Friday, August 31, 2012

August recording statistics

Here's a comparison the number of each of the various document types recorded this August in comparison to the number recorded in August 2011.  For the entire registry district:

Deeds increased 22%, rising from 497 in August 2011 to 608 in August 2012
Mortgages increased 69%, rising from 928 to 1572
Foreclosure Deeds decreased 25%, declining from 40 down to 30
Orders of Notice rose 98% from 56 to 111.

For just the city of Lowell:

Deeds increased 23%, rising from 129 in August 2011 to 159 in August 2012
Mortgages increased 69%, rising from 163 to 276
Foreclosure Deeds decreased 55%, dropping from 17 to 10
Orders of Notice rose $216%, jumping from 19 to 60.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Seeing Signs of a Market Rebound

According to statistics taken from the Registries of Deeds by the Warren Group sales of single family homes in Massachusetts rose 27% in July 2012 as compared to July 2011. This is good news.

And according to the same report prices are also holding their own. In fact median prices have actually increased 1%. Obviously, one percent is not a hugely significant amount, but coupled with the huge increase in sales these might just be a real indication that the market has turned the corner. By the way with this increase the median single family house price in Massachusetts is $318,000.

The Warren Group also reported positive statistics for Condo sales, volume was up 34% in July with a median price of $295,000.

In a article Cory Hopkins, editorial director of the Warren Group cautions not to over react to the good news:
"There are a lot of good signs pointing toward a real estate recovery...“But we are comparing sales to a very depressed market last summer, so it’s important to step back and realign expectations.” (

Regardless, recent indicators have all shown positive signs for the Massachusetts Real Estate Market.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Top ten Lowell sales of 2012

It's not exactly the end of the year, but as the summer draws to a close, here are the top ten real estate sales in the city of Lowell thus far in 2012:

Saints Medical Center to Lowell General Hospital – 1 Hospital Drive, et al - $35 million – July 2, 2012

Drum Hill Building 7 Associates to NV 10 Technology Drive LLC – 10 Technology Driver - $5.25 million – January 11, 2012

Lakeshore Realty Nominee Trust to Mill Falls LLC – 605 Pawtucket Blvd, et al - $4.7 million – March 16, 2012

Town & Country Nursing Home Center LLC to Somerset Properties Group II, LLC – 259 Baldwin St - $2.6 million – January 11, 2012

Suffolk Drum Hill LLC to Fifty-Nine Technology LLC – 59 Technology Dr - $2.2 million – July 3, 2012

M & S Construction LLC to JC Buildings LLC – 174 Olde Canal Dr - $1.5 million – March 14, 2012

Kencol Investment Trust to Lowell Mammoth Development LLC – 1743 Middlesex St, et al - $1.45 million – January 18, 2012

Lowell Bridge Realty Trust to Advance Stores Co, Inc – 1190 Bridge St - $925,000 – January 24, 2012

Bolt Street LLC to LMP Realty Trust – 123 Bolt Street - $850,000 – January 12, 2012

William & Incoronata Gauthier to John & Tracey Byers – 32 Belmont Ave - $850,000 – July 13, 2012

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Long Range Weather Forecast

Some stories appeared yesterday reporting that Old Farmers' Almanac had just issued its long range forecast for the 2012-2013 winter.  Here's the relevant (to us) part from a Boston Globe story:

. . . people from the Great Lakes to northern New England should get out their long johns and dust off their snow shovels because it is going to be cold and snowy. It is also supposed to be wet and chilly in the Southeast, and milder for much of the rest of the nation.
The webpage of the Almanac itself is here and while the part I can see doesn't seem as emphatic as the Globe story regarding the amount of snow, it does say our winter will be much colder.

Thinking about the weather at this point is more than just curiosity; it was just last year at the end of October that a surprise snowstorm knocked out our power for several days, forcing the closure of the registry.  And it was at about this time last year that the hurricane swept through western Massachusetts, forcing the closure of the Hamden County Registry of Deeds in Springfield.  Normally, winter weather is just an inconvenient circumstance of going about daily life, but sometimes it is disruptive or severely disruptive.

Our own policy on weather-related closures remains unchanged from prior years.  Here's a blog post I wrote on the topic back in February 2011 which remains applicable for the coming winter.

Monday, August 27, 2012

A War of Epic Proportions

There is a war of epic proportion raging in the technology world...The combatants are Samsung and Apple Corp (right now). And Apple decisively won the first battle last Friday in a Federal Court in San Jose, California.

