Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Housing malaise continues

We still have a few hours to go before May comes to an end, but here's an early glimpse at this month's numbers compared to May 2010. District-wide, foreclosures are still down with 43 foreclosure deeds this month compared to 57 in May 2010 and 61 orders of notice compared to 77 in May 2010. Unfortunately, the number of deeds and mortgages recorded are both down substantially, deeds by 26% and mortgages by 20%.

Depending on how busy it is here this afternoon, those figures could improve slightly, but I suspect the deed/mortgage declines are tangible evidence of the continued problems with housing prices that is detailed in this front-page story in today's New York Times.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Spring Photos Lowell Superior Courthouse

Spring has definitely arrived here at the Lowell Superior Courthouse, home of the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds...check it out:
(Click photo to enlarge)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Homesteads on manufactured homes

A little noticed provision of both the old and new homestead law allowed the owner of a "manufactured home" - which I believe includes mobile homes of the type that sit in "mobile home parks" and serve as the primary residence of inhabitants - to file a homestead. Under the former law, such homesteads were filed with the Town Clerk for the town in which the mobile home was located. The new law changed that. Now, such homesteads are to be recorded at the registry of deeds.

One problem with this new practice involves the "deed reference" that should appear on the homestead. The owner of the mobile home typically owns just the home and not the land upon which it sits. In that case, there would be no deed into the mobile home owner. What to put on the homestead form? My recommendation is that the declarant of the homestead cite the book and page number of the deed into the owner of the property - presumably the person or entity to whom the mobile home owner pays rent.

As a practical matter, I don't believe that a homestead must contain any deed reference. I believe the practice prevails for at least two reasons: the homestead must adequately describe the property. Relying solely on the address can be troublesome as addresses vary over time. Therefore, it's better to have some parallel means of identifying the property. That could be the full property description that would typically be in the deed, or it could be an "incorporation by reference" inclusion of the book and page number of the deed.

Beyond describing the property adequately, including the deed book and page number tells us whether the property is registered land or recorded land. Placing the homestead on the proper "side" of the registry is critically important to the validity of the homestead. For that reason, we will require owners of "manufactured homes" to list the book and page number of the land owner's deed on the homestead.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Dear Spirit

This morning NASA decided to end communication with its Martian space rover named Spirit. For over a year NASA has tried unsuccessful to communicate with no response from the Martian rover. The news of the break up shocked the space world. But, in my opinion, perhaps rather than just ending it, NASA should have sent Spirit a "Dear John" letter, and so I image...

Dear Spirit,

I have struggled looking for the right words to use and finally realized being blunt is best. Its over between us... I'm through trying. I've done all I can. I'm breaking it off. Its been a long time coming. I'm sure you know there is nothing between us anymore.

I remember when our long distance relationship first began. You took off on June 10, 2003...eight years ago. Many said, with you on Mars and me on Earth, we won't last long together. But you were new, exciting and adventurous. Everyone was amazed we didn't let 36 million miles come between us.

Memories? Sure we have many...I'll never forget those first pictures you sent me...they knocked me for a loop. I looked at them over and over, still do. But the pictures were nothing compared to that special day in February of 2004 when you ground a Martian rock, just for me.

I'll admit it. I was star struck...I'll never forget how thrilled you were when I sent you a software upgrade in 2007.

But its all gone now...It is like we are from different worlds.
In our early days together, we never went an hour, never mind a day, without meaningful communication. But now, I feel as through we've lost touch with each other. In fact I think the last time I heard from you was March of last year...a sure sign something is broken between us.

When you left, don't you think it killed me to think of you being so far away and for such a long time. A wise philosopher once said "distance makes the heart grow fonder (or is it absence?) Its not true with us..

Spirit, you will always be special to me...but the time has come for me to stop punishing myself.

So this is my final "Roger and out".


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Switch to new Masslandrecords delayed

Despite my assertions last week that we would now make the new version of Masslandrecords the default search engine for the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds website, we have decided to delay that cut-over for a few more weeks. I'm not exactly sure what's to be done in the meantime - some more tweaking, I believe - but the new version is active and available. I urge you to check it out and begin using it now. You will have a head start on everyone else was the new version becomes the default program. to access to the Middlesex North corner of the new Masslandrecords, CLICK HERE.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Bank-owned real estate a threat to recovery

Today's New York Times has an article that explores the risk to any real estate recovery posed by the nearly 900,000 homes that are owned around the country by banks. These properties were all the subject of foreclosure auctions at which the foreclosing lender was the high bidder. The concern is that if all of these properties are all simultaneously dumped on the market at "priced-to-sell" prices, it could drive down values even more, creating a new cycle of foreclosures. Representatives of some of the larger real estate-owning financial institutions all assert that such a rapid sell off would also be against their own economic self-interest because they want to maximize the amounts received when these homes are sold. Still, external factors could accelerate the intended pace of sales and inadvertently cause the contemplated problem.

