Tuesday, August 31, 2010

August recording statistics

As our business day on August 31 eases to a close, here are the recording statistics for this month compared to August 2009.

In 2009, there were 5099 documents recorded in August; in 2010, there were 5469, an increase of 7%.
In 2009, there were 492 deeds recorded; in 2010 there were 437, a decrease of 11%.
In 2009, there were 977 mortgages recorded; in 2010 there were 1232, an increase of 26%.
In 2009, there were 23 foreclosure deeds recorded; in 2010 there were 61, an increase of 165%.
In 2009, there were 62 orders of notice recorded; in 2010 there were 116, an increase of 87%.

Also of note is that on each day since last Friday, we've had 80 or more electronic recordings, a substantial increase in that type of activity.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Reorganizating Our Plans

This morning around 9:00AM workers arrives to begin removing our old Plan cabinets and installing the new ones. The new cabinets will be stacked three high (15 drawers) and sit on palettes built specifically to hold them. The old cabinets are made of wood and about 4 feet high a two feet wide. Both the front and the top can open. These storage boxes were very useful when registry workers needed to frequently access the original plans to make copy. This need is long gone. The new cabinets are much more space efficient.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The last Friday of August

While the last day of the month is usually our busiest day volume wise, the last Friday of the month is typically the second busiest day. I took a few minutes to look up how many document we recorded on "the last Friday of August" going back to 2002. Here are the stats:

August 30, 2002 - 861 documents
August 29, 2003 - 817
August 27, 2004 - 894
August 26, 2005 - 408
August 25, 2006 - 384
August 31, 2007 - 491
August 29, 2008 - 314
August 28, 2009 - 384
August 27, 2010 - 341

As of noon today, we had recorded 188 documents. I'll update this post at the end of today with the final number. UPDATE: We recorded 341 documents today more than a quarter of which were submitted electronically.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Merrimack Valley Housing Report

For more than I year, I've been co-editing along with David Turcotte an electronic newsletter named the Merrimack Valley Housing Report. Produced monthly by UMass Lowell and the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds, the Housing Report scrutinizes real estate activity in the Merrimack Valley with a focus on the cities of Lowell, Lawrence, Methuen and Haverhill. In the August edition, I wrote a story about the sharp increase in the number of Executions being recorded. The story must have struck a chord with the mainstream media because since Monday I've been interviewed by the Lowell Sun and radio stations WCAP and WBZ.

The latest issue of the Housing Report (which contains the above mentioned story) is available online here and includes instructions on how to become a (free) subscriber.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Historical Footnote

On Monday contractors will arrive at the registry of deeds to begin installing new plan storage cabinets. This morning another registry employee and I began assessing our inventory. The job brought back an interesting registry footnote to me.

Way back in the old days the registry allowed the public to use original plans for research. When you think about it, there really was no other way of making the plans available in these pre-computer times. But this practice, although unavoidable led to rapid wear and tear on the original plans. To rectify this problem the registry began hand copying original plans.

“Registry lore” says one employee was assigned this task and spent the entire day on the project. Of course, the work was time consuming and tedious. Only about 30 of 160 plan books were completed before better microfiche technology allowed for mass reproduction and distribution of plans.

These plans are distinguishable from the originals by a stamp that says…”Middlesex North Registry of Deeds, Copy of Plan Book (blank) Page (blank)”.

Today, all of our original plans have been scanned and the digital images are available to the public both here at the registry and on the Internet, so these “copies” are no longer needed. But they do mark an interesting historical note at the registry of deeds

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The "Out Clause" in state building leases

The August 16, 2010 edition of Banker & Tradesman has a front page story about the Massachusetts Land Court terminating its lease with the owner of the building in which the court has been housed for the past several years. Located at 226 Causeway Street in Boston, just a short walk from the BankNorth Garden, the former Stop & Shop bakery building was renovated specifically for the Land Court. According to Banker & Tradesman, there are still 3 years left on the lease with $9 million in rental payments due, but the lease also contains a "subject to appropriations" clause that allows the tenant to terminate the lease if the legislature fails to appropriate sufficient funds to pay the rent. That's the clause the court is exercising.

