Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Registered Land Doc Storage

We entered the final stage of the re-organization of the Registered Land Documents stored in the basement. Our vendor, Advanced Computer Systems transferred over 250,00 documents from cardboard boxes to plastic storage bins and placed then on twelve rolling storage racks.

Here is a brief description of the bins:

Material: a medium weight plastic with an inter-locking hinged top
Size: Top 15 X 213/4, it tapers down to 121/2X 181/2 at the bottom
Capacity: Fours rows of Registered Land Documents, folder in three, fit across the long end of the box. The bins hold between 1,000-1,200 "older Registered Land Doc's" and since the new Doc's have more pages, about 650-800 of these."

ACS labeled bin with a simple Post It Note during the transfer. Yesterday we began the process of affixing permanent labels to the bins. We also decided to begin the painstaking task of inventorying our Registered Land Documents.
The completed bins are pictured below with square red tags.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Bankruptcy Court decision on homesteads

Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly reports that a “Bankruptcy Appellate Panel” recently upheld a ruling by the US Bankruptcy Court for Massachusetts in a case interpreting Massachusetts Homestead law. The facts were that the debtor had recently been divorced with the non-debtor spouse having been awarded possession of the marital home and the debtor spouse receiving the right to 25% of the proceeds when the marital home was sold some time in the future. The debtor spouse had a homestead on the property and argued that his interest in the property should be excluded from the bankruptcy because of the homestead. The Bankruptcy Court held that the decision of the Probate Court in the divorce proceedings divested the debtor spouse of any interest in the real estate, leaving him only with a portion of the proceeds from a future sale which the Bankruptcy Court characterized as personal property that was not protected by the Homestead exemption.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Preview of end-of-June stats

It's early, but today presents a good opportunity to gauge how our recording stats for this June look in comparison to the same time last year. We still have three (presumably) very busy days to go, so the final month's numbers will be higher. That said, there are two very visible differences. First, the number of mortgages recorded this June will be quite a bit lower than were recorded last June. Anecdotal evidence corroborates this: many attorneys tell me that overly strict standards by lenders are scuttling many deals which could account for the decline in mortgages. Certainly it's not a function of interest rates which are still at historically low levels. The other negative item of note is the number of foreclosure deeds: Last June for the district there were only 24; thus far this month there have already been 51 with the increase primarily in the district's nine towns (Lowell went from 19 to 22 but the nine towns jumped from 5 to 29). The good news is that orders of notice have dropped significantly (from 61 to 36) perhaps signaling a slowdown in future foreclosures. The number of deeds recorded has remained stable which is another good sign.

Please check back this coming Thursday morning (July 1) when we'll post the final June statistics.

REMINDER: The Independence Day holiday is officially observed on Monday, July 5, so the courthouse and the registry of deeds will both be closed that day.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Progress on GIS Project

Previously I've written about our desire to create a map-based graphical index for our subdivisions plans. The existing method of indexing subdivision plans captures the name of the property owner and any streets depicted on the plan, but this method has some serious limitations. For instance, owners change so you can never be sure what name to search for. And some streets are very long, with hundreds of plans depicting property along their routes. The only reliable way to locate a plan is by finding a Plan Book and Plan Number reference in the description section of another document. Absent that, finding a relevant plan becomes a very difficult task.

Our new project hopes to make that task much easier. We have just developed a process that will allow us to show each recorded subdivision plan in its precise location on a larger map of the area. By looking at this larger map and finding the approximate location of the parcel of interest, you will be able to see whether that place on the ground is included on any recorded subdivision plans. By clicking on the "box" used to depict that plan on the larger map, a pop-up box will occur with that plan's book and page number, allowing you to find it in our records. Eventually, we will establish hyperlinks to the actual subdivision plans so that they will pop-up as well.

It will be many months before this new tool is available to the public. First, we have to create this layer of "plan boxes" for all 30,000 subdivision plans currently recorded. We have just received delivery of a custom-made software tool that will allow registry employees to do this. In the coming year, budget permitting, we will begin working on a web-based viewer that will provide this information to the public on our website. Check back on this blog for further reports on the progress of this initiative.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

May Housing Market

There is good news and bad news on the housing front...depending on where you live.

Yesterday, the National Association of Realtors released statistics for homes sales in I mentioned, there is good news and bad.