Friday, May 20, 2011

"Search Criteria" and the New Masslandrecords

Perhaps the most important geography on the new Masslandrecords site is at the very top, the "Search Criteria" link. There, users will find access to every conceivable method of searching the registry's records. The following is a brief overview of the various search options with some helpful hints where necessary.

In all cases, users are first presented with a very basic search option with only a few fields available to enter variables. This is purposeful since we have found that many new users tend to overpopulate fields - if there's a field, they see it as mandatory not optional - and this overpopulation tends to exclude from the search relevant entries. To avoid this, the new design initially offers only the minimum fields necessary. Regular users, however, may expand the number of fields available for refining their searches by clicking the "advanced search" link.

Name Search provides three fields: last name, first name and party type which is a drop down menu with the options being grantor and grantee. HINT: "Party Type" used to have much more relevance when the indexes were divided between two separate sets of books. With everything now in the same computer database, the importance of the grantor-grantee distinction is greatly diminished.

Book Search provides two possible fields: book and page. HINT: to view multiple documents from the same book, just enter the book number and leave the page number blank.

Document Search gives you two fields: the start document and end document. HINT: if you are only interested in a single document, put that number alone in the start document field. BUT, remember that document numbers are reused from year to year so the results for document 2500, for example, will include many documents bearing that number, each from a different year.

Property Search allows you to enter street number, street name and choose town name from a drop-down menu. HINT: Don't add the street suffix (i.e., "STREET, ST, AVENUE, AVE, etc) since the way that word is entered in the database may vary. HINT 2: If you can't find what you're looking for, try doing the search by leaving "street #" blank. Properties often have variable numbers such as 15 or 15-17 or 15D. If you search only for "15" none of the other variants will show up.

Recorded Date gives you a start and end date of the search plus a drop down menu of document types to use if you're just looking for a particular type of document. For example, if you want to see all deeds recorded for April 2011, enter 04/01/2011 in the start window and 04/30/2011 in the end window and select DEED from the drop down menu. If you're looking for all documents recorded for a particular date range, remember that during 2004 we were routinely handling 700-800 documents per day so if your range is too broad, you'll be left with thousands of documents returned.

Unindexed Property Search is to retrieve documents that were recorded prior to 1976. These are not covered by the computerized index and are available only as single page TIFF images. If you have a multi-page document from Book 800, you would come here and pull up each of the pages individually from this section. HINT: We've been doing "back indexing" on an on-going basis and are back to the late 1960s. As documents are indexed, they are switched over to the regular portion of our computerized index described above.

Unindexed Pre-1855 Books. This registry was created in 1855. The first book for the new registry was Book 1 but documents for the land in the Middlesex North District had already been recorded for hundreds of years previously. These previously recorded documents were extracted from the older Middlesex South books by hand copying them into a new, separate set of books here at Middlesex North. To retrieve these documents, you need the book and page number and the town in which the land was located in 1855.

Pre-1976 Grantor (and Grantee) Index. Our computerized index begins in 1976 (although that now stretches back into the late 1960s as described above). Older indexes have been scanned and are available here at the registry as a type of electronic book that allows users to scroll through the images of the index just as they'd scroll through the original index book. We have now added these images of the older indexes to the new masslandecrecords website. These old paper-based indexes were consolidated by date range (for example 1856-1880, 1881-1900, and so on). This new feature gives users three variables: the date range, the "book" which is simply the letter of the alphabet the name you're searching falls within and the "page". This page feature is not of practical use right now because it's literally a single number among up to a thousand pages within that set. To find the page of interest to you on the system as it now exists, you have to guess at what page it might be on. We do have a modification in the works that will substitute these individual page numbers with the first name that appears on that page of the index (which is how the in-registry system operates). We expect this modification to be deployed in about six weeks. Once that happens, you'll be able to look for the name closest to the one of interest to you and be more precise about locating that page.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

New Masslandrecords video tutorials

The start page of the new Masslandrecords site contain links to three helpful videos that explain how to navigate around the site. Also available are some downloadable instructions sheets that will prove very useful during this cut over period.

