Friday, September 28, 2012

Boott Mills sold

With today being the last business day of the month and the last Friday of the month, we expected an increase in activity here at the registry of deeds and that was the case.  With a few minutes remaining, we've recorded well over 600 documents which would have been a slow day back in 2003 but is quite a lot for any single day since the 2007 financial collapse.  That's a positive sign in itself.  On Monday, I'll report the exact statistics.

A big transaction that went through today was the sale of a chunk of the Boott Mills.  Earlier this month, a lender known as Boott Properties LLC had foreclosed on two mortgages from the previous developer.  Today, Boott Properties LLC sold all the unsold condominium units at the "Waterfront Lofts at Boott Mill Condominiums" to Boott Mill Developer LLC.  The sales price was $3,050,000.  The deal was financed with about $29 million from Development Ventures LLC, a Georgia Limited Liability Company; $500,000 from the Lowell Development and Finance Corporation; and $400,000 from the city of Lowell.  The city also took an additional mortgage for an unspecified amount; perhaps that is for previously unpaid real estate taxes (liens on the various units were all released by the city at the time of the sale).

While the Boott Cotton Mill Museum has thrived as part of the Lowell National Historical Park, the rest of the complex has had some difficulty being developed successfully.  Hopefully the slowly improving economy and real estate market and the new owner will find success where previous owners have not.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Lowell Plan Breakfast

The Lowell Plan is a private, non-profit economic development agency that's been around for several decades and has been at the center of much of the good that has occurred in the city of Lowell since then.  Each year, the Lowell Plan has a major breakfast that is attended by many in the city's political, business and non-profit communities.  This year's happened to be this morning at the UMass Lowell Inn and Conference Center.  The new Lowell Plan Video, "Lowell in 2020," made its debut.  It shows an artists rendering using computer generated graphics of all the buildings and other structures contemplated for the next 5 to 10 years.  It was amazing to see. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Dogman and the Lowell Spinners

I'll take a break from real estate and registry stuff today to point you to a great profile in the Globe of Del Christman, better known as Dogman, an employee of the Lowell Spinners, the Class A (New York Penn League) affiliate of the Boston Red Sox.  Christman joined the Spinners back when they were born in Lowell in the late 1990s as a hot dog vendor - hence the name "Dogman."  His booming voice, his original menu labels (a "blood hound" was a hot dog with ketchup; an "Irish setter" was one with relish) and his antics in the stands were more entertaining than the game.  Christman is now the Spinners' clubhouse man and travels each spring to Florida for spring training.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

More Good Real Estate News

According to a information released by the Warren Group and reported in the Boston Globe this morning the real estate market is clearly in a recovery phase. Sales of single family homes in Massachusetts increased an impressive 20% in August of 2012 as compared to August 2011. Realistically, we must keep in mind that today's numbers do not even approach reaching the height of those the market saw in the past boom, but this is the seventh month in a row that sales have increased in the Bay State.

Here are some of the statistics from the report comparing August 2012 with August 2011 in Massachusetts:

Unit Sales of Single Family Homes: 5,118 an increase of 20%

Median price of a Single Family Home: $310,000 an increase of 1.6%

Unit Sales of Condominium: 2,432 an increase of 40%

Median Price Condominiums: $279,000 a decrease 4.3% 

A strong real estate market depends on consumer confidence, something that hasn't existed for some time now. A positive report like today's should certainly help bring buyers back to market.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Obtaining a copy of your deed

Over the weekend, a new homeowner sent me an email in response to a solicitation received from a commercial entity.  Here's the email with some identifying information redacted:

I received a letter which states "Deed Processing Center" and asking me to pay $84.00 to get a "Grant Deed".  The company it came from is called "Conveyance Transfer Services, 1776 1 street NW 9th Floor, Washington DC".  It has all the information about my property from public records looks like . . . I don't need to buy the deed as I have the original from my attorney and it is online in the masslandrecords website. (I love the website by the way). It is more for your information and I will not act on this letter. If you need any further information, please let me know.
Maybe five years ago we started hearing about these types of letters.  Back then it was $50 to get a certified copy of your deed so the price has gone up.  My register of deeds colleagues and I discussed these enterprises and whether or not they were legal.  We concluded that while they might be somewhat misleading, they weren't so deceptive as to permit legal action on our behalf to shut them down.  In fact, some people might actually prefer paying someone else to get a copy of his deed rather than doing it himself.  Our response was to publicize the easy availability of deed copies on our various websites, something I'm reminding readers of with this post.

