Friday, May 28, 2010

End of May recording statistics

Here's a preview of the end of May recording statistics compared to last May's stats. This is as of 3:30 pm, so the 2010 numbers will increase slightly.

For Lowell, deeds were down 28%, dropping from 227 in May 2009 to 164 in May 2010; mortgages increased 45%, rising from 132 to 191; foreclosure deeds were up 182%, jumping from 11 to 31; orders of notice were down 18%, sliding from 34 to 28.

In the nine towns in the Middlesex North District, the statistics were as follows: the number of deeds recorded in May 2010 rose 70% from the number recorded in May 2009, rising from 207 to 352; mortgages dropped 52%, from 1407 to 673; foreclosure deeds rose 136%, from 11 to 26; and orders of notice jumped 81%, from 27 to 49.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Ready for the rush

Tomorrow is the last Friday of the month and the last business day of the month, both of which are historically quite busy for us. I'm anxious to see if that trend holds true. The last day of April did show a substantial increase in recording volume and, with the Federal first time home buyer credit still available for closings (provided that the purchase and sale agreement was executed by April 30, 2010), tomorrow should see a uptick in recordings. One indicator of such a surge that's missing is an increase in telephone calls to the registry during the week leading up to the last day of the month. Typically, an increase in telephone call volume signals in increase in upcoming transactions, but this week, the phones have been largely silent.

We have taken some steps to prepare for a busy day with the most significant being the activation of a third recording terminal on the recording counter. Previously, we had two on the counter and three combination recording terminals/scanners off the counter. Those are typically used to record mail and process electronic recording, but they are also available for walk-in customer overflow. I do find these combination terminals slower than stand alone terminals and scanners during busy times. When you divide the core recording functions of data entry and scanning between two separate machines, I believe we process the documents much more quickly than when it's done on two combination stations. In any case, we're ready for whatever volume of recording the real estate market sends our we tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Adverse Possession

All of the emails sent from the link on come directly to me. Many of them are inquiries by homeowners with property law questions. While I cannot provide any legal advice, I do feel obliged to give some general background information on the area of law involved, always with the caveat that the person should consult with his or her own lawyer. The other day, someone asked the following:

I am wondering what my neighbor would have to do to file an adverse possession claim on a strip of land on my side of our common property border. He continues to mow the 6-10 foot strip and treat it as his own. Am I at risk of losing this land and having to re-write my deed?

Here's my response:

Your situation is very common, but it really calls for legal advice that is specific to the particular circumstances of your case. For that reason, you should consult your own attorney about the situation.

Generally, it is not the person who is wrongfully possessing the property that begins any legal action. Instead, it is the person whose property is being wrongfully possessed who would file an action claiming trespass. The possessor would then offer an affirmative defense, claiming he had become the legal owner of the property through adverse possession. The main issue is how long has the neighbor and his predecessors used the land as their own. Adverse possession occurs after 20 years of uninterrupted use that is adverse or hostile to the original owner's possession of the property. That means that if the person is using the land with permission, it's not adverse and does not transfer ownership to the user. An attorney might advise you to have the property surveyed and the actual boundary clearly marked. Then, if the neighbor does not agree to that as the boundary, the attorney might send a formal notice to the neighbor, either demanding that he stop using it or telling him that he's using it only with your permission. That would stop the 20 year clock from running. In the long run, however, it's probably wisest to get it cleared up because when the time comes for you to sell the property, having an ongoing boundary dispute might jeopardize your sale. Remember, all of the above is just my general observations about these types of cases and is in no way legal advice to you - for that you need your own attorney.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I Gotta Get A Life

I’ve always thought self-reflection was a healthy thing. Lately, after much “reflection”, I have arrived at a conclusion...I think I need to get a life outside of the registry of deeds. Once you read the three incidents below I am sure you'll agree.

