Monday, April 30, 2012

April statistics

At closing time today I grabbed the April recording statistics.  The three columns below are (1) document type; (2) the number of those documents recorded in April 2011; and (3) the number of those documents recorded in April 2012.  First, for the entire district:

Deeds - 405 - 458
Mortgages - 752 - 1162
Foreclosure Deeds - 37 - 37
Orders of Notice - 115 - 44
Total docs - 4744 - 5544

These number are for Lowell only:

Deeds - 131 - 125
Mortgages - 169 - 200
Foreclosure Deeds - 19 - 23
Orders of Notice - 57 - 16
Total docs - 1392 - 1154

Friday, April 27, 2012

Results of city of Lowell tax lien auction

Yesterday morning the city of Lowell held an auction of nearly 300 tax title properties in the city council chambers at Lowell City Hall.  Ten individuals pre-qualified as bidders (pre-qualification was required to participate) and a total of more than 30 people showed up for the event.

There is no set way to hold one of these auctions and the city took what might best be called a macro approach, offering all of the properties in a single bundle with a minimum bid price of $6mil.  When there were no takers for that, three different sub-bundles were offered, each with a minimum bid of $1.7mil or higher.  There were no bidders for any of them.  The auction ended within 5 minutes of its opening.

The good news is that the city took in more than $800,000 in back taxes from people whose properties were initially on the list.  As for the failure to sell, that might just be an example of the city being a responsible seller.  If everything sold right off the bat, we'd be left asking whether the minimum bid amount had been set too low.  And a benefit of bundling the properties is that buyers would have to take the bad properties with the good and not just cherry-pick the best of the lot which would have been the case if the properties had been sold individually. 

The city has given every indication that this was not a one-time thing but that another auction will be held in the coming months.  Learning from the experience of this event, perhaps the bundles will be made smaller, or at least the mixture of properties will be tweaked to find the right balance between something that makes financial sense for the buyer yet keeps the city from selling off assets at a steep discount.  Besides, if the city fails to hold a subsequent option, the tax delinquents who grew comfortable allowing their properties to linger on the tax title list will also grow comfortable in the face of tax lien auctions if nothing is every sold.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Google Drive

Last year amid a wave of fanfare Apple introduced iCloud to the world. iCloud is a common sharing/storage area for photos, document etc. Truthfully, when Steve Jobs introduced iCloud's the only thing special about it was an Apple product. Cloud networking had been around for a while before iCloud...and I guess the same can be said for Google's newest release, "Google Drive".

Google Drive is, well...why don't I let google explain...
Store everything safely and access it anywhere (especially while on the go). All your stuff is just... there. You can access your stuff from anywhere—on the web, in your home, at the office, while running errands and from all of your devices. 

Hey, that sounds like cloud networking to me. Google is boosting that Google Drive is even equipped with OCR (optical character recognition), so you can scan a newspaper article and then later search it using a keyword.

Right now, google is giving away 5GB of free storage, which is plenty for someone like me...but if someone needs more, for a small fee he/she can increase the storage capacity.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What's happening with home sales?

A story in today's Globe has the Warren Group reporting that sales of single family homes in Massachusetts were up 20% over sales in March of 2011.  Our statistics on the number of deeds recorded here at the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds tend to corroborate that trend: In March 2011 there were 404 deeds recorded for the district; in March 2012 there were 471 which is an increase of 17%.  In Lowell, the rise was 28% (from 107 to 137) while in the 9 towns in the district, the increase was 12% (297 to 334).

Here's a breakdown of deeds recorded for some of the other towns in the district, showing first the number recorded in March 2011 and then the number from March 2012:

Billerica: 47 - 39
Chelmsford: 62 - 50
Dracut: 58 - 60
Tewksbury: 45 - 69
Tyngsborough: 17 - 10
Westford: 35 - 44
Wilmington: 24 - 43

We must always remember that "deeds recorded" do not equate to "single family home sales" because many of our deeds are between related parties for no consideration.  Still, it is something to count and as long as you remember the limitations on inferences that can be drawn, it is another statistic to put into your analytical mix.