To reiterate, you should have received your original deed back shortly after you purchased your home.  We don't hold it as security while you pay off your mortgage (which is another misconception).  If you need a copy of your deed, just go to our website and print it or come to the registry from 8:30 am to 4:00 pm Monday thru Friday and we'll give you one.

Friday, September 21, 2012

3 week September stats

As the third week of September comes to a close, here's a comparison of major document types from September 1, 2011 thru September 21, 2011 with the same three weeks in 2012:

Deeds: The number of deeds recorded in that three weeks in 2012 was up 15% from the same time in 2011, rising from 266 to 306;

Mortgages: The number of mortgages recorded in 2012 was up 37%, rising from 652 to 895;

Orders of Notice: The number of orders of notice was up 18%, rising from 23 to 28 (an increase in this category is not a good thing).

Foreclosure Deeds: The number of foreclosure deeds recorded was about even, with 19 recorded in 2011 and 18 in 2012.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Texting Facts

I do not understand the popularity of text messaging...and I'm a text messager! I can't figure out why people with "cell phones" designed to "talk" to other people use it more frequently to write them a message. But, I am well aware texting is incredibly popular. 

Below are some interesting facts about texting:

Matti Makkonen is considered the father of text messaging.

The first text message was sent on December 3, 1992 by Neil Papworth. The message read "Merry Christmas".

Texting, as most of us call it, is more officially known as "Short Message Service" or SMS.

The average subscriber in the US sends over 500 text messages a month.

95% of 18-29 year olds use text messaging.

Over 60% of Americans text message on a regular basis.

The most text messages sent by one individual in a single month was 200,052.

Sonja Kristiansen set a Guinness World Record for speed texting by sending the following message in an astonishing 37.28 seconds: "The razor-toothed piranhas of the genera Serrasalmus and Pygocentrus are the most ferocious freshwater fish in the world. In reality, they seldom attack a human." 

The peak hours for texting are 10:30PM-11:00PM

A typical text message is delivered in ten seconds or less.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Condo Docs

A gentleman who came to the registry the other day to record his resignation from a position on the board of is condominium association spoke with me about the difficulty small condo associations have in keeping up with the rules and procedures.  That really wasn't news to me because one of the most frequent requests we get from customers is for a copy of their "condo docs."  By that is typically meant the master deed and the declaration of trust establishing the condominium association.  Since those documents are typically each several dozen pages long, it can get pricey to purchase the copies at the registry since we're required to charge $1 per page.  Much more economical would be to print, or even better, download as a PDF, the docs from our website which incurs no charge to the user.  Sometimes these documents are tricky to find on the computer if you don't know what you're looking for.  We're trying to devise a way in which we can queue up all of these condo docs on our website and just email them to customers upon request.  Once we've figured out the approach we'll take on this, I'll follow-up here.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Sir Johnathan Ive

Who is this man? Why, he is Sir Johnathan Ive...that's who!

But WHO IS Sir Johnathan Ive?

..Ive was born in Chingford England in 1946 the son of a silversmith.
He attended high school in Stafford, England the hometown of William Shakespeare.
Guess...He's a great British Actor.

Hints...Johnathan Ive knew he was interested in drawing and making stuff since he was 14 years old.
And as a youth his interests were wide ranging from furniture to cars.
Guess...He is a famous British Painter

Hints...Johnathan Ive loved designing things and after college he started his own design company called Tangerine.
Ive designed the Newton MesssagePad
Guess...Ok. I'm getting it now, this guy must have designed something pretty important. I got it, he designed Scooba, the robotic vacuum cleaner.

Hints...Ive just purchased a home in San Francisco for $17 million with 7,200 sq ft of living space.
And net worth is estimated at $130 million.
Guess...Let me do some deduction here:
Sir Johnathan Ives, obviously designs things that make him megabucks.
And if he designed the Newton, that means he works in the technology field.
And if he bought a house in San Francisco he works in California.
Apple and Microsoft are the biggest technology companies in California.
But Apple is best known for its product design.
So I'm thinking Johnathan Ive designs for Apple.
And I'm thinking if he designs for Apple and he's worth millions then Ive designed the iPod.