First the bad news...
According to the NAR "resale" of US condominiums and homes dropped 2.2% nationwide last month. And if that is not bad enough, check this out... The sale of “new homes” decreased nationwide by a whopping 32.7%. This decrease brought the number of new home sales down to 300,00 for the month, the lowest number of sales since 1963 when the US Commerce Department first started keeping real estate numbers. This huge decrease in sales surprised even the experts.
What makes these figures so alarming is they are the first reflection of the market without the benefit of the Federal Tax Credit.

OK, now the good news.
Massachusetts is running counter to the nationwide trend. Yes, in Massachusetts the number of sales increased in May as did the median price of a home. According to the National Association of Realtors the sale of single-family homes in May 2010 compared to May 2009 jumped by 36.8% in Massachusetts compared to a national decrease. And the median price for homes during this time frame also increased by 2.6% to $290,000.

Most experts feel the July statistics will be a better indicator of the health of the US real estate market than May...of course, that won’t be the case if the Federal Tax benefit is extended.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Using Social Media in Business

This morning I participated in a panel discussion of the role of social media in business promotion at a meeting of the Greater Merrimack Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau. We talked about blogs, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. When I asked "what makes a good blog" I replied that frequent updates are essential. Visitors to your site get into the habit of stopping by; if there's always new content, they'll continue to return but if there's nothing new, they'll go elsewhere. I also think that using your website, your blog, Facebook and Twitter to promote each other is essential. That's something we hope to improve here at the registry this summer. The use of video will also continue to grow. Right now, we're working on some instructional videos of short duration on topics such as using our website, how to record a document, and many other topics.

Monday, June 21, 2010

New Registered Land Storage Boxes

Last week we selected the new storage box that will hold our "old and new" Registered Land Documents. For several weeks we looked for a box that would fit our specific needs, but would not be expensive. We decided on the unit pictured below for several reasons:
1. The box is made out of sturdy plastic and partly see through.
2. The lid is made up of two interlocking sections that can be secured.
3. The boxes have well place, strong handles making them very easy to lift and carry.
4. The units are stack-able which allows us to store them two rows high four across.
5. The dimensions of the units enable us to fit three rows of documents side by side, increasing storage capacity by close to 50% over the old boxes.

Here are a few pictures of the new units...

Friday, June 18, 2010

Notary Public renewals

One of the services we provide here at the registry of deeds is administering oaths of office most of which are Notaries Public whose commissions are being renewed. At least eight registry employees are "commissioners for the administration of oaths," so if you we offer walk-in swearing-in service during our normal hours of operation. The process takes less than five minutes. The individual taking the oath must fill out a short form and then take the oath in front of two of us. We then sign the back of the Notary commission and sign the other form (called "Form O") which we then mail to the Secretary of State's office.

This week there has been a real surge in folks taking their oaths for notary renewals. We were trying to discern the reason why so many are coming due now when we realized that since a notary commission is valid for seven years, the people renewing now probably obtained their initial notary commission in the summer of 2003. Thinking back, that was when the refinancing boom was at its peak. August 2003 was our busiest month in history. I suspect that at the time, real estate brokers, appraisers, law offices and anyone else connected to real estate would have everyone available becoming notaries in order to deal with the spike in business. So the high volume of notary oaths we're administering this week is one more after effect of the real estate boom.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Ken Burns and Bunker Hill

Last evening documentary film maker Ken Burns spoke at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium as part of the 12th annual Middlesex Community College Celebrity Forum. Burns spoke mostly about his latest film, "The National Parks: America's Best Idea", but also addressed the broad themes that connect all of his work. The primary question he's explored is "who are we?" as a people, but also how race and space - the sheer size of the country - has shaped us as a people. Burns also said that while he determinedly avoids sentimentality and nostalgia, his work is not about pure rational thought. Instead, he seeks to elevate people's thinking to a more emotional, spiritual level.

Ken Burns never mentioned Bunker Hill, but I couldn't resist drawing a connection between his remarks and the way in which we remember the battle that was fought not far from here 235 days ago today. Just two months after the confrontation at Lexington and Concord, the British Army sat securely in Boston and the colonial militia was camped in Cambridge, just far enough away to not present a threat to Boston. On the evening of June 16, however, the Americans occupied a hill in Charlestown, just across from Boston and built an earthen fort. This forced a response by the British and in a costly battle that lasted all day on the 17th, half of the British force of 2400 men and one-third of the 1200 Americans were killed or wounded.