A federal jury ruled that Samsung infringed on patents Apple Corp held for the iPhone and iPad when it developed its popular mobile devices (tablets and phones).

If you think I was exaggerating when I said this was a battle of epic proportion consider this...The jury awarded Apple a staggering $1.05 Billion in damages and the judge has the option of tripling this if he/she deems it appropriate...that would be $3.15 billion!

If you own a smartphone or tablet that runs on either Google's Andriod operating system or Apple's iOS, the information below will fascinate you. Here are samples of some of the questions the jury decided in the Apple vs Samsung case according to information provided by the New York Times:

The question...
Did Samsung infringe on Apple patents with at least one phone or tablet?

Bounce-back effect when a user tries to scroll beyond the end of a list or image...Jury said YES

Scrolling: pinching and zooming...Jury said YES

Tap-to-zoom and center...Jury said YES

iPhones face and screen and speaker slot...Jury said YES

Shape of the iPhone's face, rounded corners and bezel...Jury said YES

icon arrangement on the home screen....Jury said YES

Tablet design, including the rectangular shape and rounded edges of the iPad...Jury said YES

Wow, a defeat of this magnitude falls in the same category as the Romans leveling Carthage in 149 and complete.

I'm not an attorney, and I don't know much about patent law, but I do know when a jury awards a company a whooping $1.05 billion for copyright infringement, it IS important.

And there is surely more to come...This is just the first battle. Experts believe Apple's real target is Google, the company that developed the Andriod OS that runs the competing tablets and smartphones. The late Apple CEO, Steve Jobs called Andriod a total rip-off of his iOS mobile operating system.

Google vs Apple! I haven't seen anything like this since Godzilla and King Kong faced off.

Friday, August 24, 2012

SarcasticRover Tweets from Mars

On August 6, 2012 NASA successfully landed an automated motor vehicle on the surface of the planet Mars. NASA nicknamed its new rover Curiosity. Curiosity's mission is to "investigate Mars' habitability, studying its climate and geology and collecting data for a manned mission to Mars" (wikipedia)... some pretty lofty goals...
Shortly after the landing, a spoof "tweeter" (someone/thing that uses twitter) appeared on Twitter casting itself as the real NASA Rover, tweeting to the world its unique observations of life on Mars. The imposter uses the name SarcasticRover.

Below is a small sample of some of SarcasticRovers tweets...

I know 2.5 billion seems like a lot, but can you really put a price on learning that rocks on other planets are made of rock?

Can't wait to see which SNL cast member plays me in all the science sketches they're probably gonna do!! (Tim Meadows?)

Technically, English is my second language. The first is FORTRAN.

Stuck here on Red Planet Write haikus to pass the time Hippopotamus

My robotic arm is equipped with a drill, a camera, spectrometer, and a scoop… most are for science, the scoop is for ice-cream.

If you see anything weird in my pics, just assume it's an alien, okay? Even though the odds of it being a rock are literally 100%

Thursday, August 23, 2012

I Got A Google Tablet

I'm excited, truly excited...Last week I celebrated my birthday and one for the gifts I received was the new Google Tablet.

I couldn't believe my eyes when I unwrapped the package and saw the Nexus 7 box.
"Its the Google Tablet", I shouted. "I can't believe it".

I must admit, it was exactly what I wanted.
Yes, I already have an Apple iPad (or should I say, my wife has an Apple iPad since I never really get a chance to use it)...but I still wanted the Google Tablet.

There are several reason why I wanted the Google Tablet:
I wanted an Andriod device.
I wanted an assistant small and light effort to carry in my back-pack.
And I wanted a tablet unrestricted by Apple's "unique" operating system.

I've been playing with my new Tablet for several days now and here are some of my impressions.
It is small and light which I love.
The display is very sharp, sharp enough to make Netflix a pleasure to watch.
It has a great voice navigation App.
It easily stores all my music and I have 1400 songs.

One thing, just one thing it is missing on the new Google Tablet, a front and back camera.Yes, there is a camera, but it is front pointing. It is designed mainly for video conferencing and not picture taking.

Considering all things I love this gift.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Median Prices

I heard a report on the radio today about national trends in real estate.  A spokesperson for the National Association of Realtors said both sales and prices of single family homes for July were both up 10% from last July. 