Earlier in this decade, DCAM (the Department of Capital Asset Management), the state agency that owns all state buildings, developed a model that would ease DCAM out of the building ownership business, essentially privatizing that function. The thinking was that by housing state agencies in privately owned buildings and paying annual rent, it would be more efficient than the long term cost of building, maintaining and repairing state-owned structures. I even spent time working with a DCAM task force that explored ways to shrink the footprint of registries of deeds by moving from paper to electronic records. (For instance, by ceasing the production of record books and taking existing books out of service, this office has gone from needing 17,000 square feet of space to only 10,000 sf). Fortunately for us, it turns out, we were not designated to move into new quarters. The registries that did - Worcester, Fitchburg, Lawrence and Salem - all gained beautiful new facilities but also acquired large annual rental payments. When the financial crisis hit a few years ago and everyone's budgets were slashed, those rental payments loomed large. So now I believe the state has shifted its thinking back to housing state agencies in buildings owned by the state. That's why whenever someone asks "where will the Middlesex North Registry move to when the new courthouse is built?" I answer that I don't think we'll be going anywhere.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Hot Potato

Its a funny thing about technology... the more you learn about it, the more you realize how little you know.

Case in point…Hot Potato. I never even heard of Hot Potato before and this morning’s big techie news is Facebook just bought it.

Heck, Hot Potato is only nine months old. How do I know? I had to look it up. Why? Because I never heard of Hot Potato until this morning, remember?

I’ll never be able to keep up with this technology stuff.

After reading the article I became curious...What is Hot Potato and why did Facebook want to buy it.

Actually, once I logged in I found Hot Potato very interesting. Hot Potato and Facebook are very similar.

Both social networking sites are all about meeting people and sharing what you are doing. Case in point (hey, that is the second time i used that expression...) Everyone who logs into Facebook is prompted by the same general phrase "What's on your mind?". After you tell the Facebook world "what's on your mind", people who are interested make comments.

Hot Potato is a little different and I think a little more fun. When you log into Hot Potato you see a square with seven tabs. Each tab gives you a "specific prompt" about a different topic...

"I'm watching..."
"I'm listening to..."
"I'm attending..."
"I'm reading..."
"I'm thinking about..."
"I'm playing..."
"I'm..." (this one is a catch all for anything you would like to write about)

So lets say I'm reading War and Peace by Tolstoy, I'd click the "I'm reading..." tab and write something like..."I'm reading the last chapter of War and Peace by Tolstoy. I hope his great grandson writes a sequel".

Writing something on a specific topic attracts other people interested in the same things, or in this case, reading War and Peace.

Truthfully, I like the Hot Potato idea...but the question is did Facebook buy it to squash the potential competition or did they buy it to incorporate some of its better features into its own successful application? I don't know either!, remember I'm overwhelmed by this techie stuff too.

The video below will help you/me understand Hot Potato.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Foreclosure update

An editorial in today's New York Times reviews the federal government's efforts to date to stem the rising tide of foreclosures across the country and finds those efforts to be inadequate.

Our own recording statistics thus far for the month of August provide strong evidence that the foreclosure problem is not getting better. For the first 20 days in August of 2009, we recorded 17 foreclosure deeds and 39 orders of notice. For the same 20 days this August, we recorded 42 foreclosure deeds and 72 orders of notice.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Archeology in Lowell

Three archeology professors from Queens University in Belfast, Northern Ireland arrived in Lowell this week to work jointly with professors and students from University of Massachusetts Lowell in an archeological dig of the front lawn of St. Patrick's Church on Suffolk Street in Lowell. From a preliminary examination of records of the earliest Irish in Lowell, it appears that the church's lawn may be the portion of the Acre (the neighborhood in which the Irish first settled)that has changed the least since the early- to mid-Nineteenth Century.

Yesterday I stopped by the dig at lunch time and ended up assisting with some documentary research for the team, providing them with contemporaneous plans and documents that may help identify who lived where back in the 1830s. The archeologists stressed that this is just a "reconnaissance dig" which will help ascertain whether deeper and more extensive excavation will be worthwhile.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Courthouse elevator construction report

Work on the new elevator of the Middlesex Superior Courthouse in Lowell is well underway as is shown in the above photo. A brick tower will be added to the exterior of the building where the Elm Street door was located. The elevator will not be available for the use of the general public. Instead, it will be used only for those with mobility limitations. The timetable calls for the project to be completed in November.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Document History feature added to computers

The newly enacted amendment to MGL chapter 36, section 1 (the so-called "National Lumber" bill), established that a document is deemed to be recorded when the registry of deeds issues it an instrument number. The amendment contained an additional requirement that

Any change or correction made to the record shall be accessible to the public in the particular registry district in which the affected land lies. Such change or correction shall be maintained by the register as part of the record for public inspection during registry business hours at each office in the registry district. Any change or correction to the record shall document the nature and date of the change or correction.