Here's the first video:

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Good News & Bad News

There is good news and bad news concerning foreclosures in Massachusetts.

First the good news...

According to a Boston Globe article dealing with foreclosures:

There were 518 (foreclosure deeds) in April, a 6.2 percent decline from March and a 62.3 percent slide from the 1,375 recorded in April 2010. Through the first four months of 2011, there have been 2,111 deeds recorded, a 56.2 percent decrease from January through April of last year.

And now the bad news...

According a Boston Globe article dealing with foreclosures:

The 1,192 foreclosure petitions filed last month (April) marked a nearly 14 percent increase over March and was the highest monthly total since September, according to data released yesterday by Warren Group, a Boston company that tracks local real estate. A petition is typically triggered when a homeowner is more than three months behind on mortgage payments, and is the first step in the foreclosure process.

You can read the Globe article in its entirety here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The evolution of the new masslandrecords

Here's my (unofficial) explanation of how the "new" version of masslandrecords came into being:

This registry was the first in the state to install the ACS 20/20 system for use within the registry of deeds. That happened in June 2002. Some months after that, in the midst of the system's deployment to other registries, the masslandrecords website went active. By that point, users had grown comfortable with the in-registry version of 20/20 but the web version was markedly different. Almost immediately there was a widespread desire expressed by users to make the web version look and behave more like the in-house version. Because of continuing deployments of the in-house system to other registries, changing the already functioning masslandrecords site was not a priority.

Finally, in January 2007, all of the registers of deeds from those sites that used the 20/20 system met with representatives of ACS and the Secretary of State's office to discuss masslandrecords. At that meeting, I exhibited a Power Point presentation that gave a side-by-side comparison of the in-house 20/20 system and the masslandrecords website. At that meeting, we collectively agreed to changes that should be made to masslandrecords to meet customer desires that it look and act more like the in-house system. Foremost among those modifications was a desire that all names returned pursuant to a search be listed in alphabetical order (the masslandrecords methodology presented just a single instance of each name variant with a number of times that name variant existed - to display them required one to display another layer of data).

Also, we had found that casual users who called for assistance via the telephone were routinely led astray by all the search options presented on the initial view of the website. A better approach, we felt, was to initially present a simple search (name only) with no variables but with an easy option to do an "advanced search" with all the variables available on the in-house version.

For a variety of reasons, it took several years to move from concept to reality with these new revisions. Ironically, by the time the prototype of the "new" site became available for testing, most users had grown quite comfortable with the initial version of masslandrecords (the one that had earned all of the complaints in its early existence) and were uncomfortable with the new system. Plus, the new system had some performance problems that created unreasonably long response times to searches. The new site went back for modification which have all been made, greatly improving the performance from that seen at its initial roll out.

The features of the new site continue to be quite desirable and, once people grow used to it, I believe it will be universally embraced. Besides the improved functionality of the new version, however, the old version was built upon obsolete technology that risks being left behind my contemporary hardware and software. Consequently, although it may not be visible to the user, the new version of masslandrecords will perform better and be easier to maintain moving into the future.

Monday, May 16, 2011

New MassLandRecords coming next week

The long-awaited cut-over to the new version of www.masslandrecords.com will occur for this registry next Monday, May 23, 2011. When accessing it through the "search" box on www.lowelldeeds.com, users will now go directly to the "new" version of the land records site.

This new version was first unveiled more than a year ago for customer testing. Based on feedback that was received at that time, the activation of the new version as the primary site was deferred until some requested modifications and changes could be made. With that process complete, it's now time to activate the new version as the primary means of accessing our records via the internet.

We are urging people to opt to use the new version now to accelerate the process of becoming familiar with it. In the coming days, we'll be writing exclusively about the new site and its features. In the meantime, please check it out.

Friday, May 13, 2011

"Doors Open Lowell" tomorrow

Throughout the day tomorrow (Saturday, May 14) many of Lowell's most historic buildings will be open for public viewing. The Middlesex Superior Courthouse, home of the Registry of Deeds, is among the participants this year. With the new Judicial Center close to becoming a reality which will lead to all court operations vacating this building, this might be one of the last opportunities you have to see the inside of this marvel of late 19th Century engineering and design. The courthouse will be open from 10 am until 1 pm tomorrow. Please join us.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Who's Driving That Car

Can you image driving a car and text messaging at the same time? Or how about driving while watching movie?
Too dangerous you say?
Maybe not...Google has been working on a self-driving car for several years now and the company now wants to take it to the real road.
But what real road? Where?
Google is asking Nevada officials to be the first state to legalize the use of self-driving cars. But this requires new legislation, so Google is lobbying Nevada law makers to change/pass a law to make its revolutionary vehicle legal.
You might be thinking...What are they crazy? A car without a driver. That's not safe.
But google has test driven its self-driving car for over 140,000 miles... and the attorney lobbying the Nevada state legislature for google states that its robotic car is safer than a car driven by a human.