Another way to compare deeds recorded is from month to month.  Here are the numbers for some of the towns in the district showing the numbers recorded in January - February - March all of 2012:

District: 342 - 385 - 471
Lowell: 92 - 112 - 137
Billerica: 36 - 37 - 39
Chelmsford: 43 - 48 - 50
Dracut: 45 - 44 - 60
Tewksbury: 40 - 42 - 69
Tyngsborough: 16 - 12 - 10
Westford: 28 - 34 - 44
Wilmington: 32 - 37 - 43

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

City of Lowell Tax Lien Auction

One of the most frequent questions we're asked here at the registry of deeds especially by telephone callers is "when is your next tax lien auction."  We always explain that (1) in Massachusetts, unlike most of the country outside of New England, real estate taxes are collected and monitored by individual communities and not by the county and (2) that the culture in Massachusetts is for communities to retain tax liens until the property is sold or refinanced at which point the community receives payment in full (along with statutory interest of 16% which has to be one of the best investments around).

But in a departure from the local tax collection culture, the city of Lowell will hold a tax lien auction this coming Thursday, April 26, 2012 at 10:00 o’clock A.M. at Lowell City Hall, 375 Merrimack Street, Lowell, MA 01852 in the City Council Chamber.  The sale will be conducted pursuant to the provisions of General Laws, Chapter 60 sec 52.  A list of all the parcels which I believe exceed 300 is online.  Initially, all will be offered in a single bundle, however, if no offer is made for the entire lot, then three sub-bundles will be offered for sale.

The webpage of the city's Tax Title Division has more information about this auction.

Monday, April 23, 2012

"Dumb Terminals" return

When the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds first installed computers in the late 1980s, they consisted of Wang workstations that were directly wired into a Wang minicomputer server via coax cable (the type that brings content to your television).  The workstations could do nothing on their own; they were entirely dependent on accessing the content on the central server.  Then, as personal computers became (much) more affordable, they gradually replaced dumb terminals for a variety of reasons.  The PCs offered more flexibility - they could operate and store data on their own but also be connected to a network server - and they moved away from the proprietary operating systems of fading computer companies such as Wang and Digital and utilized the more universally accepted Windows family of operating systems.  Here in Lowell, we replaced our "dumb" terminals with networked PCs back in 1999.

In the past few years there has been a move back towards dumb terminals.  A story in today's Globe explains that MIT's Sloan School of Management, perhaps the most respected business school in the world, has been testing dumb terminals for several years and is about to make the cut over entirely.  Several years ago here at the Middlesex North Registry, we tested a dumb terminal that would replace the PCs that are utilized as our public access terminals.  While the proposed terminals seemed to work fine, the project was put on hold for a variety of reasons (not the least of which was the existing PCs were working just fine).

There are several reasons for this migration back towards dumb terminals.  More and more computing - applications as well as data storage - is now done "in the cloud" which means that everything resides on a remote server that is accessed from a work station, dumb or otherwise.  Dumb terminals are also more resistant to hacking and viruses since nothing really resides on them.  This makes security and upgrades easier to manage.  And despite the relatively low cost of PCs, dumb terminals are even cheaper since there is little inside of them.   

Friday, April 20, 2012

Electronic recording in Connecticut

Last Friday I was in Norwalk, Connecticut to speak to the Connecticut Town Clerks Association about electronic recording.  Connecticut is one of only three states in country in which land records are maintained at the city and town level and not in counties or multiple town districts (the other two are Rhode Island and Vermont).  This means the each city or town clerk in Connecticut handles all the duties performed by our registries of deeds in Massachusetts.

Connecticut is also on the verge of implementing electronic recording.  A statewide task force overseen by personnel from the state library that included town clerks, attorneys and real estate professionals of all types has developed draft regulations that will govern the performance of electronic recording in the state.  Once the regulations are finalized, individual clerks may begin electronic recording although the process will be voluntary – no town will be forced to implement e-recording.

More than 100 city and town representatives were present for my talk in which I emphasized the ease of electronic recording from a document processing perspective and shared some of our experiences with the technology through the years (we began e-recording here at Middlesex North in 2005 and it now accounts for 25% of our daily recordings).  My sense is that a good percentage of the Connecticut clerks seemed genuinely enthused about adopting this technology and it should catch on quickly once the regulations are finalized.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Paul Revere

At 11:00PM on April 18, 1775 Paul Revere set out to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams that the British were marching on Concord. Today, Revere and his ride is the stuff of legend.

