Thursday, September 30, 2010

Old grantor/grantee indexes online

A short time ago we finally added the scanned images of our old Grantor and Grantee Indexes to our website. They're available to everyone now, but not in a way that is easy to use. While we work on making the system more useful, you can access this info now. This morning I received an email from a person doing genealogical research asking how to find older documents online. I used that as an opportunity to write a set of instructions. Here they are:

What you're missing is access to the Grantor and Grantee Indexes. Anytime a document is recorded, the registry adds the names contained in that document to an alphabetical index. The Grantor contains the name of the person giving something and the Grantee the person getting something. For entries since about 1970, these indexes have been combined in a searchable database that's available on the registry's website (go to and click the yellow "search" box). For earlier index entries, we've scanned the old index books and have made those pages available as electronic images. Unfortunately, due to the size of the resulting files, we have only been able to make the scanned indexes available on computers here at the registry. Recently we succeeded in adding these images to our website, but that effort is remains a work in progress and is not yet as user-friendly as we would like. Still, there is a way to access those indexes online. Here's how:

Go to and click the yellow "search" box. A new window will appear. Near the top is some text printed in blue and red that says "CLICK HERE to try the new version of the Massachusetts Land Records web site." Click on that link. When the new version of masslandrecords appears, look at the upper menu bar for the "Search Criteria" link (it's right above "land" in masslandrecords). Move your cursor over that and a window of menu choices will appear. The last two choices in the "Recorded Land" section are "Pre-1976 Grantor Indexes" and "Pre-1976 Grantee Indexes"

How to proceed from here is best illustrated by an example. Let's say we're interested in a man named Francis H Porter who we know owned land in Billerica in the 1920s. We want to learn what happened to that land. Because we know Porter owned the property and we want to discover who he transferred it to, we will look for Porter's name in the Grantor Index that covers the 1920s, so click on the "Pre-1976 Grantor Indexes" choice. The search windows to the right of the "" title at the top of the screen now change to show three fields: (1) Index; (2) Book (A-Z); Page Number. click the drop down arrow within the "index field". That gives you the date ranges of the various Grantor Index books. We'll start with the "1916-1925 Grantors". The next field - "Book" - can only contain the first letter of the last name of the person you're interested in so type "P" for Porter. Here's where we hit one of the shortcomings of the present system. The "page numbers" are literally numbers so you have no idea which page number of the index to turn to for "Porter." With a physical book, you'd estimate how far in "Porter" would appear, open the book there, and then flip forward or back until you found the right page. That's kind of what you have to do here. Click the "search" button. Across the bottom of the screen you'll see the numbers 1-10 followed by three dots. Click on the number ten. That retrieves the tenth page of index page numbers. Click on one of the individual page links. In the right hand window, click on the tab that says "Images" and the image of that page will appear. Keep jumping around until you find the page containing the information of interest to you. Once you've found the relevant page, just copy down the book and page number for any entries of interest, and then retrieve those documents separately from the site. Please note that this index feature uses a popup window to display the index page images, so you may have to click "allow popups from this website" to display things on your computer.

I told you it was a complicated process. We are working to simplify it but because some people from distant locations have no alternative, I thought I'd explain how to use the system as it now exists. Remember, if you're in the vicinity of the registry, you can always bring us your won 16GM computer thumb drive and we will copy the entire index onto it for your own use, free of charge.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Electrical Issues

For the past few months several of our computers have exploded while being plugged in. At the time we rationalized the situation with various possible excuses...dust or moist in the unit; possibly a bad power supply, a brief power surge ect. But recently the situation has escalated. Two days ago a surge protector exploded when a two year old scanner was plugged into it. The spark was so intense it cracked the unit's plastic frame.
And this morning things got even worse...we had two computers explode. One when first powered-up and the other about two minutes after. With the help of the Secretary of State's Office we had an electrician at the registry within hours of the incident this morning. His first look brought nothing unusual to his attention.
He determined further investigation was needed, so tomorrow the electrician will hook a computer up to the main breaker panel. The flow of current will be monitored for several days then the experts will assess the results.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

More culpability for the mortgage meltdown

Clayton Holdings is a company that analyzed mortgage pools for rating agencies such as Moody's and Standard and Poor's and many of the big Wall Street banks that bundled these mortgages into securities that were then resold. A former president of Clayton testified last week before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, a bipartisan, Congressionally appointed panel that is charged with investigating and reporting on the causes of the worldwide financial meltdown.