Keep going...
He designed the iPod and the iPad?

Keep gooooing...
He designed the iPod, iPad and iPhone.

Still keep going...
Are you kidding me? Are you saying Johnathan Ive designed the iPod, iPad, iPhone AND iTouch, MacAir and MacPro?!

Good job Sherlock.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Boston Fed on causes of foreclosure crisis

Some economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston have issued a "Public Policy Discussion Paper" in which they discuss the causes of the foreclosure crisis.  The paper is part of a collection of other Boston Fed reports that is available here.  Just scroll down to the second one, Paper p-12-2 which begins on page 9.

The paper is concise and makes twelve points that largely debunk the prevailing narratives on what caused the crisis:
  1. It wasn't caused my adjustable rate mortgage resets - if you converted all of those to fixed rates and not had the jump in monthly payments, only 12% of all foreclosures would have been effected;
  2. "Non-traditional mortgages" were the problem - they had all been around for quite a while without difficulty;
  3. "Innovative mortgage products" were designed to fail - They had all been around for decades and didn't fail until the mid-2000s;
  4. Government policy of extending loans to a broader segment of the population caused the problem - it didn't'
  5. The "originate to distribute" model of lending, meaning the person writing the loan will immediately assign it to someone else, had also been around for a long time without difficulty;
  6. "Complex financial products" like credit default swaps had been around for decades;
  7. Those who invested in mortgage-backed securities had a lot of information; they just chose not to pay attention to it;
  8. Investors fully understood the risks, they just didn't think the risks would occur;
  9. Investors were optimistic about housing prices
  10. Mortgage insiders like Bear Stearns were the biggest losers;
  11. Outsiders, at least those who believed values would decrease; were the biggest winners;
  12. AAA bonds backed by mortgages did OK; AAA bonds backed by "complex debt obligations" (i.e., the worst mortgage were pooled and then the top of the pool was deemed AAA) were disasters.
The authors conclude that it was excessive optimism about prices that caused this crisis.  In other words, it was a classic bubble.  Analysts prepared scenarios that predicted exactly what happened but no one took those scenarios seriously and so ignored them.  The author also observe that since it has been historically difficult to identify the existence of a bubble when you are in the middle of it, both the lending system and consumers must be forced into practices that would allow them to sustain a price drop of at least 20% and still survive.  It is only by building such resilience into the system that we will be able to withstand future collapses.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Mid-Month Recording Statistics

Well, almost mid-month.  It's 1:30 p.m. on Friday, September 14.  I compiled the number of various document types recorded from September 1 to September 14 in 2011 and compared those numbers with the statistics from the same two weeks this year, or at least up till midday today.

For the first two weeks in September 2011 there were 158 deeds recorded; for the same time in 2012 there were 188 - an increase of 19%.

For the first two weeks of September 2011 there were 411 mortgages recorded; for the same time in 2012 there were 557 - an increase of 36%.

For the first two weeks in September 2011 there were 12 foreclosure deeds recorded; for the same time in 2012 there were 10 - a decrease of 16%.

For the first two weeks of September 2011 there were 13 orders of notice recorded; for the same time in 2012 there were 19 - an increase of 46%.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Mortgage assignments still in the news

For 300 years or so, mortgage assignments were fairly innocuous documents but they have been much in the news lately, both because of the "robo-signing" controversy and because of challenges to MERS (Mortgage Electronic Registration System, Inc.).  Recent stories about both caught my attention.

First was a story from a CBS affiliate in Atlanta on efforts bu local housing activists to have those who robo-signed documents criminally prosecuted.  The segment, available online here, included an interview with our own Essex South Register of Deeds John O'Brien who had this to say:

John O'Brien, Register of Deeds for the Southern Essex District in suburban Boston, has uncovered 38,000 fraudulent documents that have been recorded in his office. O'Brien said an outside audit revealed only 16 percent of the assignments in his registry are legitimate. 