Below are some interesting facts about Paul Revere taken from the Paul Revere Heritage Project:

Paul Revere never shouted "the British are coming".

Paul Revere dressed up as a Mohawk and participated in the Boston Tea Party.

On the night of Paul Revere's ride, not even his wife knew where he had gone. She sent Benjamin Church, another patriot, out to find him.

The Old North church is an Anglican place of worship. Revere was not a member of the congregation.

Besides silver engravings, Paul Revere also produced dental prosthetics in his shop.

In 1775 Revere was one of several fire marshals in Boston.

Shortly after his famous ride, Paul Revere gave an account of the events for that night to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress in a legal deposition. You can read it here.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Mid-month recording statistics

Now that we've passed the halfway point for the month of April, we can compare the recording statistics for the first two weeks with the same period last year.  For April 1 thru April 16:  The number of deeds recorded in the two years was nearly the same: 193 in the first two weeks of April 2012 and 191 for the same time in 2011.  Mortgages, however, showed a substantial increase, rising 42% from 385 in 2011 to 548 in 2012.  Foreclosure deeds also had a big spike, rising 50% from 14 in 2011 to 21 in 2012.  Orders of notice on the other hand dropped by a huge amount - 77% - from 60 in 2011 to just 14 in 2012.  Total documents recorded was down slightly (7%), from 2678 in 2011 to 2496 in 2012. 

That's a quick snapshot.  Obviously, the stats for the entire month will be more informative, but there are some interesting trends to watch here: Sales remain sluggish; refinancings are increasing significantly; while foreclosure deeds are up, orders of notice - new foreclosures entering the pipeline - are way down.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

New Google GBike

Google's main company head-quarters is known as the Googlepex. The Googlepex is just one of Google's forty-six locations throughout the world. Each housing thousands of employees. This main facility, a massive complex, has 20 buildings spanning 506,310 sq ft set on 26 acres in Mountain View, Santa Clara, CA.

Google's free-spirited organization is designed to promote creativity. This loose structure means employees travel from building to building throughout the day.

And that is the topic of this entry...How do Google employees travel to their appointed work locations on the complex?

Since 2008 Google employees have used GBikes or pedal bikes specifically designed for Google and its employees to get around. Recently, after several years of "biking" the campus Google thought it was time to replace its existing fleet. But what would the new two wheelers look like?

For the answer, the meg-company turned to its employees and sponsored a competition. Google received 36 entries from its staff.

The winning design for Google's GBike is pictured below.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Good News on the eBook Front

If you read electronic books, there may be some good news on the horizon. Last Wednesday the Federal Government filed a law suit against Apple Computer and five book publishers.

Here is some historical perspective for you...remember way back, when you first bought your Kindle and you were all excited because Amazon sold eBooks for only $9.99... Remember?

As I understand it, Amazon didn't care if it lost money selling eBooks at $9.99 as long as people were buying its eReader, the Kindle.

Then all of a sudden the electronic book world was tipped upside down when Amazon began charging $14.99 for eBooks. Most of us had no idea what caused the price increase. At the time people blamed Amazon...but now it appears Amazon wasn't the culprit at all. According to the US Justice Department the real bad guys were the publishing companies lead by the late Steve Jobs of Apple Computer.

Read this from the Wall Street Journal:

In a civil antitrust lawsuit, the Justice Department alleged that CEOs of the publishing companies met regularly in private dining rooms of upscale Manhattan restaurants to discuss how to respond to steep discounting of their e-books by Inc., a practice they disliked. The executives also called and emailed each other to craft a solution to what one of them called "the wretched $9.99 price point," the suit said. The five publishers and Apple hatched an arrangement that lifted the price of many best-selling e-books to $12.99 or $14.99, according to the suit. The publishers then banded together to impose that model on Amazon, the government alleged.

Of course, everyone is innocent until proven guilty...but three of the accused publishing companies have already agreed to settled with the Justice Department...hmmmmm, I wonder why???