Incident One: 456
This morning I was watching the news on TV and the announcer reported that Law and Order went off the air after 456 episodes. I turned to my wife and said…

Hey, that’s the price of tax stamps.
Wife: What
Me: A seller pays 456 per thousand for tax stamps…you know, four dollars and fifty-six cents.
Wife: What if there had only been 125 episodes of Law and Order, what would you have said then?
Me: I would have said that’s the fee for recording a deed at the registry…of course, that doesn’t include the 456 for tax stamps.
I think I need to get a life.

Incident Two: The Plumber
Last month I was having a problem with my water heater. The plumber came out and looked it over. He said..
Plumber: The problem is with the pressure relief value.
Me: The pressure “release” value?
Plumber: No, I said the pressure “relief” value.
Me: How much is that going to cost me?
Plumber: $600
Me: Oh, too bad it wasn’t a release.
Plumber: Why?
Me: At the registry of deeds a "release" is only $75…$525 cheaper.
I think I need to get a life

Incident Three: Van Gogh
I took my granddaughter to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston last weekend. We saw some wonderful works of art. We saw Van Gogh’s, Picasso’s, Rembrandt’s. As we stood admiring Van Gogh’s “The Postman” I said…

I would scan that painting at 300 DPI.
Granddaughter: What’s a DPI Papa?
Me: Its a setting we use on the scanners at the registry of deeds, Honey. It means “dots per inch”.
Granddaughter: (turning and pointing at “The Sower”) What DPI would you scan this painting at?
Me: 400 DPI with a contrast of 6. The light edges would be tough to pick up.
Granddaughter: (pointing at another painting)…This one?
Me: 200 DPI and keep the density setting at 8.
Granddaughter: and this one?
Me: 300 DPI
Granddaughter: Wow, Papa you really know your scanning.
Me: Thanks Honey,
Granddaughter: But Papa…
Me: What?
Granddaughter: I think you need to get a life.
Me: I think you're right Honey, I think you're right.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Westford Tax Possession Auction

Last Friday the Town of Westford auctioned off 16 pieces of property taken because of non-payment of real estate taxes. A property Tax Possession auction in the Merrimack Valley is a rare event. Actually, it was the first for Westford. The auction took place in the police station's conference room . Register of Deeds, Dick Howe, Jr and I attended the auction and found it a fascinating study in real estate. The properties on the block varied in size from 1/10th acre to 3.2 acres and some sold for as much as $76,000. Strategic Auction Alliance of Braintree acted as the auctioneer on behalf of the town. I put this brief slide-show together from photos and audio I took with my iPhone.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Will job surge revive real estate?

The Globe reports today that Massachusetts added more jobs to its economy this April than in any other month since 1993. That is indeed good news for the Commonwealth's economy and invites speculation as to how much positive impact this job news will have on the state's real estate market. In my view, this news will help persuade many that the economy is rebounding. Certainly those who are newly hired will be in a better position although the many who still lack jobs or who are underemployed won't feel like it's much of a recovery. Notwithstanding all of this, the single biggest drag on the real estate market today is the outstanding indebtedness of those who purchase or refinanced when the market was at its peak in and around 2005. Individuals in those circumstances who owe more on their mortgages than their houses are worth are in no position to sell, refinance, or upgrade their housing. A large segment of the population and the housing stock has essentially been taken out of circulation.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Tax lien auction in Westford

Yesterday Assistant Register Tony Accardi and I traveled to the town of Westford to witness the auction of a number of properties that had been taken by the town for taxes through the years. Approximately 50 people, most of them registered as bidders, attended the event which was run by an outfit called Strategic Auction Alliance.

