Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Google "Indoor Maps"

This is really cool, seriously.

Google is offering "indoor maps" for your smartphone.I'm talking about maps of the indoor layout of buildings...buildings like malls, airports, large parks etc.

Just think of the're in a mall and you feel like a cup of coffee, you wonder..."where's the coffee shop?". With google "indoor maps" all you have to do is pull out your phone, and google will determine where you are then display the floor plan of the mall... just zoom in and bingo, there's the coffee shop.

Of course, google indoor maps is in its infancy stage, so not many buildings are available right now...but as time goes on google will quickly build its inventory and surely plot larger facilities first.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Good News & Bad News About Real Estate Market

Yesterday, the Massachusetts Association of Realtors released a report on single-family home sales for October. The reports indicates some good news and some bad news.

First, the good news...Sales of single-family homes in Massachusetts rose 3% in October from a a year ago.

Now the bad news...the median selling price of a single-family home in Massachusetts dropped by 5.2%.

This is the fourth month in a row that sales have increased while prices have dropped.

Here are some specifics in the report taken from

During October, 3,057 detached single-family homes were sold in Massachusetts, and the median selling price for the month was $275,000, down from $290,000 in October 2010, the association said.As for the Bay State’s condominium market, 1,038 condos were sold in October, up 0.78 percent from the number in October 2010; condominium median selling prices in October were up 4.08 percent from the October 2010 median price to $255,00, the association said.
But the "big picture view" of the Massachusetts real estate market still shows trouble. Experts predict that sales for 2011 will be down from 2010 and 2009 while Foreclosures increase.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday activity set records. And as I mentioned above, real estate sales improved over the past four months of 2011. These are positive signs...but the question is, are they real indicators of long term improvement to our slumping real estate market?

We all hope so.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Cyber Monday Growing

I remember a few years back when I first wrote about Cyber Monday, I thought it really was just another marketing gimmick for retailers.

I guess I was wrong.

Cyber Monday has become a major shopping event and a major money maker for retailers.

It is not just a shopping day for techie people anymore. In fact, experts estimate that 120 million people will shop online today with sales topping of $1 billion. That's about 10% of all holiday sales.

I found it interesting to discover that 71% of people who own a tablet computer will shop online and 53% who own smartphones will shop online.

The increase in Cyber Monday sales is a true indication that more and more people feel safe shopping online. Of course, the Internet is threatened by hackers and phony deals, but online consumers have become more sophisticated and better at steering away from dangerous Internet areas. This new consumer confidence has led to a 20% increase in 2010 sales over 2009.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Fun App Gets Me in Trouble

The other day I found a fun App for my iPhone...actually, it was a little too much fun, for me anyway. Let me explain...

The App is called RedLaser. It is a barcode scanner/reader and its free.

Here's how it works...Simply point your smartphone camera at a product's barcode label and RedLaser captures the product information, then makes a beeping sound just like the one at a store's checkout counter. After RedLaser reads the barcode label, it displays the price, manufacturer, reviews and price of the product at competing stores.

As I said...its a fun App, BUT...

Last Tuesday my wife and I went food shopping for Thanksgiving. I hate stores and I hate shopping, usually. But I must admit, I was excited to go that day...Why?, because I wanted to try out RedLaser.

As I entered the store I immediately showed my wife my new product scanner App. "Watch this", I said as I picked up a loaf of bread, aimed the camera and RedLaser read the code. "See, see it says the product is bread and its cost $2.50 and you can buy it in XYZ store for $2.40". My wife snapped back "Yeah, I can tell its bread by looking at it and we are not in XYZ store".

As we strolled the aisles I purposefully drifted away from her so I could give RedLaser a good test ride.

I picked up a bag of potato chips...pointed, scanned, and heard my phone beep, potato chips $2.99, XYZ store price $2.79. My wife caught up with me. "What are you doing?" she asked. "Just scanning this item", I told her. "Put that away. You can hear that stupid beep all over the store".