In typical Apple fashion the computer giant denies the allegations and has decided to fight the Feds....good luck with that one.

At the time of the alleged conspiracy Amazon dominated the eBook and eReader market (Kindle). As you might have expected , when Amazon was forced to abandon the discounted $9.99 price, for whatever reason, it helped Apple's new iBookstore break into the electronic book market and gave the publishers a higher profit... hmmmmm?! Interesting.

The good thing for eBook readers consumers is that experts believe this law suit will result in a decrease in the price of eBooks.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Dad With His New iPad

A friend of mine sent me this video the other day. It is titled "So Dad how do you like your new iPad?". The characters do not speak English, but that doesn't matter, the message is pretty clear...I think you'll enjoy this.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

More on mortgage modifications

After writing yesterday about some of the details of mortgage modification agreements we've seen recorded recently, I was interested to read in today's New York Times that the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the entity that now controls Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and a longtime opponent of principal reductions as a way of assisting underwater homeowners, may now be reconsidering that position.  FHFA has consistently taken the position that the overall cost to taxpayers of principal reductions would exceed the benefits derived from the measure and so has resisted calls to make such reductions.  As the Times story suggests, that might be changing.

I'm not sure if principal reductions will provide much of a boost to the housing market.  But doing nothing will provide no benefit; it will just drag out the sluggish real estate market.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Mortgage Modifications

For several years now, the home sales market in Greater Lowell has been sluggish, at best.  One big reason for that is the number of existing homeowners who are underwater on their mortgages.  Most in that position continue to make their monthly payments in the hopes of riding out the price trough and eventually regaining lost equity.  Others have no recourse but to endure foreclosure of the home.  But there's a third group and that's underwater homeowners who succeed in reaching a mortgage modification agreement with their lenders.  Quite a few such agreements get recorded here so I thought I'd scrutinize one and share some of the details.

First, the context: The property in question is a single family residence in a Greater Lowell community that was purchased by a married couple in 1999 for $169,000.  They financed that purchase with a mortgage of $135,200.  Like so many other American homeowners at the beginning of the 21st century, however, they began extracting cash from the rising value of their residence, refinancing four times: in 2001 for $200,000; in 2003 for $247,800; in 2004 for $352,750; and in 2005 for $409,500.  That last loan had an adjustable rate that began with 6.65% but which was permitted to rise in 2008.

That last loan was apparently too much for the home owners and they fell behind on their mortgage payments.  Unlike so many others, they were able to reach a Loan Modification Agreement with their lender earlier this month.  The agreement bundles all amounts owed (excluding late charges which are waived) into a new principal balance of $430,000.  That balance is divided into a "interest bearing principal balance" and a "deferred principal balance."  In our example, the "interest bearing principal balance" is $240,000 which is to be paid in monthly installments with interest at 5% until 2035 (thirty years from the initial loan).  The "deferred principal balance" was set at $190,000.  This amount is due on the maturity date of the loan or when the property is sold, whichever comes first. 

This certainly seems like a reasonable method of keeping underwater borrowers in their homes, but whatever the value of the house now, it seems unlikely that the value will claw back to something that exceeds the total amount owed any time soon.  That means the homeowner is effectively tied to the house for the foreseeable future.  Magnify this situation by everyone else in a like situation and you can better understand why the real estate market remains so sluggish.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Awaiting "Eaton v FNMA"

Over the past few months, several attorneys have mentioned how they're anxiously awaiting the Supreme Judicial Court's decision in the Eaton case.  An article by Ed Bloom, the immediate past president of the Real Estate Bar Association of Massachusetts in the March 2012 edition of REBA News does a good job of explaining why the Eaton decision is so anxiously awaited.  In Eaton, a Superior Court judge invalidated a foreclosure on the grounds that the entity that conducted the foreclosure did not also have possession of the promissory note secured by the mortgage.  This is not to be confused with the issue in Ibanez where the entity conducting the foreclosure did not own the mortgage that was being foreclosed.  In Eaton, the foreclosing entity did own the mortgage, just not the note.