Property tax-related sales are rare in Massachusetts. Our laws are designed to get the taxes paid, not to sell the property, and the procedure is somewhat onerous, requiring a foreclosure proceeding in the Land Court. But Westford followed through on all the requirements. A bit of the room's enthusiasm escaped when town officials announced at the beginning of the event that two parcels (the two most desirable, it appears) were the subjects of last minute court injunctions and would not be part of the auction. Still, the rest of the parcels generated plenty of enthusiasm and soon the sing-song cadence of the auctioneer was booming through the room, dragging bids upwards with skill and humor. The highest amount paid for a parcel was $76,000, the lowest maybe $2000. Even though I was just an interested observer, I found myself caught up in the action and learned much about how such an event is conducted. I'll watch our records for the eventual recording of documents related to these sales and report back on how that end of the transaction is handled.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Russian Officials Visit the Registry of Deeds

On Monday a group of lawyers and court administrators from Russia visited the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds. Register Howe took the officials on a tour of the registry which included stops at our Registered Land Department, Electronic Recoding Station, Computer Room and our Scanning Room.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

New York City's 311 system

There's an interesting article in today's New York Times about New York City's 311 citizen information hotline. Twenty-four hours per day, seven days per week, resident can call 311 and get a knowledgeable and helpful human being on the other end of the phone. The reporter who wrote the story spent two days training and a week "on duty" fielding live calls. The most frequent calls are noise complaints; next come tenants complaining about landlords. Business spikes upward on Mondays since most people seem to believe the service is not operable on weekends.

It's hard to quantify the benefits of good customer service by a governmental entity (telephone operators are continuously scored on their courtesy and helpfulness to callers). But as the reporter points out, the intangible benefits of a citizen feeling that government was able to help in a cheerful, pleasant way has a ripple effect throughout the community.

I'm not sure that a 24/7 helpline will ever be possible for a registry of deeds, but we can and will continue to search for ways to make the service we provide to our customers more helpful and efficient.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Another Lost iPhone?

OK…now, its getting crazy.
Apple Computer known for protecting its technology secrets like a linemen does his quarterback, failed again.
Last month an unreleased iPhone 4G was left on a bar stool in Redwood City.
Incredible…That’s just NOT what you expect from Apple
And now, “reportedly” another unreleased 4G iPhone has be discovered…this time in Vietnam.
Notice, I said “reportedly”.
The “found” device was given to a mobile phone dealer in Ho Chi Minh City. Here is what we know for sure about the “reported” 4G…
It is the same thickness as the real 4G that was lost in Redwood City; It is the same length as the real 4G lost in Redwood City; and it has a front camera like the 4G lost in Redwood City…in other words it is identical.
But there are some experts who think the Vietnamese iPhone is a fake, manufactured in China.
There is no information on how the phone (real or not) got to Vietnam or who might have found it.
Photos of this second lost/stolen/fake iPhone were published in the Vietnamese website Taoviet.

Take a look and make your own decision

Below is the iPhone found in Redwood City last month and confirmed to be real by Apple itself.

Below is the iPhone found in Vietnam...You decide if you think it too is a real 4G.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Its Microsoft and its Free?

The following conversation and characters are fictitious. Any similarity to a real person is totally unintended.

Me: Microsoft is giving something away free…

My Friend: No Way! The only thing less likely than Microsoft giving something away free would be Apple giving something away free. And that never ever happens.

Me: Well, I thought I would never live to see the day either, but it is going to happen. Microsoft is making its new version of Office (Word, Power Point, Excel, Access) available on the Internet free. Don’t you like free?

My Friend: I love Frrreeeeeee. I just find it hard to believe. Office accounts for a huge portion of Microsoft’s profits…so why would it just give Office away?

Me: Because it has no choice. You see, companies like Google and Adobe have been giving word processing and spreadsheet creating software away for years now, and people are beginning to get use to their programs. I use Google Doc almost exclusively. Because of these free web products and Microsoft’s high software prices ($500 for Office) people are not up grading their older versions of Office.

My Friend: I still don’t get it. How is giving away a product going to help Microsoft regain lost profit?

Me: OK, here’s the strategy…First you give users a free version of Office that doesn’t include all the bells and whistles. Then once you’ve hooked them and they remember how much they love Office, they’ll upgrade to the paid version… that includes all the bells and whistles.

My Friend: Interesting idea…when will the “hook”, I mean the free version of Office be available?