The battle had substantial strategic significance for both sides. In England, any talk of reconciliation ended and everyone knew they were engaged in a war. On the American side, the new Continental Congress was forced to become a national government, and every inhabitant had to choose a side, whether he wanted to or not. The Battle of Bunker Hill played a critical role in propelling our country on its path to independence.

Just Some Pun

I’m not really into those funny mass emails people send know the ones I mean. I’m sure you get them too. But I got one the other day I found pretty entertaining.

It is called...

“Puns for those with a higher IQ”.

Those who jump off a bridge in Paris are in Seine.

A man’s house is his castle, in a manor of speaking.

Dijon vu- the same mustard as before.

Does the name Pavlov ring a bell?

Reading while sunbathing makes you well red.

When two egotists meet, its and I for an I.

A bicycle can’t stand on its own because it is two tired.

Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

In democracy your vote counts. In feudalism your count votes.

A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion.

If you don’t pay your exorcist, you get repossessed.

Local Area Network in Australia- the LAN down under.

He had a photographic memory that was never developed.

Once you’ve seen one shopping center, you’ve seen a mall.

Bakers trade bread recipes on a knead-to-know basis.

Not bad are they???

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Website redesign

We plan to add some new features to our website ( foremost being the ability to view all grantor and grantee indexes from 1630 to 1975 online. All of those indexes have been scanned and, for several years, have been available for viewing in PDF form on the registry's public access computers but we've run into many obstacles to placing them online. We believe we've got that resolved now.

Also, all pre-1950 documents which have been available online in a separate viewing and printing program will now be folded into the standard "masslandrecords" site in an "unindexed" tab that will allow retrieval by book and page number.

Finally, we will undertake a modest redesign of the site to make the information contained on it more relevant to today's practices and procedures.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Electronic Recording Stats

I recently did some calculations of our electronic recording volume. Here are the annual totals since we began: In 2005, we recorded 1057 documents electronically; in 2006, we recorded 1871; in 2007, we recorded 3491; in 2008, we recorded 3956; and in 2009, we recorded 8168. Throughout this time, the percentage of recordings attributable to electronic recorded always topped out at about 12% of our daily recordings.

For the first five and a half months of 2010, however, the percentage of documents being recorded electronically has risen to 15% (of 24,597 total recordings, 3,739 were recorded electronically). But we have also found that the volume of electronic recordings is not consistent on a day-to-day basis. For instance, on one out of three days, electronic recording accounted for more than 20% of that day's recordings. The largest number of e-recordings we ever handled in a single day so far this year was on May 28 when 76 documents were recorded electronically. The highest percentage occurred on April 6 when 33% of the documents recorded that day were processed by electronic means.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Elevator Construction Begins Tonight

The long-awaited start of construction of an elevator here at the Middlesex Superior Courthouse in Lowell will begin this evening. The elevator will be constructed within a brick tower that will be added to the exterior of the building, right where the side door is located (adjacent to the employee parking area off of Elm Street). Once completed, the elevator will be available only for this within mobility limitations due to security issues. Those able to use it will enter the elevator at ground level and it will have stops on the first and second floors. Because this building is actually two separate buildings, there is a three foot difference in elevation between the two first floors. To solve this problem, a long ramp will be built from the higher first floor in the rear of the building to the lower first floor in the front. Unfortunately, the only route available for such a ramp goes through existing registry space, so we'll see some minor reconfigurations of our layout. All construction work is scheduled to be accomplished between 6 pm and 4 am to avoid interfering with courthouse functions.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The ScanLife

I think ScanLife will change the world (yes, I know... I'm always saying something is going to change the world, but this time I mean it).
The first time I heard of ScanLife it was being used by a real estate broker in New York City. It is the greatest (Sure, I know...everything is the greatest to me).
Oh, yes, yes, I almost forgot the important part, "What the heck" is ScanLife?...ScanLife is an application that allows a smart phone to read barcode labels.
Incredible...what potential.
How do you get ScanLife? It is available "free" to download for iPhones, Blackberries and most other smart phones.

Here's an example...the high powered, New York City real estate agent I mentioned above ran an advertisements for one of his upscale listings in a newspaper and...he included a ScanLife Barcode label in the Ad. Now, any smart phone with the ScanLife App can read that barcode. Using mobile tagging the ScanLife label linked the reader to detailed listing data, broker contact information, a video tour of the house, photos and even driving directions.