Our records don't identify the use of the property, so I can't share any info on single family home prices, but I can tell you the median price of deeds recorded for the towns in the district.  From January 1, 2012 until today, using a bottom cut-off of $60,000 and a top cut-off of $900,000, here are the median prices for the ten towns in the Middlesex North District for 2012 to date:

Billerica - $283,000
Carlisle - $474,450
Chelmsford - $279,900
Dracut - $215,000
Dunstable - $399,900
Lowell - $165,750
Tewksbury - $270,000
Tyngsborough - $240,000
Westford - $377,154
Wilmington - $353,250

Maybe in a future report I'll provide median prices for one or more earlier years for comparison's sake.  For now, however, we have to be content comparing the median prices against each other.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

City of Lowell Tax Title Auction this Thursday

The City of Lowell will hold a Tax Title Auction this Thursday (August 23, 2012) at 10 am in the City Council chambers in Lowell City Hall.  Bidders must pre-register by Wednesday at 3 pm.  More information about the rules of the sale and the subject properties is available on the city of Lowell website.

Most of the properties at this sale were offered up for sale back in April but there were no bidders at that time.  Here's a post I wrote about that event.  Speculation at the time was that because the city was not selling properties individually but in three pre-determined bundles, the eleven or so qualified bidders hesitated to bid out of fear of being stuck with a property that was a true problem.  Supposedly the City has re-mixed the bundles in anticipation of this auction but we'll have to wait until Thursday to see if that makes any difference.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Reducing Foreclosures - a policy failure?

Today's New York Times has a front page story that probes the history of the Obama Administration's efforts to deal with the national foreclosure crisis.  Though it's a news story and not commentary, the piece leads inevitably to the conclusion that the Federal government's intervention on this issue was not nearly enough to significantly influence events for the better.  Still, the dilemma faced by the administration is clear: the policy most likely to rapidly end the foreclosure crisis and cause real estate to rebound was to reduce the outstanding principal of many people facing foreclosure whose mortgages were underwater.  There were a couple of very large problems with this approach.  Assisting those who failed to pay their underwater mortgages but not those who kept up to date, would be inequitable.  Then, many who were in very stable financial situations with their homes would be extremely resentful that tax dollars were being used to bail out friends and neighbors from what they perceived in most cases as self-inflicted financial wounds.  While this attitude is both justified and just, the consequence of doing nothing, it turns out, was damaging to everyone by prolonging the poor housing market.  Perhaps this will be a lesson to future policy makers although I suspect the political pressures then will be no different than they were this time; best not to get into such a mess in the first place. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Mid-month statistics

Now that August is half over, it's time to look at our mid-month statistics.  When the first 15 days of August 2012 are compared to the first 15 days of August 2011, here's what we see:

Deeds were up 11%, rising from 232 to 257.

Mortgages were up 78%, rising from 392 to 699.

Foreclosure deeds were down 35%, dropping from 17 to 11.

Orders of Notice were up 68%, rising from 37 to 62.

As good as the uptick in mortgages is, the order of notice increase is worrisome.  Many are speculating that it's just a backlog of bad mortgages being cleaned up with the catalyst being the Supreme Judicial Court's decision in the Eaton case.  Still, 62 new foreclosures is a lot.  Here's how they are distributed among the towns in the district:

Billerica - 5
Chelmsford - 4
Dracut - 8
Dunstable - 2
Lowell - 34
Tewksbury - 4
Tyngsborough - 3
Westford - 1
Wilmington 1
multiple towns - 1

Thursday, August 16, 2012

New appraisal rules for high risk mortgages

The Globe reports today that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has just issued draft regulations that if enacted will require lenders to obtain at least one appraisal for mortgage loans that carry a high rate of interest (meaning that they are riskier than most loans).  Until now, there has been no requirement that an appraisal be obtained despite it being a prudent business practice.  This appraisal requirement is part of a series of steps such as mandatory credit counseling and prohibitions on predatory practices contained in these new regs.

During the past decade's housing collapse, many of those making these kind of loans had plenty of incentives to make them as risky as possible: originators were paid up front; the larger the loan and higher the interest rate the more they were paid; and they incurred no penalty or loss if the loan went bad.   With that as the recent track record of the national lending industry, it's not unreasonable for the government to use its regulatory power to alter these incentives in a way that's more balanced towards the borrowers and the communities in which there properties are located.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Refi's Up - OrdNo's Up

Over this past weekend, I crossed paths with a friend who works locally for a regional bank.  He asked me what trends I was spotting from the registry.  When I turned the question on him, he was quite optimistic, especially about the volume of new mortgages being written, mostly for refinancings.  Our statistics corroborate his view.