I didn't put it away...I moved a few aisles away from her and... beeeep, scanned a can of peas. I saw a customer turn and look at me. I didn't care. Beeeep, I scanned a six pack of English Muffins; Beeeep, a dozen eggs; Beeeep, a bag of carrots. Then another customer gave me a smirky stare. Beeeep, who cares, beeeep, I love this App, beeeep, more stares... beeeep, beeeep.

I got tired of the dirty looks, so I found a quiet area in the frozen food section. I picked up a turkey, aimed and beeeep. I tried beeeep. What the heck? The barcode label was on the rounded part of the breast so RedLaser was having trouble reading it.

Determined, I turned the turkey on its side, aimed, pointed...still no beeeep. I stood it upright, aimed, pointed... again no beeeep. In frustration my attention turned away from the stubborn, frozen turkey. It was then I noticed a store manager with his hands on his hips eyeballing me. He began walking toward me. Quickly, I gave the turkey one last try, aim, point, success!...beeeep rang out of my phone. The manager moved faster.

Just then my wife appeared out of nowhere..."give me that phone before you get thrown out of the store", she says as she grabbed it from my hand. The manager stopped dead in his tracks. I glanced at him and sheepishly muttered I followed behind my wife like a naughty schoolboy.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Home prices continue to drop

The Globe reported yesterday that the median sales price for single family homes in Massachusetts dropped 3.2% in FY11 (July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2011) when compared to FY10 (July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010).  This news prompted me to do some simple calculations based on deed recordings here at the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds.  Our system does not contain information on the usage of properties, so we can't tell whether a deed is for a single family home, an industrial building, or a vacant lot, but we do have prices and dates and addresses, so our information is of some use.

To do this analysis, I found the median price of the consideration stated on deeds recorded where the consideration was more than $60,000 and less than $900,000.  This should eliminate all related-party transfers and sales for less than full consideration.  It would also eliminate major developments in the million dollar range which, if included, might skew the numbers.

Here's what I found: the median price of all deeds recorded in calendar 2010 for the entire registry district was $251,000 while the median price for deeds recorded during the first ten months of 2011 was $246,000 which represents at drop of 2%.  When the 2011 number is compared to the median deed price in 2007 ($280,000), we find a decrease of 12%.  Looking back before the real estate boom commenced, back to 2002, we find a median deed price of $249,900 which is almost exactly the same as the current median price.

Monday, November 21, 2011

iCar Remote...Sure

So I'm surfing the Internet for a topic for today's blog and I come across something called RedLaser which is an App that reads barcode labels. It sounds interesting, so I start looking for a RedLaser YouTube video that I can include with the blog entry. Success, but my interest is diverted to the "related video" section and a video that calls itself, "the coolest iPhone App Ever". The App is called iCar Remote.

Here is the YouTube posters' write up on the video

iCar Remote. It's basically a remote control for your car. Control windows and even drive it! Awesome. Get it from the APP STORE off your iphone.

Now, here is the video of coolest App ever

Disclaimer: If you are interested in purchasing iCar Remote I'll bet the manufacturer would be willing to throw in a bridge in Brooklyn for no additional cost.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Jobs, Gates and GUI

I find technology and the men and women that develop it fascinating. Specifically, Steve Jobs (Apple) and Bill Gates (Microsoft) capture my imagination. Recently, I came across an interesting confrontation between these two titans. At the center of the conflict was something called Graphical User Interface or GUI. I know, it sounds complicated, but stick with me here, its really not. You already know all about GUI and this is an interesting story...let me continue.

Back in the early days, computers could only generate and display small green (or gray) letters on a dark screen (if you are old like me, you'll remember this). The user controlled a computer by entering a "command prompt"...something like C:/config, (stuff like that). Computers could not display pictures, graphics, banners, etc...just boring little green letters (or gray).