Come've got to love it. What an earth-shattering idea (excuse my over enthusiasm)

Again, just think of the potential...a record producer could put a ScanLife a barcode on a music CD that links to the cost of the CD, information about the artists, sample songs etc.
Amazing! ScanLife is the best thing since sliced bread...(so, maybe I'm exaggerating a little)

The image below is an actual ScanLife barcode. If you have the App on your smart phone just aim, press and watch the results.

This video demonstrates how ScanLife works...

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Acknowledgement Issues

A deed with a questionable acknowledgement was presented for recording this morning. The parcel involved was in Lowell but the grantor purportedly lived in Chelmsford as did the two grantees who both shared a last name with the grantor. The grantor had signed the document and there was a standard Acknowledgement Clause, but the signature on the “Notary Public” line was illegible, the Notary’s name was not printed anywhere and there was no “expiration date” of the Notary’s commission shown. There was an official-looking stamp next to the Notary’s signature but the wording of the stamp was entirely in Greek.

In deciding whether to allow this document to go on record as is, I consulted with the Massachusetts Deed Indexing Standards. Standard 4-2 “Notary Rules” states as follows:

Failure to comply with the strict requirements of Executive Order 455 (03-13) shall not prevent a document from being recorded. A non-conforming acknowledgement purported to be taken within Massachusetts must contain, at a minimum, the original signature and printed or typed name of the officer making the acknowledgement, the expiration date of the officer’s commission and some language that indicates that the parties intended such signature to constitute an acknowledgement.

Because the document presented had neither the “printed or typed name” of the Notary nor the “expiration date” of the Notary’s commission, it would appear, at first glance, that the document should be rejected. But there’s another indexing standard that comes into play. Standard 4-5 Out of Country Acknowledgement states that an acknowledgement made outside the United States shall be made “by a justice of the peace, notary public or magistrate of the country where the acknowledgement is made.” Because Standard 4-2 specifies that it applies only to acknowledgements “purported to be taken within Massachusetts” that standards requirements do not carry over to Standard 4-5 which stands on its own. For that reason, I decided that the document could be recorded without further modification.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Work Continues on Computer Storage Room

We continue working on our new computer storage room in the basement. Up to this point the new storage shelves have been been installed, two rolling dollies are in place and the walls are being painted. Here are some pictures...

The computers below will be disassembled and the parts will be salvaged for future use.

Although it is difficult to see in these photos the new paint has made the walls much cleaner.

The new shelves make storage easy, safe and secure...

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Countrywide fined $108 million by FTC

The New York Times reports that Countrywide (now a part of Bank of America) has agreed to pay a $108 million dollar to the Federal Trade Commission for fraudulent practices by its mortgage servicing unit. The charges against Countrywide revolve around the company's practice of charging exorbitant and unreasonable fees for services performed during loan workouts with customers who were already in deep financial distress. Countrywide would routinely boost up bills for things such as lawn mowing, bills that were submitted not only to the borrowers but to bankruptcy courts that were administering the borrowers' estates. This $108 million will be used to reimburse those who were targets of the fraudulent charges. Just more evidence that no matter how quickly real estate recovers, we'll be dealing with the wreckage left by the questionable practices of the real estate business for years to come.

Monday, June 07, 2010

A Big Apple Day

Today is a big day for Apple Computer. The World Wide Developer’s Conference takes place in San Francisco. In the past Apple CEO Steve Jobs has used the WWDC to introduce some of its most successful products, the iPod and the iPhone to name two. But this conference is really Steve Job’s day in the sun. With this in mind I thought it might be interesting to take a look at some biographical information on Steve Jobs...

Steve Jobs’ was born in San Francisco. His biological mother was Joanne Simpson, but she did not bring him up, rather he was adopted by Paul and Clara Jobs.

He dropped out of college after only one semester.

Jobs met Apple co-founder Steve Wozinak while working together at Hewlett Packard.

Steve Job married to Laurene Powell in 1991. Together they have three children.

In 1978 when Jobs was only 24 years old he had a child with an artist named Chrisann Brennan. Initially, Jobs denied paternity and Brennan and her daughter lived on welfare. Later Jobs did acknowledge the child and she has since given birth to Jobs’ first grandchild.

According to an unauthorized biography of Jobs he dated folk singer Joan Baez. In Baez autobiography written in 1987 she mentions Jobs also.

Ironically, Jobs is a big Beatles fan but the Fab Four will not allow their music to be sold on Apple’s iTunes.

Here is Jobs’ usual turtleneck, 501 blue jeans and New Balance 991 Sneakers.

