with more on electronic recording.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


Do you like Blogs? Well then there’s good news if you are a Blog-aholic like me…The Internet’s “mega-giant”, GOOOGGGLE is launching a new search site to help users find their favorite Blogs. Blogging has achieved incredible popularity in a very short time. If you can believe it, there are more than 17 million in existence today. They cover subjects from “sports to registry of deeds” …and most anything else between. Yet, not all Blogs will be found by Google’s new search engine. Google intents to index only those Blogs that send automatic updates to readers…in other words, Blogs that use an RSS feed or Really Simple Syndication. This makes Google the only search engine offering complete Blog search and feed capability. According to Jason Goldman, Google’s Product Manager, “we look for sites that update pinging services (that’s, that RSS thing) and then crawl in real time so that we can serve up search results that are as fresh as we can”. Google’s Blog search works essentially like it’s regular search. The results are sorted by date with recent posts appearing at the top of the list. The results appear with a title and small summary. There is also an “advanced search” available allowing users to look for specific titles, authors, languages and more. In some cases links to related Blogs are also presented at the top of the search results. Google’s new service can be found at

Monday, September 12, 2005

They're Baaack

Statistics…boring, dry…please don’t! Not for me…I find them interesting (so call me strange). Statistics can be very revealing…as an example…I’ll bet if you tell me how many mortgages we recorded in a given year I can tell you how much toner we bought…Back in the old days when we recorded 60/70,000 documents a year I was very good at keeping the Middlesex North statistics…but in 2003 we recorded 148,000 documents…keeping statistics became secondary to doing the work (recording documents) that created the statistics… Of course, I did keep the basics (mortgages, deeds and total documents in a year). Still, these aren't enough to give you a complete picture of the registry… but as everyone knows, the real estate world is ever changing and business has leveled off. This "slight" slow down has created an opportunity for us to return to gathering important statistics. A few years back we displayed charts and graphs on Poster Boards in the courthouse hallways…now (as you would expect) the registry's statistics will be posted on the Internet. We'll collect…number of documents recorded on a quarterly and yearly basis…number of mortgages, homesteads, assignments, discharges and deeds recorded in particular period…and their percentage of the total number of documents recorded... if you think of any statistical information you think might be interesting let us know.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Sheriff DiPaola in Louisiana

Middlesex County Sheriff James DiPaola was on local radio station WCAP (980 AM) this morning, speaking live from Louisiana, where he led a relief column of 19 deputies from his department. DiPaola explained how after seeing on TV the devastation and helplessness of hurricane victims, he decided to do what he could to help out. Within the span of six hours, he had his volunteers ready to roll, fully immunized and mounted up in sheriff’s department vehicles that were stuffed with food, water, tents and other supplies that would allow the expedition to be self-sufficient for at least two weeks. While en route, DiPaola contacted authorities in Louisiana who directed him to a particular parish (their equivalent of our county). The Massachusetts convoy arrived on Sunday morning, just as the local residents were emerging from a church service during which they prayed for assistance. Most welcome, it seems, was the Sheriff’s communications van which provided instant telephone and Internet access for this community that had been completely without communications of any type for five days. (DiPaola had endured considerable abuse locally for his acquisition of this vehicle with grant funds several years ago, so this real world demonstration of its usefulness certainly would justify him saying “I told you so” to his critics). Besides communications support, the deputies from Middlesex County are performing a law enforcement mission, teaming up with local sheriffs to do patrolling and security. It really was a fascinating interview, one that was initiated by the radio station and not the Sheriff. DiPaola and his subordinates deserve enormous credit for this undertaking. Clearly, he demonstrated a level of decisive leadership that was (and still is) so painfully lacking at all echelons of government during this crisis. But, since we’ve been writing about disaster preparedness this past week, perhaps the Sheriff’s ability to mobilize these resources so quickly is even more impressive. To be able to organize, outfit and depart on a cross-country expedition with just six hours of lead time evinces a level of training and readiness that is truly impressive.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

"You Rang?"

Comedian and American Pop Icon Bob Denver passed away last week. Denver, who is mainly known for his “silly” role as Gilligan will always be Maynard G Krebs to most Baby Boomers and me. “The Dobie Gillis” show aired from 1959-1963 and brought us Maynard… the first beatnik on national TV. In those days Jack Kerouac was the real deal, but Maynard G Krebs was a laugh a minute. As a kid I can remember anxiously waiting for Maynard to appear on screen and without question he stole the show. I thought a short trip down memory lane might be refreshing... so hop in Mr Peabody's "wayback machine".