Enter a genius (no, not Steve Jobs or Bill Gates)...In the late 1970's Xerox Company (yes, the copier company) developed a computer operating system that used a mouse and something called bit-mapping to command the computer. All the user had to do was move the mouse's arrow to an icon and click. Yes, you're right, this is the same system we use today to command a computer. This mouse driven system is called a Graphical User Interface system. I told you, this was easy...stick with me.

OK, lets get back to Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. In 1979 Steve Jobs was invited to visit a Xerox Development Lab where he saw the revolutionary GUI (Graphical User Interface) in operation for the first time. Xerox's system wowed Jobs. He immediately assigned his Apple Engineers the task of duplicating the GUI to be used on Apple's new Macintosh Computer.

In 1984 the Macintosh made history when it was released with Apple's version of Xerox's Graphical User Interface.

OK, now to Bill Gates, so stick with me here...

The following year Gates' was running his small software development company named Microsoft. Microsoft did some work for Apple in those days so Gates and Jobs knew each other. Shortly after the release of the Macintosh, Bill Gates released his own Graphical User Interface operating system called Windows. When Steve Jobs found out he was furious.

Stick with me here, this gets good...

The anger Jobs called Gates to his office (remember in those days Jobs was a big timer and Gates was a small timer). According to Gates, during the meeting Jobs lambasted him for developing Windows and accused him of stealing Apple's Graphical User Interface Technology.

"I trusted you", Jobs screamed, "and now you're stealing from us!". Gates took all of Jobs' fury until he could stand not more...Finally, he looked Jobs straight in the eye and calmly said..."Well, Steve, I think there’s more than one way of looking at it. I think it’s more like we both had this rich neighbor named Xerox and I broke into his house to steal the TV set and found out that you had already stolen it.”

File this under great lines.

Steve Jobs never forgave Gates for developing Windows and the relationship between Microsoft and Apple ended with discord, a fact that had a wide impact on the future development of computers.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Mid-month statistics

November is half over so its time to take a peek at our recording statistics to date.  The number of deeds and mortgages recorded during the first fifteen days of 2011 is almost unchanged from the same period in 2010.  From November 1 through 15 of 2010, there were 212 deeds and 760 mortgages.  For the same fifteen days in 2011, there were 216 deeds and 754 mortgages, an increase of 2% and a decrease of 1% respectively.

Foreclosure related documents are a different story and unfortunately the theme of that story is not a good one.  The number of orders of notice recorded from November 1 through 15 of 2011 was 48 which is an 85% increase from the 26 recorded during the same period in 2010.  Similarly, the number of foreclosure deeds for this period of 2011 was 21 which constituted a 91% increase from the 11 recorded in 2010.  These foreclosure increases haven't continued for long enough to declare them to be a trend, but they certainly bear watching.  More on that in future posts.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

SJC Justice Cordy on state of judiciary

Associate Justice Robert Cordy of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court was the keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the Real Estate Bar Association of Massachusetts (REBA).  Justice Cordy first explained that he could not comment upon cases like Ibanez, because other cases with like issues were now pending before the court. 

His remarks instead were on the state of the judiciary in the Commonwealth which he called "a catastrophe in slow motion" due to the ever shrinking funding provided to the courts.  With the number of court employees down by 1200 since 2007, the courts face more business than ever.  Tough economic times give rise to more litigation and much of that litigation involves pro se litigants who take up much of the time of court officials.  He said that the negative consequences of this decrease in funding with an increase in volume of cases are unavoidable and likely to get much worse.  On top of that, we are now in an era of "unprecedented political attacks on the judiciary" at a time of "declining knowledge of civics" by the general public.  In all, it is a recipe for disaster.

While acknowledging the reality of declining revenues, Justice Cordy explained that the judiciary differs from many other government entities.  If a road needs repaving but the money is not available, the road usually can wait.  The administration of justice, on the other hand, cannot wait.  He quoted former Chief Justice Margaret Marshall who said that the judiciary is the oxygen of a democracy: you don't realize its value until you don't have it.