The feature that we've now activated on the public search computers at the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds displays a red check mark box on the document detail screen. When you click on that red box, if any change has been made to the index entry, a popup box will display the date the change was made, the original entry, and the change that was made. The red box appears all the time. If you click it and nothing happens, that means that no changes have been made to the index entry.

This new feature is available on both registered and recorded land although it does not yet exist on our website. Because we consider the document recording process to continue until we have finished our verification of the document, this document history feature only displays changes that occur more than five days after the document is recorded.

Here's a link to a handout I've prepared that shows screen shots of this feature.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Electronic Recording procedures

Electronic recording has become a regular part of our operations here at the registry of deeds. If there aren't electronic recordings in the queue waiting to be processed when we open in the morning, we know that there's something wrong with the system. Because this method of recording has become so popular, I thought it might be helpful to revisit the things we check for in deciding whether or not to record an electronically submitted document:

· How many documents are in the payload?
· Is the fee correct?
· What town is the property in? (Is it this registry?)
· Is there a Recorded Land book and page (No registered land!)
· Is the document signed and (if necessary) notarized?
· How many pages are in the document?
· Is each page a good quality image?
· Is the document type correct?
· Is the consideration correct?
· Are the names correct?
Is there any reason why this document should not be recorded?
· Write date/time, document type, and one name in E-Recording log book

One thing we've added to our reject list is tax-exempt transfers. For instance, if a governmental entity is a party to a sale, there is not deeds excise tax due. But when such a transaction is recorded, we still must enter the full amount of consideration but we are able to "exempt" the transaction and permit the customer to record the document. That's not a function we're comfortable outsourcing to the document submitter and there's no way for us to override the transfer tax when it's electronically submitted. Consequently, for now we're not accepting deeds in this category. This is another example of how the procedures for electronic recording must be allowed to develop over time.


Friday, August 13, 2010

16 Years of Scanning

This registry of deeds began scanning documents in November of 1994. Back then the images were stored on a digital platter called an Optical Disc. Each Optical Disc held 940 MB (less than one gig) or approximately two weeks worth of recorded documents. From1994 until 2001 We scanned these document on a flat bed Fujitsu scanner. One person working all day could scan about 300 documents with it.

Boy have things changed.

Today we scan using a Fujitsu 6670 that capable of scanning 600 documents or more a day and we store the images on RAID drives that have several terabytes of memory.
Below are various scanners we used from 1994 to present...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Internet Equality!

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal...

That’s how the country’s most sacred document, the “Declaration of Independence” reads.

Unfortunately, the time has come when we need a similar statement protecting the Internet...We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all “information” is created equal and should be treated as such.
Call the document “The Declaration of Net Neutrality”.

I don't mean to be melodramatic but I believe a monumental, intellectual challenge looms ahead concerning the flow of information on the Internet. At risk is the concept of Net Neutrality or "equality" of information.

Last week Google and Verizon struck a deal to create a system where “some information is more equal than other” (excuse the Orwellian reference). In other words the agreement between Verizon and Google would allow certain pieces of information to travel to an Internet user faster IF its creator “pays a higher fee”. This agreement threatens to destroy Net Neutrality.

Check out this quote from web guru Tim Berners-Lee:
“Control of information is hugely powerful. In the US, the threat is that companies can control what I access for commercial reasons. In China, companies could control what users access for political reasons. Freedom of connection with any application to any party is the fundamental social basis of the Internet.”

Bravo Tim! You’ve stated the dangers of eliminating Net Neutrality perfectly.

YES even without Net Neutrality you WILL still have access to all information, but premium providers (those are the ones that pay a fee) will send their information to you faster, hence influencing where you go to get information.

Look at it this way...lets say you are heading out to eat with your wife. You pull into a restaurant and the hostess tells you the wait is 45 minutes...you’re too hungry to wait 45 minutes so you get back in the car and drive across the street to another restaurant...the wait there is only 5 minutes. Where do you eat? Its a no brainer...you eat where the food is provided faster.

Think this is a stretch? Ask yourself...how many times have you “X” out of a site because it was taking too long to load...see, I’m right.