D. Keith Johnson told investigators that Clayton reported to banks and rating agencies that "vast numbers of loans were being packaged as securities even though they failed to meet underwriting standards." Rather than insist that these bad mortgages be bought back by the mortgage originators and replaced with more reliable ones, the banks squeezed originators such as Countrywide and Fremont financial to discount the mortgages which the originators did, happy to not have the burden of such bad mortgages returned to them. In turn, the big banks with the willing cooperation of their co-conspirators in the rating agencies, peddled these already failing mortgages as AAA bonds that were gobbled up by investors who were probably equal parts greedy and naive.

The Clayton story gives us some insight into how the widespread practice of making bad loans grew from a real estate crisis to a world financial crisis.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Looms at Boott Mill Lowell

This video was originally post on YouTube by lala412

Here is the video description:
The looms in the museum at Boott Mill in Lowell, MA. While only a few of the many looms were running, the noise in the room was deafening, so I lowered the sound and added a classical music piece as a soundtrack. The museum does offer earplugs. :-) At one point near the end, the second time I show the blue cloth being woven, there is a white thread marker that the "mill girl" added in the center of the fabric right before I started taping again to show how fast the looms weave - they do 140 - 150 rows per minute! The very last loom is the only 4 shaft automated loom in the factory. Since it can have 4 weft threads going at once, it can weave plaids - the others cannot. They can have different warp colors, but only one weft color going at a time.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Techie Shorts

Thursday a software glitch crashed the popular social networking site Facebook. For two hours and millions of Facebookers found themselves unable to answer the question “What's on your mind?

Just last week scientist released the results of testing that proved Einstein’s theory that time moves faster as an object moves away from the earth…interesting theory. With this in mind I have decided to extend my life by living mainly on the first floor of my house.

Rental movie giant Netflix is now offering a fee plan that will provide consumer “instant play” programs only (in Canada that is). This is surely a sign of the future of this industry.

For months, no for years rumors have circulated that Apple was on the verge of contracting with Verizon to allow the carrier to sell the iPhone. It looks like this is just that, a rumor. Verizon CEO, Ivan Siedenberg was quoted last week saying... “We don’t feel like we have an iPhone deficit”. I guess that will end speculation for a while.

No question Amazon’s e-reader, the Kindle is in a major battle with Apple’s iPad. In a move that will surely help its cause Kindle recently released an application that will allow its ebooks to be read on Andriod driven phones.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

"Reinstating" a mortgage

A major national lender contacted us with a question about "reinstating" a mortgage. The lender had erroneously recorded a discharge of a mortgage and is now trying to "reinstate" the mortgage. It seems that the lender's standard way of doing this is to send a letter to the registry stating something like "We erroneously send a discharge of [this] mortgage to your registry; Please reinstate our lien." I don't recall any such document being recorded here and I'm not quite sure what the lender would have to do to revive the mortgage. Since we are just the recording office, I don't have to judge whether the lender's approach does what it purports to accomplish. Still, it's an interesting issue.

The problem that I see concerns the nature of a mortgage. In Massachusetts, a mortgage is a conveyance of an interest in real estate. The borrower conveys to the lender an interest in the property so a mortgage is technically a deed and all deeds must be notarized to be recorded. When the mortgage is paid off, the lender conveys that interest back to the borrower. That document - the discharge - must also be notarized because it is a conveyance of an interest in real estate. My point is not that the "reinstatement" document needs to be notarized - my point is that if the bank has conveyed its interest in the property back to the borrower whether that was inadvertent or not, I'm not sure that the bank can unilaterally reinstate the loan. If the property interest went back to the homeowner, doesn't the homeowner have to convey that interest back to the bank to accomplish what the lender wants? If I learn anything more on this topic, I'll do a follow-up blog post.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

You've Got Mail...From Steve Jobs

This story is almost unbelievable, if it is true.