According to Attorney Bloom, if the SJC upholds the Superior Court decision in Eaton and applies it retroactively, "every real estate title in Massachusetts that has a foreclosure in its back title will become unmarketable, because there is no way for anyone examining record title to determine if a foreclosing mortgagee possessed the note at the time of foreclosure."

Because promissory notes have never been recorded, there is no way to tell who owns the note at any given time just by looking at the records at the registry of deeds.  Consequently, I believe Attorney Bloom's concerns are well-founded.  As soon as the SJC issues its decision in Eaton, we'll write about it here.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Statistics for First Quarter 2012

Now that March has drawn to a close, we can compare recording statistics for the first quarter of 2012 with the same period for 2011.  For January thru March 2012, there were 1198 deeds recorded in the Middlesex North District, an 11% increase from the 1076 recorded during the first three months of 2011.  During the same period in 2012, there were 3378 mortgages recorded, a 19% increase from the 2832 recorded in 2011.  During the first quarter of 2012, there were 109 foreclosure deeds recorded, a 38% increase from the 79 recorded in 2011.  Finally, during the first quarter of 2012, there were 201 orders of notice recorded, a 41% increase from the 143 from the first quarter of 2011.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Record Book Reorg Project

About four years ago we removed all of our paper records book out of public circulation and replaced them with digital images. Several registry employees moved the books to the basement. Some of these books were boxed up and others were stored in plastic bags for protection. Since the initial move we have continued to improve the organization and safe keeping of the books.

Below are pictures of a new, record book reorganization project that we are finishing up. The large books are stored on rolling shelves in plastic bags. We stored the smaller plastic covered record books in cardboard boxes. Each box is labeled with its contents and color coded for ease of retrieval.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

1940 Census now online

The National Archives launched a website containing the detailed interview sheets from the 1940 census.  While statistical compilations are always released within a few years of the completion of the every-ten-years national census, these detailed sheets which contain a wealth of family information are kept confidential for 72 years after they've been collected.  That particular waiting time - 72 years - is the life expectancy of someone born in that year. 

The 1940 census website is still a bit tricky to navigate.  Users may narrow searches by state, county, city/town and street but not by name (at least not yet, someone is apparently working on that).  Experimenting with the site last night trying to find relatives whose 1940 address I knew for sure, I was able to find both I sought after paging through a dozen or two pages.  My point is that if you are even moderately persistent, you should find what you're looking for.

The following information is available:
  • Whether the family owns or rents the property.  If owns, the value.  If renting, the monthly rent.
  • The names, ages, gender, race, education level and place of birth of all living in the household
  • Whether the person had a job in March 1940 and if not was the person using government programs such as the WPA and the CCC for support
  • For each person who was employed, their occupation, industry worked in, number of hours worked per week in March 1940, the duration of their employment, number of weeks worked in 1939, income in 1939, whether the person had income greater than $850 in 1939 from sources other than salary
So check out the 1940 census website and learn more about your ancestors and others that lived in your neighborhood long before you.

Monday, April 02, 2012

March recording statistics

While the recording statistics for March were not fantastic, there was more good news than bad.  When compared to the same month a year ago, we see the following:

  • The number of deeds recorded in March 2012 was up 17% from the number recorded in March 2011 (471 v 404)
  • The number of mortgages recorded in March 2012 was up 45% from the number recorded in March 2011 (1270 v 873)
  • The number of foreclosure deeds recorded in March 2012 was up 42% from the number recorded in March 2011 (47 v 33)
  • The number of orders of notice recorded in March 2012 was up 22% from the number recorded in March 2011 (77 v 63)
  • The total number of documents recorded in March 2012 was up 14% from the number recorded in March 2011 (5742 v 5030)
Looking at Lowell by itself, we see the following:

  • The number of deeds recorded in March 2012 was up 28% from the number recorded in March 2011 (137 v 107)
  • The number of mortgages recorded in March 2012 was up 26% from the number recorded in March 2011 (240 v 191)
  • The number of foreclosure deeds recorded in March 2012 was up 42% from the number recorded in March 2011 (27 v 19)
  • The number of orders of notice recorded in March 2012 was up 50% from the number recorded in March 2011 (33 v 22)
  • The total number of documents recorded in March 2012 was up 16% from the number recorded in March 2011 (1283 v 1104)