But there is still hope that the federal government will step in and void this dangerous agreement between Google and Verizon preserving the idea of equality...as it did back in 1776.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

National Lumber bill signed into law

A number of years ago the Massachusetts Appeals Court decided a case that involved the recording priority of a mechanic's lien filed by National Lumber Company. The facts were that National Lumber sent its notice of contract to the registry of deeds by Fedex well within the time required to perfect the lien. Because this was at the height of the recording boom, the registry was months behind in recording documents received by mail and so by the time the notice of contract was recorded, it was outside the allowable time for doing so. The Appeals Court held that the notice of contract was "recorded" at the moment it was received by the registry of deeds and not when it was eventually entered into the registry's computer system. National Lumber's lien was therefore perfected.

The troubling aspect of this case is that registries of deeds receive dozens if not hundreds of pieces of mail each day. While all mail is now recorded promptly, it's a process that runs throughout the day. To deem all of those mailed in documents on record the moment the postal carrier drops them on our counter would wreck havoc with our recording system and the idea of priority of recording.

A new law, signed by the governor just last night, remedies this situation. Called "An Act to clarify recording requirements at registries of deeds" specifically states that "No instrument received by the register shall be considered recorded until the register assigns to the instrument an instrument number, or book and page number, as the case may be." Now (or in 90 days, when this law takes effect) recording priority will be based solely on the sequence in which documents were entered into the registry's computer system.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A rise in Executions

One document type that is reflective of tough economic times is the execution. Issued by the court after judgment has been recovered and the appeal period has passed, the execution commands the sheriff or any constable to “from out of the value of any real or personal property of such judgment debtor found within your jurisdiction to cause payment to be made to the judgment creditor.” When a judgment debtor owns real estate, the sheriff records the execution at the registry of deeds with a description of the debtor’s property attached. The next step would be for the sheriff to auction off the property and pay the creditor out of the proceeds. In almost all cases, however, the process stops short of the auction and the execution is “suspended” to await the eventual sale or refinancing of the property at which time the owner would have to settle up with the creditor.

Since 2003, the number of executions recorded annually has risen steadily and substantially:

251 in 2003
298 in 2004
318 in 2005
557 in 2006
602 in 2007
724 in 2008
985 in 2009
1234 in 2010 (estimate based on projection of Jan-July recordings.

Most of these executions are in favor of credit card companies and banks (that presumably issued credit cards) and range from $1200 to $18,000 - further evidence that the bill for a decade of living on consumer credit is still outstanding.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Project Problem Causes Re-direction

The project our summer interns have been working on for the past month hit a major snag last week. One of the integral pieces of equipment used in the project broke. On Tuesday morning an Intern heard a loud pop come from the Minolta PS 7000 over-head camera.

We inspected it and found nothing physically wrong, so we examined the CPU attached to the camera. When we opened the inside we noticed that a small resistor had explored.

OK, this is going to be simple...all we have to do is change the computer, Wrong!

For a solid week our MIS Director work on the problem, but could not get another computer to recognize the camera.

The interns continued to work on the project while we looked for a solution.
And this morning after a weekend of thinking about it I decided to re-focus our energy.

I instructed one Intern to take all the plans that would have been scanned on the Minolta and shrink them down to 11X17. A second intern is scanning these reduced plans and the third is re-organizing the completed files.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Lowell Summer Music Series

Driving to work this morning, I heard folks on the local radio station discussing the Lowell Summer Music Series. The quality and quantity of the acts presented each summer are really amazing, so I thought I'd share some of the names with our readers. Tonight, for instance, Suzanne Vega and Patty Larkin will perform. Tomorrow night it will be Herbie Hancock. Future acts this summer include Lyle Lovett, Jonathan Edwards, Aztec Two-Step, the B-52s, James Mongomotery Blues Band, Marcia Ball and Natalie McMaster. That's on top of Joan Armatrading, Marc Cohn, Amos Lee, Jimmy Cliff and Indigo Girls all of whom have already performed this summer.

The site of the Lowell Summer Music Series is Boarding House Park at 40 French Street in Lowell. The cost of the shows range from $20 to $50 (for a few top acts). For more information, check out the Summer Music Series website.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

I Can't make Up My Mind, I Think

Ok, I just can’t make up my mind, well not always, sometimes I can make up my mind.I think...but, when it comes to buying a new smart phone... I can’t make up my mind.

Last June I made up my mind (see I told you I could, sometimes) that I was going to purchase the new iPhone 4G. And when the phone was released, I loved what I saw...but them I heard the bad news, if you hold the new iPhone a certain way it will drop the call. So I changed my "made up mind".