Let me ask you this...Can you image any circumstances under which the CEO of a mega-company would email a college student an tell her to “Please leaves us alone”.
What CEO would do that?
Apple CEO Steve Jobs did.
According to Post Long Island University student Chelsea Issacs she was trying to impress her journalism teacher by getting an outside quote for an article she was writing. She thought it would help her get a better grade. The ambitious young lady found a way to email Apple’s Prince Steve Jobs himself and asked for a comment.
Shockingly, the billionaire emailed back, but here is what he wrote “Our goals do not include helping you get a good grade”.
Steve, come on. Are you kidding? Why be like that? Why didn’t you just ignore the email.
Jobs response offended Chelsea and she wrote back...”If you get a message from a client or a customer isn’t it your job to return the call? That’s what I always thought, but I guess it’s not one of your goals”
OK Steve, drop this right now. You are above’re worth $5/6 billion. You don’t need this.
Did Steve take my advise? Not! Jobs writes back, “ Nope, we have over 300 million users and we can’t respond to every single request, unless they have a problem of some kind. Please leave us alone”.
Steve, Stevie, Steveo...I think you went too far.
Now Chelsea is famous. You look bad and I’ll bet, bet she got an A on that paper.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

GMAC halts foreclosures

GMAC announced that it would immediately halt all foreclosure related activity in 23 states (including Massachusetts, I believe) to complete a thorough review of their policies and procedures regarding foreclosures. The New York Times theorizes that with more and more jurisdictions requiring proof that the foreclosing lender is actually the legal holder of the underlying note and mortgage, GMAC's "fast and loose" approach to documenting transactions might now pose a substantial risk of liability to the company. If, for example, GMAC foreclosed on a mortgage that had not properly been assigned to it, the foreclosure could be void. If that property had already been sold to a third party buyer, that buyer's title would be flawed. GMAC's stand down is probably necessary to avoid additional problems, but this also means that more and more abandoned and thought-to-be-foreclosed homes currently on the market will remain unsold and unoccupied for months to come which in turn will further diminish the value of surrounding properties.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Redfin v Zillow

Two years ago a website called burst upon the scene providing extensive information about homes for sale. Last week, someone told me about a competing site called Redfin. I did a search on Redfin in my zip code and found most (but not all) of the houses for sale in my neighborhood. Different icons designate single family homes, multifamily homes and condominiums. Sliding the cursor over one of these icons displays the asking price plus the number of bedrooms and baths. Deeper into the site are interior photos of each of the properties and other data. Schools in the vicinity are also plotted on the map with icons and another feature provides you with the test scores of that school, comments from parents of children at the school and a variety of other information. For anyone interested in buying a home, these sites (Redfin and Zillow) are excellent tools to employ.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Trailer for "The Figther"

The trailer for The Fighter filmed right here in Lowell hit YouTube yesterday with as bang. After just one day, over 126,000 people have viewed the preview of what many think will be one of the top movies of the year. The movie tells the life story of Lowell's own boxing great, Irish Micky Ward . There are many recognizable scenes of Lowell in this 2:30 second trailer, but the most interesting for us is the scene filmed in the upper lobby of the Lowell Superior Courthouse, the home of the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds.

The movie stars Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale and will be released December 10, 2010.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

September 2010: mid-month statistics

With September half done (that's hard to believe) I decided to take a mid-month glimpse at our recording stats. Here are the number of major document types recorded from September 1 thru September 15 for 2008, 2009 and 2010.

Deeds: In 2008 there were 198; in 2009 there were 231; in 2010 there were 180

Mortgages: In 2008 there were 328; in 2009 there were 438; in 2010 there were 605

Foreclosure Deeds: In 2008 there were 19; in 2009 there were 14; in 2010 there were 33

Orders of notice: In 2008 there were 24; in 2009 there were 36; in 2010 there were 57

Total documents: In 2008 there were 1951; in 2009 there were 2390; in 2010 there were 2612

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Apple's Almost Jacket

I finally bought the new iPhone 4G.
I’ve had it for about two weeks now and yes, I like it.
Sure, I was a little nervous about purchasing the 4G because of the phone's reputation for dropping calls.
I bought it at the Apple Store and asked the salesman about the problem(he wouldn't call it a problem, rather an issue). He told me Apple would send me a "free jacket" for the phone that would resolve the problem, I mean issue.
Fortunately, after using the iPhone for two weeks I haven't lost a call, yet. But I sent away for the free Apple iPhone 4G "jacket" away. I got it yesterday.
It came in a hard, securely sealed case, so secure I had to cut it open with a knife.
According to Apple, an open seam in the chrome rim around the phone that acts as an antenna is the cause of the dropped calls, I mean issue. The purpose of the "free jacket" is to cover this seam.
Great...So I’m figuring, even if I don’t need it to prevent calls from dropping, the "jacket" will protect the phone.
Wow, I was shocked when I finally removed the so called "jacket" from the shipping box. It really isn’t a "jacket" at all. It is more like a “vest” with no back. This "almost jacket" only fits around the rim of the phone and affords no real protection whatsoever.
I laughed when I saw the "almost jacket". All I could think was how much I love Apple products, but how they don't give anything away for free... problem, I mean issue or no issue...not even a lousy, little, phone "jacket".