Me: In June

My Friend: wow…now if only Apple decided to give something away free

Me: Stop dreaming my friend, stop dreaming.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Growth of the Homestead Exemption Amount

Several people recently asked me about the dollar amount of the current Homestead exemption. It is now $500,000 for both the regular Homestead (MGL c.188, s.1) and for the Elderly or Disabled Homestead (MGL c.188, s.1A). I recently did some research regarding the growth of that amount through the years for the "regular" Homestead and thought that progression would be of interest to readers (info on the "elderly" amount will be forthcoming in the future).

prior to 1939, the exemption was $800. In 1939, it was increased to $4000. The following list shows the year and the amount of subsequent increases:

1970 - $10,000
1973 - $20,000
1974 - $24,000
1975 - $30,000
1979 - $50,000
1983 - $60,000
1985 - $100,000
2000 - $300,000
2004 - $500,000

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Recurring question on name change after marriage

Each day brings several inquiries from local residents on a variety of registry-related topics. Two questions I was asked yesterday arise frequently. Since neither of them has a clear yes or no answer, I decided to share my views with the caveat that the registry does not provide legal advice, we just make an effort to state our general understanding of the law and procedure.

The first question involved a couple who had recently purchased a home, financed that purchase with a mortgage and then married shortly afterwards. The question was, "how to we add the wife's new last name to the deed?" This question hints at the common public misperception that we maintain some sort of master ownership list that we update as circumstances change. Of course that's not the way the system works. Once a document such as a deed is recorded, that document cannot be changed or altered. If something changes, a new document must be recorded that can be linked to the existing one and change its legal significance.

As I understand it, there is no urgent need to reflect the spouse's new name in the registry's records. She owned the property under her old name and she continues to own it in the same way, only her name has changed. Many people leave the record as is until a new document needs to be recorded for other reasons (a homestead or a new mortgage, for instance). On the new document, the spouse's name should appear "Mary Married-Name, formerly known as Mary Maiden-Name."

Two other considerations do arise in this set of facts. Now that the co-owners are married, they would be eligible to hold the property as tenants by the entirety which, in addition to providing a right of survivorship which may already exist under a joint tenancy, also provides some protection to the spouse against creditors of the other spouse. To create a tenancy in common would require a new deed by which the couple would transfer the property from themselves to themselves as tenants by the entirely. The other issue is the existing mortgage and any prohibitions that may have established on changing the ownership of the property without the consent of the mortgage company.

Because what would appear to be such a simple question does carry with it significant legal pros and cons which is why we always advise folks to consult with a lawyer who can become acquainted with all the particulars of that case.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Courthouse Iron Staircase

Last Friday I decided to take some pictures of the parking lot side of the courthouse before construction begins on the new elevator. While taking these pictures I noticed the beautiful iron staircase leading from the Elm Street entrance to the second floor. Actually, this is only one of many exquisite iron staircases in the old building which dates back to 1845.

I took some close up pictures which I have posted below.
Click on picture to enlarge

Friday, May 07, 2010

April Deeds for Lowell: A closer look

The number of deeds recorded for the city of Lowell this April showed a considerable increase over the number recorded for the same month last year. Today I tried to determine what kind of transfers were represented by those deeds.

Of the 156 deeds recorded for property in Lowell during the month of April 2010, about two-thirds involved arm's length sales of property with the other one-third being related party transfers. Of all the deeds, 90 involved one party or entity selling to another for what seemed to be fair market value (58% of the total). An additional 20 deeds were conveyances from banks (presumably ones that had recently foreclosed on the property) to third parties (13%). While these sales may have been at a discount, they are close to FMV (or perhaps the new FMV). Thirty-seven deeds (24%) involved related party transfers such as spouses conveying to a single spouse (maybe an ex-spouse?) or similar transfers for no consideration. Another 9 deed were individuals conveying property into trusts of which they were the trustee.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

A busy day (compared to what?)