Steve Jobs is a vegetarian.

After several years of speculation about his health, Jobs received a liver transplant in early 2009.

Today, Steve Job will announce the next generation 4G iPhone to the world.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Registry revenue trends

As the end of Fiscal Year 2010 approaches, I took a look at our monthly revenue over the past two FYs (our FY runs from July 1 to June 30). Our two biggest sources of revenue are recording fees and the deeds excise tax which is a tax based on the sales price of a property. In FY09, we collected $4,732,200 in recording fees and $4,784,190 in excise tax, for a total of $9,516,390. In FY10 up until the end of May (i.e., with one month to go), we have collected $4,367,795 in recording fees and $5,135,597 in excise tax for a total of $9,503,392. Given that June is always our busiest month and that this June will be especially busy as the federal first time home buyer tax credit expires, we will easily surpass our FY09 revenue intake in the current FY, perhaps not by enough to proclaim the recovery has arrived, but it's certainly better than another decline.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Delays in recording foreclosure deeds

We receive many calls inquiring about the status of foreclosed properties. Tenants, neighbors and other interested parties might witness the foreclosure auction at the property and call seeking contact information for the new owner. Many times we (and our registry records) are unable to assist because of delays in recording foreclosure deeds.

It's my understanding that in most foreclosures, the high bidder is required to sign a memorandum of sale that allows 30 days to close the purchase which is completely understandable. But most foreclosure deeds seem to be recorded long after that 30 days have passed. In an attempt to learn just how much longer that is, I examined foreclosure deeds recorded for property in Lowell during 2008 and 2009 and noted the auction date for each. There were 379 foreclosures in Lowell in 2008 and they took an average of 109 days from auction to recording of the foreclosure deed. In 2009, there were 238 foreclosures and they took and average of 67 days from auction to recording the foreclosure deed.

These times seem quite long, especially when you consider that in almost all cases, the buyer at the auction is the foreclosing lender. One of the problems with delays of this type is that the property remains in a type of ownership limbo which is detrimental to tenants and neighbors. Unfortunately, with all the other issues swirling around our current economic crisis, no one seems all that interested in this particular issue.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Google Walking Direction

Did you know you can get “Walking Directions” from Google? I tried it out. I entered the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds at 360 Gorham Street as my start location and the UMass Lowell Camp Inn and Convention Center located at 50 Warren Street as the destination.
Below are the results...

Walking directions are in beta.
Use caution – This route may be missing sidewalks or pedestrian paths.
Walking directions to 50 Warren St, Lowell, MA 01852
Suggested routes
Gorham St 0.5 mi10 mins
South St 0.7 mi13 mins
360 Gorham St
Lowell, MA 01852
1.Head north on Gorham St toward Highland St
0.3 mi
2.Turn right at Appleton St
187 ft
3.Continue onto Church St
443 ft
4.Turn left at George St
459 ft
5.Turn left at Warren St/Warren Ct
161 ft
50 Warren St
Lowell, MA 01852

Those of you out there thinking "so what, who needs walking directions"...first, stop being so negative and second consider this...What if you are visiting a big city like Boston or Philadelphia and doing a walking tour of historical sites...all you have to do is plug "where you are" and "where you want to go" into your cell phone's browser and bang...the directions pop up right in front of you.
Now, I think this is pretty cool, even though I am not much of a walker.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Self-selected loan modification

The New York Times reports today that more and more Americans are taking loan modification into their own hands by not paying their mortgages. Money previously sent to the loan servicer is now diverted to other things, both essentials and not-so-essentials, and homeowners take advantage of the slowness of the foreclosure process to gain a year or more of rent-free living. Economically, this makes a lot of sense for the debtor: in many cases they owe more than double the fair market value of the home so there's little hope that the property's value will rebound sufficiently to allow them to sell or refinance. There are still many in this situation who continue to make payments out of a sense of moral obligation, but the folks interviewed in this article express no hesitation about their choice: they acknowledge receiving the money from the loan but feel it was the result of fraud on behalf of the lender, so they see this as a type of self-directed equitable remedy. This tactic has not gained widespread acceptance in Massachusetts, perhaps because in this state, the excess debt left after foreclosure continues to be a liability for the borrower (in many states, home loans are non-recourse, meaning the lender's collection efforts begin and end with the house), but if real estate values remain low and unemployment high, I suspect even in this state, this tactic will be seen more often.