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Foreclosures and home values

I'm researching the long-term consequences of all the foreclosures we've experienced during the last few years and have some preliminary info worth sharing. In 2008 there were 376 foreclosures in Lowell. Of those, 367 properties (98%) were purchased at the foreclosure auction by the foreclosing lender. Of that group, 355 (97%) had been resold to third parties as of August 31, 2010. The average length of time from the date of the auction to the date of the third party sale for those 355 properties was 267 days which is just about 9 months. To determine the change in value of these properties, I randomly selected 75 of them and found the city of Lowell's FY2008 assessment. That averaged $268,601. That same group of 75 properties sold to third parties, post-foreclosure, for an average of $146,992 - a 45% decrease in value.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Registered Land Doc Check

Last month we began to quality check our Registered Land Documents. In Massachusetts the Registry of Deeds is required to keep all original Reg Documents in its possession. Currently, we store about 220,000 documents in plastic containers (I blogged on these containers last month). It is painstaking work that requires patience and concentration. An employee literally flips through the documents one at a time looking for those that are missing or misfiled. When he/she finds a problem the instrument number is written down. The "checker" finishes the day by refiling found documents correctly. An employee can check approximately 1500 documents in a day. At this pace it will take between 12-15 weeks to run through all 220,000 docs.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Mortgage fraud indictments

Today's Globe reports that a Massachusetts attorney has been indicted by the US Attorney for his role in a mortgage fraud scheme which recruited "investors" to purchase condominiums, mostly in Boston, under false pretenses. It seems that the condo buyers never had any intention in living in the units, but were persuaded by the attorney and his co-defendants to obtain mortgages by falsifying financial information and by indicating that they would occupy the condo units as personal residences when that was not the case. Predictably, most of these units are in foreclosure.

Although bending and breaking the rules becomes commonly accepted practice during boom times, the state must aggressively prosecute all who participated in schemes such as this and fully publicize such prosecutions, both as a deterrent to future wrongdoing and as an acknowledgment to the public that those who break the rules will be punished.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Electronic Recording Stats

During the last few days of August, it seemed like we were processing a never-ending stream of electronic recordings, certainly more than would normally be the case. To quantify this impression, I reviewed our electronic recording stats for this summer. From June 1 to August 31, we recorded a total of 16,067 documents, 2578 of which were recorded electronically. This accounts for 16% of all recordings, a significant percentage increase over the 12% we have averaged for several years. And yes, August 27 (the last Friday of the month) and August 31 (the last day of the month) both were particularly busy with e-recordings - 80 each day whereas our daily average through the summer was just 40. Some more averages: of the 40 docs recorded each day, 15 are discharges, 11 are mortgages, 2 are deeds and 12 fall into other categories.

Why the upsurge in electronic recording? I think more registries are offering the service so our customers see some economies of scale in using the system. When Middlesex North was the only one operating electronic recording, there wasn't much incentive for an attorney to devote time and resources to learning the system. Also, after six years of electronic recording, there have been no incidents, no reversals, no complaints. For many attorneys, that's a long enough test drive. Now they're finally ready to make the jump.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Google TV is Coming

Google TV is coming this Fall and if it lives up to the hype it will change our television viewing experience forever. Google TV will run Google Android software.

What’s the big deal?

Why don’t I let Google explain it themselves...

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Let the market fall?

Over the weekend an article in the New York Times suggested that some economists and housing analysts are coming to the conclusion that the only way out of our current housing slump is to let the market fall to whatever level occurs naturally. The reasoning is that all of the steps taken by the federal government thus far - the home buyer tax credit, incredibly low interest rates, foreclosure prevention programs - have been unsuccessful in halting the skid of the market. There's now a sense that even though a further drop in prices would cause even more pain, such a drop is the only way to break through the stagnation that now grips the market.