Last Friday was the busiest day we've had in a long while here at the registry of deeds. It was the last day of April and the last Friday of the month which both tend to have substantial increases in activity over any other day of the month. But where does this past April 30 fit, volume of recording wise, with the other April 30th's of the past decade (and I use "April 30" to mean the last day on which we were open for business). Here are some numbers so you can make your own comparisons:

2000 - 591 documents recorded
2001 - 685
2002 - 575
2003 - 749
2004 - 816
2005 - 712
2006 - 564
2007 - 540
2008 - 374
2009 - 313
2010 - 470

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Call Me Chrome Man

Today May 5, 2010 is a big day for me...

This morning while eating Shredded Wheat with my wife I made a life changing decision.
I didn’t tell her about my decision. I didn’t want to worry her.

Every major decision has consequences. And truthfully, I’m ready and one needs to be ready to make such a big decision and handle the consequences.

Any hesitation I might have had during breakfast dissipated as my mind recited Robert Frost’s famous poem “Two roads diverged in a wood and I, I-- took the one less travel by, and that has made all the difference”.

Today...I’ve change my life. Today...I've change my Web Browser.

I’ve been a Morzilla Firefox guy for the past three years. In fact I really like Firefox.
But today... I am officially announcing I've changed to Chrome, Google’s Web Browser. To paraphrase Shakespeare’s Brutus “it is not that I love Firefox less, it is that I love Chrome more”.

I have been mulling this decision for several months now.

Every time I logged into YouTube Google tempts me with a message “YouTube works better with Chrome”.
It does?, I thought.
Every time I logged into my Gmail account Google tempts me with a message “Gmail is faster with Google Chrome”.
It is?, I thought.

Finally, this morning, between bites of Shredded Wheat, I had an epiphany.
I need to make a change. I need YouTube to work better. I need my Gmail to be faster. I need to be...A Chrome Man.

And now, I am.
If you would like to be a Chrome Man (or Woman) too the download is easy...its making the decisions that is the tough part.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

April recording statistics

The only piece of good news to be found in April's recording statistics is regarding the number of deeds recorded in the city of Lowell. In April 2009, there were 106; in April 2010 there were 167, an increase of 58%. The nine towns in the Middlesex North District saw only a slight increase in deeds, from 277 to 319, a 15% increase.

Foremost in the bad news category was an across-the-board increase in the number of foreclosure deeds recorded: Lowell rose from 20 to 36, a 80% rise. Town foreclosure deeds were up more dramatically, jumping from 9 to 31, a 244% increase. Town orders of notice were also up by 62% although orders of notice for Lowell dropped slightly, from 48 to 42. Another negative note is a noticeable decrease in the number of mortgages recorded. Lowell's drop was only 11%, from 237 to 212 but the town decline in mortgages was 39%, dropping from 1137 to 693.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Techie Shorts

Here are five of this weeks biggest Techie Shorts

1.Apple sold an incredible one million iPads in the first month of sales. That figure is double the amount of iPhone sold in its first month. Did you get that DOUBLE the sales of the iPhone

2.The Verizon's Droid smart phone is selling like hotcakes (see the iPhone and Blackberry aren’t the smart phones out there). Right now, you can’t buy a Droid and Verizon representatives are telling customers don’t expect to see delivery for several weeks.

3.Wired magazine is one of my favorites...Here is an example why. After the “theft” of Apple’s iPhone 4G and its premature publication by Gizmodo, “Wired” set out to find the person who found the phone and sold it to Gizmodo...within one week it hunted down and found Brian Hogan. Nice job Gizmodo.

4.Google is cooking something up. I can just feel it...the Internet giant purchased Bump Top. Bump Top? Remember when Google purchased YouTube for one billion dollars and we all asked "whats YouTube"? Yeah, you remember...and now we're all asking "Whats Bump Top?". It is a company that developed software that can take two dimensional pictures and make them three dimensional. I feel something simmering.

5.And back to Apple December of 2009, Apple bought LaLa. Lala is a free music service that allows you to listen to “most” any song you want, did I mention Free? Just six months later Apple shocked Lala lovers, with an announcement that the site would be closing at the end of May. You see, I was right..Apple and Free are like water and oil.