“Do you remember”…

Maynard G Krebs…the G stood for Walter, his aunt’s name

Zelda loved Dobie and wrinkled her nose at him

Dobie gave a weekly monologue in front of Rodin’s statue “The Thinker”

Maynard collected Aluminum foil and kept it shaped in a ball

Tuesday Weld played the gorgeous Thalia Menninger (Dobie’s true love)

Maynard: “You rang?”

Maynard: “Like, Dob, I’m getting all misty”

Warren Beatty played rich boy Milton Armitage

Maynard loved scary movies…his favorite was “The Monster
That Devoured Cleveland”

Chatsworth Osborne III

Maynard loved to watch the wrecking ball knocking down the Old Endicott Building

Dobie’s mother and father owned a grocery store

Maynard was “hip” he played the bongos and love Jazz


Maynard: “WORK!”

Yup… "WORK!" that’s what I have to get back to…

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Second Homes

According to an article in the Boston Business Journal, the sale of second-homes will not be effected by the local real estate market slow down… at least that's the opinion of many local realtors. Unless there is a major down turn in the economy, real estate brokers expect second-home sales to remain strong. Keith Bradley of the Real Estate Company said local resort areas are actually underpriced when compared to other parts of the country. Last quarter Massachusetts saw a 5.2% drip in single family home sales…but prices increased on Cape Cod despite the state’s overall slow down. The median price on the Cape increased by 7.8% reaching $388,000. It’s not just Cape Cod…in Vermont’s resort areas the sale of homes are on pace with last year. Many local real estate agents feel that second homes in resort areas in New England are still very coveted. The profile of the average second homebuyer has changed. The empty nesters are no longer flooding this market…rather it is the “40 something” group doing to majority of the buying. Many analysts believe that some investor/buyers are purchasing a second-home rather than investing in the stock market.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Labor Day

We hope everyone enjoys the long weekend. The registry was busy up until about 12:30 p.m. today and then all the customers disappeared, presumably to get an early start and enjoy the beautiful weather. No one was talking about vacation plans, though, because everyone's thoughts are on the victims of Hurricane Katrina and the unbelievable scenes of devastation and deprivation that appear on TV and in the newspapers. But equal time was given to the sky rocketing prices of gasoline. Only days ago, we were predicting that demands for heating oil this winter might drive gas to $3.00 per gallon. Tonight, however, everyone around here is longing for gas at a mere $3.00 per gallon since the price zoomed from $2.50 to $3.25 in little more than the blink of an eye. This is the kind of economic earthquake that could precipitate some real problems with our economy and the housing market. Sorry to be so gloomy at the start of the holiday weekend, but being old enough to remember quite well the effects of fuel shortages in 1973 and 1978, I'm not optimistic about the next six months.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Katrina and Disaster Preparedness

The scenes of devastation and the resulting chaos from New Orleans and southern Mississippi almost defy belief. Although the odds of such a destructive storm hitting New England are much lower, this is a reminder that we must be prepared for bad things to happen to us as well. We haven’t heard anything about the fate of land records in Louisiana, but there are two stories from registry lore that illustrate the consequences of catastrophic destruction of land records. The first instance was the famous Chicago fire of 1871. All government land records were destroyed, but the Chicago Title Insurance Company prudently loaded all of their records on a boat before the fire consumed their building. By floating the boat down the Chicago River, they saved one copy of all of the city’s real estate ownership records. When we visited the Cook County Registry of Deeds back in 2001 during our quest for a new computer system, I was quite surprised to learn that Chicago Title has its own scanning operation in the basement of the registry and new documents presented for recording must go through the Chicago Title office before they reach the registry of deeds. That arrangement was the price that Cook County paid to get copies of the records that were destroyed by the fire. The other registry horror story was caused by the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 when the building containing the only copy of property ownership records was consumed by fire. In that case, re-establishing ownership of real estate took more than ten years of litigation. While our migration from paper based to electronic records may seem like a less stable way of preserving these records, it is really the opposite. As long as we have electricity and a functioning computer somewhere, we can make multiple copies of all of our document images very quickly and ship copies all over the country and even the world, something that could never happen with 19,000 paper record books. We certainly recognize that electronic storage carries its own risks, but we prefer the flexibility they provide. (Several days ago I inadvertently created some excitement with my blog entry when I mentioned a local service station increase the price of a gallon of gas to $1.69 per gallon – I meant to say $2.69 – but before I could make the correction, I was inundated with calls asking for the whereabouts of the cheap gasoline. Sorry for the confusion).