In the past I've written about this approach with regard to foreclosed properties - that lenders should move quickly to execute the foreclosure and get the properties back on the market and in the hands of new owners as soon as possible, but the type of blanket approach suggested in this article seems extreme even to me.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Hurricane Earl

A quick glance at online weather radar shows that the leading edge of the rain accompanying Hurricane Earl has reached Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard and continues pushing in this direction so we could see rain by lunch time. Even now (10:15 am) the sky has clouded over and is looking ominous. Other than some stiff wind and a lot of rain, this part of the Merrimack Valley should avoid the worst of the storm.

The same was not the case seventy-two years ago. On September 21, 1938, a devastating hurricane tore through New England, killing hundreds. The storm first made landfall on the outer edge of Long Island and then slammed into the Rhode Island coast and crossed through central Massachusetts and Vermont.

Here in Greater Lowell, the hurricane killed one man, injured dozens and caused at least $1 million in property damage. Here is the beginning of the top story in an "extra" edition of the Lowell Sun published late on the night of Wednesday, September 31, 1938:

Lowell went under martial law tonight as the city was ripped, torn and laid waste by the worst gale in its history. Terrifying in its intensity and rising in whining crescendo to high-pitched moans, the wind hit with hurricane force shortly before 5 p.m. Sweeping in from due east, it rapidly stepped up its velocity to a maximum of 65 miles an hour. It whipsawed every living thing, toppled trees by the hundreds, smashed roofs, doors and windows, menaced life and limb and ran up a property toll that will run into thousands of dollars.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Registry records on Google Books?

This past Monday I attended a meeting in Boston with most of my register of deeds colleagues to discuss technology. Electronic recording and the cost of storing archival microfilm were two big topics, but Greg, the IT guy from the registry in Springfield, said something that got me thinking about new ways to use existing technology.

when Hampden County was abolished as a governmental entity, the registry of deeds inherited records from the county agencies that were going away - like the county commissioners and the engineers. The registry recently scanned old books containing meeting minutes of county government and succeeded in sharing the resulting digital images with Google Books.

Google Books is a great (and free) service whereby Google has scanned millions of pages of out-of-copyright books and made the images freely available online. What's especially nice about Google Books is the service's ability to search for a word or words within the digital text of a scanned image.

This type of software has amazing implications for registries of deeds. Imagine seeking a deed from 1938 to Richard Howe for property at 360 Gorham Street. Using software like that on Google Books, you could perform a search for the words "Howe" and "Gorham" and the computer would scan through all of our images, locating every one that contained those two words. I'm not advocating the replacement of the grantor and grantee indexes. They will still be vital to the performance of a traditional title exam, but many of our users, particularly those interested in history or genealogy would greatly benefit from such a simple, stream-lined way of finding documents.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Google Trends

You know what I think is really cool and fun to play around with?
“Google Trends”.

Did you know that Google keeps statistics on searches made with its engine?
Oh sure, some people might get bent out of shape about this and scream “Big Brother”...but really, no names are attached to the results, so I don’t find it a problem.

Anyway...Google takes these results and compiles them for the public to review...and the numbers are really interesting. In my opinion these statistics represent an unscientific reflection of the American public’s mind.

Here is an example of what I am talking about.

Today (September 1, 2010) the Top Ten Hot Topics being researched on Google are:
Venus Williams
Tropical Storm Fiona
The Blaze
Mike Wise
Meghan McCain
Hurricane Earl
Cancun Bar
xbox live
White Sox

Pretty cool right?

And if you click on one of these topics a bar graph displays showing the search activity at certain times of day.
Pretty cool again, right?

But the most fascinating part of Google Trends are the updates.
Here is how it works...if you click one of the Top Ten Hot items...a long list of tweets and news stories related to the selected topic is displayed and “updated in real-time”. Its like a scrolling information board.
Don’t think its is pretty cool, yet?

Well, how about this. Not only can you view real-time updates for the top ten topics, you can search your own topic.
I did it.
I put the words “real estate” in the search criteria and tweets and news stories dealing with real estate came up every ten seconds or so...It was amazing.

So this is what I’m thinking...When there is a major storm coming (like Hurricane Earl) or a major news event happening...all you have to do is plug the topic in and watch news about it in real time.

Pretty cool, right? I thought you’d agree