In July 2012, there were 1340 mortgages recorded here at the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds which was a 75% increase from the 765 recorded in July 2011.  The first two weeks in August have seen a similar percentage increase.  The 616 mortgages recorded from August 1 thru August 14, 2012 were 75% greater than the 352 recorded in the same two weeks in 2011.

As good as the news of increased mortgage volume is, it is somewhat tempered by an almost equivalent increase in the number of orders of notice being recorded.  In July 2012, there were 85 which was a 63% increase from the 52 recorded in July 2011.  Similarly, the 56 recorded in the first two weeks of August 2012 where a 55% increase from the 36 recorded in the same two weeks in 2011.

My banker friend suggested that this uptick in foreclosures mostly involved large national banks clearing up a backlog of non-performing loans that had been deferred until the banks cleared up any questionable robo-signing type practices.  If that's the case and this increase is not evidence of a downward turn in the real estate market, then there very well could be reason for some (slight) optimism.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Credit Card Debt and Robosigning

Today's New York Times has a front page story on questionable practices in the debt collection industry - collection of credit card debts to be precise - which is big business in America.  The Times reports that the same type of sloppy paperwork and loose practices that caused such a furor with mortgage foreclosures not too long ago now infect many collection lawsuits. 

I'm not aware of any instances of inflated damage estimates or testimony by folks without any knowledge of the facts in cases in Massachusetts, but that doesn't mean that such practices don't exist.  On the contrary, these types of lawsuits are often won be default when the defendant doesn't even contest the claim which means that the accuracy and validity of these claims is rarely tested in more than a cursory manner. 

While I can't talk specifically about the quality of the claims presented, I can provide some numbers on the volume of Executions recorded here at Middlesex North.  Almost all are claims brought by credit card companies (Citibank, Discover, Capital One) or by second-generation debt creation outfits (Advantage Assets, Equable Ascent Financial):

January - 38
February - 48
March - 79
April - 28
May - 42
June - 75
July - 46
August (to 8/13) - 44

Friday, August 10, 2012

Did you Ever Wonder?

Do you remember the famous 60 minutes commentator, Andy Rooney? You know the grey haired guy who usually started his segment with the question..."did you ever wonder"?

Well, the other day I started wondering too...more specifically I started wondering about computer related names. I wondered...Where did certain names come from, so I did a little investigation.

And here is what I discovered...

Did you ever wonder "where the name google came from?
Sources say...The name Google comes from the word googol which is a term used to describe the number 1 with one hundred zeros after it (no, I'm not going to write here). And computer coding is done using multiple sequences of zeros and ones like googols.

Did you ever wonder where the name Dell Computer came from?
This is an easy one... Sources say Dell Computer is named after its founder "Michael Dell".

Did you ever wonder why Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak name their new computer company Apple?
Sources say, contrary to rumor, the name has no connection to Isaac Newton and his famous apple...rather, the goal of the new company was to make the computer a household item. Jobs and Wozniak wanted to avoid the typical "cold" names most computer companies had adopted in the seventies (IBM, DEC etc). And at the time of the founding of Apple, Steve Jobs was a vegetarian...and the "apple" was his favorite fruit.

Did you ever wonder where the name CISCO came from?
Sources say, CISCO is an abbreviation for San Francisco, the city where the company started. Some even believe that if you look closely at the CISCO logo you'll see the image of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Did you ever wonder why Apple named its iPhone assistant "Siri"?
Sources say, there are many theories regarding the naming of Siri, but this one seems to make the most sense...Norwegian Dag Kittilaus founded the company that developed Siri. Kittilaus planned on naming his first child, which he thought was going to be a girl, Siri...problem, the first child turn out to be a Kittilaus had to name "his company" (rather than daughter) after his favorite Norwegian female name, "Siri".

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Great Olympians...Then and Now

Here are some pictures of my favorite Olympians as they looked during the summer games and way they look now.