Justice Cordy urged a pardigm shift in how the judiciary is funded and in how that funding is spent.  Courts must be made more efficient and more accessible through the use of technology and a flexible workforce.  He closed by quoting former US Supreme Court Justice Learned Hand who said, in 1951, that the Eleventh Commandment in a democracy is "Thou shalt not ration justice."  

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Future is BrinBot

Google is crazy about robots...and is investing in the development and advancement of human-like robots capable of doing everyday tasks. The concept is called Singularity and it sounds like something out of a science fiction movie
Singularity — a time, possibly just a couple decades from now, when a superior intelligence will dominate and life will take on an altered form that we can’t predict or comprehend in our current, limited state.

At that point, the Singularity holds, human beings and machines will so effortlessly and elegantly merge that poor health, the ravages of old age and even death itself will all be things of the past (NYT).

Correction, Singularity sounds more like something out of an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie.

Recently, Google co-founder Sergey Brin remotely controlled a robot at a NASA campus during a Singularity Conference from miles away. Google calls its robot BrinBot. The "human Brin" sat in a remote computer lab and instructed the "robot Brin" to circulate around the room and engage attendees in social conversation.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Billerica Homestead Seminar

Yesterday Register of Deeds, Dick Howe and I conducted a Homestead Seminar at the Senior Center in Billerica. Approximately thirty people attended and listened to the Register explain the recent changes to the Homestead Law and the instructions on how to fill out the Homestead form. The attentive audience had plenty of questions...probably the one asked the most was the status of Homesteads filed before the March changes. BTW, Homesteads filed prior to the change are grand-fathered.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Billerica Homestead Seminar

Today Tony and I traveled to the Billerica Council on Aging to talk about the Declaration of Homestead.  An overflow crowd of 32 gathered to hear a brief presentation on homestead basics and a discussion of changes that occurred with a major amendment to the law back in March.

Many of those in attendance already had homesteads recorded but they had heard about the new law and were anxious to learn how it might effect them.  While we can't answer specific questions, we can offer general commentary about the law.  If anyone would like to schedule a homestead seminar for their group or organization, just send an email to lowelldeeds[at]  All that is needed is a meeting space big enough to accommodate the expected crowd.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Facebook Needs U

Help Wanted

That was Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's message when he visited Massachusetts last week.

Zuckerberg told a large group of Harvard students...
The next five or ten years are going to be about all the different products and industries that can be rethought.
In other words, the billionaire 27 year old believes there will be many employment opportunities in the computer industry in the future and he wants to entice the best to Facebook.

Way back, when Zuckerberg was just a freshman at Harvard he created a precursor to Facebook called Facemash... In the process he hacked his way into the college's main computer system, an act that al.

But yesterday, all was forgiven and administration officials welcomed Zuckerberg with open arms.

His message was clear...There's a lot of really smart people here and a lot of them are making decisions about where they're going to work" he told the group of admiring students... and he wants them.

Now there is an employee message with a real promise, considering Facebook has 800 million users right now.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Reducing mortgage principal as a real estate remedy

On Saturday, New York Times Op-Ed columnist Joe Nocera added his voice to the growing chorus of those who believe that reducing the principal of underwater mortgages is the key to any rebound in real estate.  Nocera acknowledges that this approach seems unfair to those who were more restrained in their borrowing, and would tend to reward those who made risky decisions.  For those reasons, it's an intellectual challenge to acknowledge the benefits of this approach. 

In the several years since the real estate bubble burst, many approaches to stabilizing real estate have been tried, but strategies that simply restructuring mortgages that are underwater or reducing their interest rates have repeatedly proven to be completely ineffective.  With so much of our economy so closely tied to housing, its unlikely that any broad recovery can occur until real estate begins to rebound.  Without some drastic measures, that will take many years.