Below is a video of a google self-driving car.

Driving My Car?

Can you image driving a car and text messaging on your phone? Or how about driving while watching movie?
Too dangerous you say?
Maybe not...Google has been working on a self-driving car for several years now and the company feels it is ready take it to the real road.
But what real road?
Google is asking Nevada officials to be the first state to legalize self-driving cars. But doing this requires new legislation, so Google is lobbying Nevada law makers to change/pass a law to make its revolutionary vehicle legit.
You might be thinking...What are they crazy? A car without a driver. That's not safe.
But google has test driven its self-driving car for over 140,000 miles... and the attorney lobbying the Nevada state legislature for google states that its robotic car is safer than a car driven by a human.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Regsitry Scanners

Over the years the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds has used numerous scanners with many various unique functions. Below are the scanners that are in use today with a brief description of what they do.

The Xerox 6204 Wide format scanner is used to scan our plans. It is also a plan printer.

The Minolta PS7000 is an overhead scanner that we use to scan large maps and books. It was purchase to digitize books we do not want to disassemble.

The Kodak 3520DS was installed at the registry when the ACS Computer system came in. It served as a daily scanner for about five years. When we replaced it with a newer model we used this Kodak to scan all of our back registered land documents...this machine scanned closed to 500,000 images for the Reg Land project alone. Today we use the Kodak to rescan books.

We use this small Epson GT2500 for general "tif" image scanning of administrative documents.

The 6670 Fujitsu is our daily scan. We have two of this model in service. This machine is one of three "work-horses" that get high volume use here at the registry of deeds.

The Fujitsu 5650C also scans our daily work. It is one of the three work-horses I referred to above.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Apple Brand Value Soars to Number One

Way back in 1985 Apple officials fired Steve Jobs from the company he found. After his ouster Apple lost its innovative edge as well as profits. In 1996 the faltering company rehired Jobs as its CEO and the rest is history. During the Job II reign Apple totally reinvented itself and regained its place as a technology leader. The turn around is unquestionable one of the greatest in American business history. According to Millard Brown Optmor's annual BrandZ Apple is now the most valuable brand in the world.

OK, your little tease above got my interest. What is the value of the Apple brand?
Me: Tease? Me tease? No way...Anyway, Apple's brand value is $153 billion dollars, making it the number one brand valued tech company on the planet.
Him: Come on, Google must be valued higher than Apple. Google's got Gmail, Google Earth, Street View, Google Doc's and Google Books, not to mention the most popular search engine "on the planet" as you would say.
Me: Nope...Google's brand comes in second to Apple's. Google is valued at $111 billion!
Him: What about Microsoft? I read this blog often. You're always writing about Microsoft, referring to it as the industry's "colossus". Its brand must be more valuable that Apple.
Me: Thank you for reminding me of my past use of exaggeration, but regardless of my hyperbole, the Microsoft brand is not valued as high as Apple. Its value is $78 billion.
Him: Facebook is huge today.
Me: No, not as big...Facebook's brand value is $19.1 billion.
Him: IBM?
Me: Nope, but close...$100,849 billion.
Him: Amazon?
Me: Nope again...$37,277 brand value.
Him: HP! What about Hewlett-Packard?! What about Oracle?! Cisco?! Intel?!
Me: No, no, no and sorry no!
Him: Wow, I guess Steve Jobs did work magic at Apple.
Me: Yeah, I guess you could say he pulled an iRabbit out of his hat.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Number of Court Executions up

At the end of April I reported that the number of Orders of Notice recorded was up considerably when compared to the same month last year. There were 97 orders of notice in April 2010 and 115 in April 2011, a jump of 19%. Today I looked at some other document types that are indicators of bad times. Tax liens, both state and federal, were about the same as a year ago. But executions, the document a court issues to a plaintiff to collect the judgment won in a law suit, were up more than 50% (73 in April 2010 and 112 in April 2011).