So then I started looking at Andriod smart phones, like the Droid. I loved what I saw so I decided to buy a Droid. They're sleek looking and are not locked into the AT&T network. Then I saw the price, $499 and I changed my "made up mind", again (Hey, the iPhone would only cost me about $299...two hundred less).

So then I started thinking, Apple will surely fix the “dropped call issue", maybe...So I made up my mind I was better off with the cheaper iPhone. I even made plans to buy it over the weekend.

Then...I read that when Apple CEO Steve Jobs was told his company's new iPhone 4G dropped calls if held a certain way his answer was...”well, then don’t hold it that way”... Bad answer.

So I changed my "made up mind" about buying the iPhone.

But... the Droid is so expensive.
But... now Apple is giving away free cases that solve iPhone's problem, maybe.
But... Google has developed new software for the Droid that will allow you to create your own Apps and maybe I can write Apps, maybe...
But maybe...iPhone has hundreds of thousands of Apps so maybe I can find the App I want anyway, maybe and need to write one, maybe.

Sometime, honest, sometimes I can make up my mind...I think.

Old Index Images now on Masslandrecords

Perhaps five years ago, we scanned all of our non-computerized grantor and grantee indexes and made them available in PDF form here at the registry. Rather than a searchable computer database, this method created an electronic book that duplicated the experience of paging through the book-form indexes of old. Because of the size of these collective files, we had been unable to deliver them to users via the internet. We've now solved that problem, partially at least.

First, a word about the new masslandrecords.com site. It seems that many of the (lack of) speed issues that have plagued that application have been resolved so it is worth revisiting, especially since that's where our index images reside. Here's how you do it:

From www.lowelldeeds.com, click on the yellow search box which brings you to the Middlesex North search page on the "old" masslandrecords. Above the search box is some blue and red text which says "Click Here to try the new trial version of the Massachusetts Land Records website." Click on it. When the new site opens, click on "search criteria" on the upper menu bar. One of the search types is "pre-1976 Grantor (or Grantee) Index." Click on that. You next have three fields to populate: date range; letter; page. Through the years, indexes were consolidated into multi-year sets - 1620-1855, for instance. Pick that one. The scanned index images are next divided by the first letter of the last name. Select "H". "Page" is the page number you want within all the "H" pages. For now, this computerized index does not identify what names are on those pages, something that is necessary to make this system user friendly. Because it's not feasible to include such a "table of contents" in the masslandrecords app right now, I'm created a separate PDF table of contents for each date range that will be available on the lowelldeeds website and that will allow you to focus in on the exact page of interest to you. That extra index will be available by Labor Day. So this isn't the true roll-out of this application; it's just a preview, so please check it out when you have a chance.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

July recording statistics

Negative trends continue to be evident when we compare July's recording statistics with those from July 2009. The total number of documents recorded was down 23% from 6555 to 5054. The number of deeds recorded dropped by 12% from 501 to 440. Mortgages dropped by 26% from 1306 to 971. Foreclosure deeds were up 87%, rising from 30 to 56. The one piece of good news was that orders of notice dropped 30%, from 67 down to 47.

The continued decline in mortgage volume is perhaps the most significant statistic. Foreclosure-related activity has been bouncing up and down for a long time, so no real trends are evident there. The volume of mortgage recording however is down for the seventh consecutive month. This low level of lending activity has and will continue to have a stagnating effect on real estate.

Monday, August 02, 2010


I've written about Twitter before, so why write again, you ask?
Simple, I find the concept of expressing relevant thoughts in 140 characters fascinating.
And it seems I'm not the only one that feels this way.
Saturday a graphic designer in Tokyo sent out the 20 billionth tweet. Yes, that's 20,000,000,000 tweets.
Can you believe 20,000,000,000 (OK, so I like to write it) in just three years? Astounding!
But this incredible number also represents Twitters biggest problem...the over-whelming volume.
The amount of information being pumped out from Twitter is so large it is almost impossible to navigate.
I started this post saying I found the concept of expressing "relevant" information in 140 characters interesting. The key word here is relevant.
And with 20,000,000,000 tweets floating around in the cyber-world how do you figure out what is relevant, to you anyway?
So as Twitter's founders celebrate tweet number 20,000,000,000... you have to wonder if the micro-blogging phenomenon is becoming a victim of its own success.