Swimming: Mark Spitz
Then Now

Marathon: Joan Benoit
Then Now

Hockey: Mike Eruzione
Then Now

Track and Field: Jackie Joyner
Then Now

Decathlon: Bruce Jenner
Then Now

Boxing: Muhammad Ali
Then Now

Track and Field: Wilma Rudolph
Then Now (Deceased in 1994)

Track and Field: Carl Lewis
Then Now

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Latest timetable for Lowell Judicial Center

For a number of years now we have been discussing the new judicial center that is to be built in the city of Lowell in what is called the Hamilton Canal redevelopment area.  Ever since the collapse of the economy in 2008, however, the timetable for the project has slid and some had begun to doubt whether it would be built at all.  Last evening, Adam Baacke, the city of Lowell's Director of Planning and Development, informed residents that he had attended a meeting with DCAM (the state agency responsible for all real estate owned by state government) and that the timetable is now as follows:  Bids go out in 2013; building opens in 2016.  Once built, this new facility will house the Superior Court, the District Court and possibly the Juvenile Court.  Although the registry of deeds will not go to the new court, the consolidation of all the other courts in one building will have consequences, good and bad, for the registry.  Overall, however, it will be a great project for the city of Lowell.

Monday, August 06, 2012

July Orders of Notice: A cause for concern?

The number of Orders of Notice recorded in July 2012 was up 63% from the number recorded in July 2011.  Since the Order of Notice is the first step in the foreclosure process, this figure should be watched closely.  Hopefully it is a one-time blip and not the start of a trend.  Other indicators are good.  Deeds and mortgages are up and foreclosure deeds are down.

Here's the distribution of the July 2012 Orders of Notice by community:

Lowell - 34
Dracut - 14
Chelmsford - 11
Billerica - 8
Tewksbury - 6
Wilmington - 5
Carlisle - 2
Dunstable - 2
Tyngsborough - 2
Westford - 1

Friday, August 03, 2012

Touch Screen

Two things...

First I want/need a new laptop. Right now, I'm running an old war-horse of a computer with the Vista Operating System (don't laugh).

Second...I love devices that work with a touch screen. How did we ever live without touch screen?
Here is an example of how used to touch screen I've become: The other day a friend showed me a picture of his young son he had taken with his "older" cellphone. I looked at the picture, nice then placed my index finger on the screen and swiped left seeking another picture of the youngster.

Obviously, it didn't work.

Him:Hey, what are you trying to do.
Me: I'm looking for another picture.
Him: Well, excuse me...that's not a touch screen, mister hoytie toytie.
Me:Oh yeah, I forgot.
Him: Let me do it for you.
With that statement my friend click a button, then a second button, then a third button on his brontosaurus phone until finally a different picture of his son displayed.

OK, I know what you're thinking... interesting story, but what does touch screen have to do with the fact that you need a new laptop?

Its Microsoft's fault (troublemakers).

Vista doesn't have touch screen, Windows 7 doesn't have touch screen...but Windows 8 will! In fact Windows 8 is both touch screen and mouse driven (as I understand it).

Rumors are everywhere that Microsoft will release Windows 8 in October. So me?, I'm waiting before I make the move.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

July recording statistics

Here are the district-wide numbers from this July compared to last year:

The number of deeds was up 25%, rising from 474 in July 2011 to 593 in July 2012
The number of mortgages was up 75%, rising from 765 in July 2011 to 1340 in July 2012
The number of foreclosure deeds was down 11%, decreasing from 37 in July 2011 to 33 in July 2012
The number of orders of notice was up 63%, rising from 52 in July 2011 to 85 in July 2012.

The best news is the dramatic rise in the number of mortgages being recorded which suggests more and more people are taking advantage of historically low interest rates (and that lenders are allowing folks to take advantage of this opportunity).  The bad news is the significant rise in the number of orders of notice.  We'll take a closer look at what's going on there and report back in a future blog post.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

New Scanners

The operation of our Recording Counter Scanners posed the biggest problem during our recent computer refresh. A little background...For several years now we have been running Fujitsu 5650C scanners without problems. We found them reliable, fast and efficient, real work-horses.

The new computer installed last week run the Windows 7 Operating System. Our scanner problems began when these computers were connect to the scanners.

The scanners' speed and image quality was fine, but unfortunately, the application froze and had to be rebooted every four or five minutes.

For several days computer technicians from the state and independent vendors worked on the problem without success. Finally, we switched one of our older scanners (fi-5650C)and replaced it with a newer one (fi-6240Z). We scanned exclusively on this scanner for the large part of a day as a test. Fortunately, we experienced no problems.

This success gave us the confidence to replace our remaining four Recording Counter Scanners.

Today is the second day running the new Fujitsu 6240Z scanners and there have been no problems.

I think we have finally resolved the issue.