I scanned through the recent executions looking for any patterns. Most were from Citibank with average indebtedness in excess of $10,000. There were also a few other giant national lenders such as Wells Fargo and Capital ONE in this group, but Citi had the most by far. Next was a group of third party collection outfits with names like "Portfolio Recovery Associates" and "Advantage Assets." The execution amount in these cases averaged between $8,000 and $12,000. Then there were a bunch of retailers like Lowe's, Sears and Best Buy. The amount owed to them was closer to $2500 to $4000.

This increase in executions provides further evidence that consumer credit remains a problem.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Video of the New Lowell Superior Courthouse Elevator

The elevator at the Lowell Superior Courthouse, home of the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds is finished and it fits well with the building. I shot this video while taking my first "ride" to the second floor.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

New neighbors for Superior Court

The Lowell Sun reports today that the Coalition for a Better Acre, a 30 year old community development agency in Lowell, will soon purchase the former St Peter's Church site that is across Gorham Street from the Middlesex Superior Court (which is home of the registry of deeds) and will construct 48 units of housing in two separate buildings on the site. The existing building, the former church rectory which is now home to James L Cooney Real Estate/Insurance and several law offices will also be sold, but it is expected that all of those entities will remain as tenants. St Peter's Church was torn down in 1996 because of structural weakness caused by "deferred maintenance" on the structure.

I don't know the particulars of this project, but I do know several people who are familiar with other projects undertaken by CBA and the comments are uniformly positive.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

SJC clarifies "unauthorized practice of law"

The Supreme Judicial Court recently released an advisory opinion on Real Estate Bar Association v national Real Estate Information Services. REBA initially sued NREIS over the latter's involvement in real estate closings, arguing that NREIS was conducting the unauthorized practice of law. The case maneuvered its way to the US Court of Appeals which then requested the SJC to clear up what portions of conveyancing constituted the practice of law in Massachusetts. Like most cases, the decision (SJC-10744) is lengthy and will take several readings to digest. In the meantime, here are some quotes from the opinion which was authored by Justice Botsford:

"Title examinations and the preparation of title abstracts generally do not constitute the practice of law."

"Providing opinions or advice regarding marketability of title . . . would constitute the practice of law."

"Drafting and preparing documents for others, including documents with legal implications, does not automatically constitute the practice of law."

"Because deeds pertaining to real property directly affect significant legal rights and obligations, the drafting for others of deeds to real property constitutes the practice of law in Massachusetts."

"preparation of settlement statements and other mortgage-related forms . . . does not constitute the practice of law."

"Neither reviewing documents to ensure valid execution nor delivering documents to the appropriate registry of deeds for recording constitutes the practice of law."

"Disbursing mortgage funds does not in and of itself qualify as the practice of law."

"The issuance of insurance policies generally does not constitute the practice of law in Massachusetts."

"A lawyer is a necessary participant at the closing to direct the proper transfer of title and consideration and to document the transaction, thereby protecting the private legal interests at stake as well as the public interest in the continued integrity and reliability of the real property recording and registration systems."

"A post-closing 'rundown' of title to ensure that no encumbrances have been placed on the property prior to recording may constitute the practice of law as part of an over-all determination of marketability of title."

While the SJC opinion is packed with interesting and useful verbiage such as that repeated above, the court makes clear that the absence of key evidence in the record upon which it based its decision prevented the court from giving a clear yes or no answer to this question. I'm not sure what the next step will be, but we'll revisit this case in the coming days.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Internet Explorer Continues Decline

For the past two years or so I have used both Chrome and Firefox as my Internet browser. I gave up completely on Internet Explorer after a bad virus crippled my computer. I read that most hackers design programs to attack Internet Explorer, so I figured if I dumped IE the chances of getting another costly computer virus would lessen significantly...and fortunately, it has.

Apparently, I am not the only person to discover that there is a world outside Internet Explorer.

The most recent statistics on Internet browser use shows that IE has dropped to its lowest point in history... capturing only 55.1% of Internet users. At one time this figure hovered around 90%.

Of course, a decrease in IE use means an increase in the use of other Internet browsers.

Here is a list of the world's main browsers and their market share:

Microsoft Firefox 21.6%
Google Chrome 12%
Apple Safari 7.2%
Opera 2.1%

I rarely use Safari and have never used Opera so I hold judgment on these, but Firefox and Chrome are both excellent browsers. They will continue to take more and more market share from Internet Explorer in the coming years.