Friday, November 04, 2011

October recording statistics

Here are the recording statistics for major document types for October 2011 compared to October 2010:

Comparing October to October . . .
Deeds: 389 in 2011 vs 447 in 2010 - a 13% decline
Mortgages: 1103 in 2011 vs 1508 in 2010 - a 27% decline
Foreclosure Deeds: 33 in 2011 vs 35 in 2010 - a decline of 6%
Orders of Notice: 65 in 2011 vs 90 in 2010 - a decline of 28%

Comparing first ten months of 2011 to same period in 2010 . . .
Deeds: 4227 in 2011 vs 4448 in 2010 - a 5% decline
Mortgages: 9104 in 2011 vs 10481 in 2010 - a 13% decline
Foreclosure Deeds: 350 in 2011 vs 553 in 2010 - a decline of 37%
Orders of Notice: 599 in 2011 vs 1063 in 2010 - a decline of 44%

Thursday, November 03, 2011

High Volume Recording Day

The Middlesex North Registry of Deeds reopened yesterday after being closed for two days due to a power outage at the Lowell Superior Courthouse. We expected a busy day and had one.

Two major factors that also contributed the high volume... the two days we were closed were the last day of October and the first day of November, traditionally busy days.

In total we recorded 837 documents, probably our biggest recording day in seven years.

Two Hundred and Eighteen of the 837 documents recorded were e-recording. Watching these come in was an experience. Let me explain...once an employee logs into the e-server the number of e-recordings waiting to be processed pops if we have eighty in queue and record one the amount usually drops to 79, but no yesterday.

Yesterday, E-recordings were coming in so fast that when we recorded one there were ten more added. At one point I asked, "how many 'e's' left?" and was told "25". Twenty minutes later I asked again "how many left?"... the answer "45".

And since the registry did not receive snail mail, UPS or FedEx for two days their deliveries were huge.

I'm proud to say our staff did a terrific job. By the end of the day everything (including hundreds of pieces of mail) was recorded and no one waited more than ten minutes.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Registry back in business

After being closed the last two days due to storm, the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds re-opened today.  It took us an hour or so to get all the computers running - the lengthy outage made it a more complicated recovery than is usually the case - but we were fully operational by 9:45 am.  As of 3 pm, we have recorded 790 documents which is more than 3 times our daily average (which would make sense - we were closed 2 days plus today).  Several hundred of the recordings were electronically submitted. 

Once we have fully recovered from this outage, we will re-assess our disaster recovery plans and will report fully on them here.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Middlesex North Registry of Deeds post-storm update

The Lowell Superior Courthouse has been without electrical power since Saturday night's storm.  Consequently, the Trial Court closed the building yesterday and again today and will continue to do so until power has been restored.  The Middlesex North Registry of Deeds, located inside the courthouse, has also been closed both days.

If power is restored overnight, we will be open for business tomorrow morning in our normal manner.  However, if the power remains out, we will establish partial operations at Lowell City Hall in the basement Human Relations Conference Room from 10 am until 3 pm tomorrow and each day continuing until regular operations are restored.

At Lowell City Hall, we anticipate accepting documents for recording for subsequent recording once the registry itself resumes operation.  We will assign each document delivered to us in this manner a sequential number that will control the order of recording once the registry itself comes fully into operation.  Customers using this service will be able to access to do pre-recording rundowns and then will be permitted to view either the previously received documents or hand-written daily sheets that will be prepared as they were in the days before computers were utilized for this task. 

While we will not be able to assign actual book and page numbers or time of recording, this system will allow customers to convey documents into the custody of the registry with an extremely high degree of confidence that no other documents, other than the ones you have already had the opportunity to see, will get on record before your's.  Hopefully, this will all have been a contingency planning exercise and power will be back on in the courthouse overnight.  If it is not and if you are under pressure to record, please come see us at Lowell City Hall if you have any questions.  Unfortunately, because of extremely limited internet access here in Lowell (I'm doing this post from the city library), it will be difficult to update you from here.  Please check with for additional announcements.