"Totally fraudulent. The signatures are fraudulent and the information in some of the documents are fraudulent and they knew this. The banks knew this and the attorneys who processed this know it," O'Brien said. 

O'Brien found many different robosigners penned the same name.

"I can't look people in the eye and tell them who owns their mortgage because their mortgage has been sold so many times," O'Brien said.

"I am someone doing his job and I suspect the people of your state want your register of deeds to do their job," O'Brien said.  

On the MERS front, a US District Court judge in Oregon granted a motion to dismiss a civil complaint brought by a home owner who sought to have his mortgage declared void because the mortgage was held by MERS while the underlying promissory note had been negotiated to another entity without a traditional assignment of mortgage being involved.  The full decision in the case, Oliver v. Delta Financial Liquidating Trust, is available here

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The effect of foreclosures on neighboring property

What happens to the value of other nearby houses when a property goes into foreclosure?  That's a question investigated by four economists from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston in a recently released paper.  A story in this morning's Globe brought my attention to the study which can be found in its entirety on the Boston Fed's website.  Since the folks who wrote this are all Ph.D.s in economics, there are many formulas that I don't understand but the Abstract, which I've set out below sets out the findings in pretty clear terms:

In a recent set of influential papers, researchers have argued that residential mortgage
foreclosures reduce the sale prices of nearby properties. We revisit this issue using a more
robust identification strategy combined with new data that contain information on the
location of properties secured by seriously delinquent mortgages and information on the
condition of foreclosed properties We find that while properties in virtually all stages of
distress have statistically significant, negative effects on nearby home values, the magnitudes
are economically small, peak before the distressed properties complete the foreclosure
process, and go to zero about a year after the bank sells the property to a new homeowner.
The estimates are very sensitive to the condition of the distressed property, with a positive
correlation existing between house price growth and foreclosed properties identified as
being in “above average” condition. We argue that the most plausible explanation for these
results is an externality resulting from reduced investment by owners of distressed property.
Our analysis shows that policies that slow the transition from delinquency to foreclosure
likely exacerbate the negative effect of mortgage distress on house prices.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

How to REALLY improve the iPhone

I'm really not that excited about the new iPhone 5 Apple is expected to unveil tomorrow. Why? I have owned three iPhones over the past few years and truthfully, not much has changed from the first generation phone to the latest.
Yeah, I heard...the new one might have a bigger display screen and be a little thinner...Wow (sarcasm)

Come on, its time for Apple to really innovate. If I was Apple CEO, Tim Cook I would! In fact here are some of the improvements I would like to see in the new iPhone 5:

I'd like the new iPhone to be equipped with a Taste Bud Assistant. Visualize order a hamburg at Sal's Greeze Spoon. You point your iPhone at your hamburg, snap a picture and the Taste Bud Assistant tells you whether you need to add salt.... Now that's an improvement.

And I'd like the new iPhone to be equipped with a Huddle Includer. Here is how it would work...Say you're watching the Patriots and Brady throws a perfect pass to Wes Welker who drops it (again)...the team huddles, you point your phone at the huddle and shazam, you can hear every word the players say privately...Are you_____ kidding me, Wes. How did you drop that one? I can't _____throw the ball catch it too. Now that's an improvement.

And, I'd like my iPhone to have a Fact Checker. Let's say you are talking to a friend and well, you're not really sure if what he is saying is turn on the Fact Checker and if your friend starts stretching the truth the iPhone buzzes and the automated voices belts out... "liar, liar, liar". Now that's an improvement.

And lastly the new Apple iPhone 5 should be Transformable...I mean, it should be able to take on different shapes. You know, like those Transformer toys kids play with. I carry my iPhone in my shirt pocket. I hate here is what I'm thinking, wouldn't it be great if you could bend and twist your iPhone and shape it into a pair of sunglasses. Then the phone rings and you quickly bend and twist it back into a phone! Now that's an improvement.

If Apple intended to make any of these improvements I would be excited about tomorrow's release of the new iPhone 5...but I doubt it.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Property Sales

A For Sale sign recently appeared in front of a house in my neighborhood and within a few days a "sold" label was added.  I understand that within five days of the house hitting the market, there had been three offers of at least the asking price.  I've heard similar anecdotes from others.  All this is an indicator that the real estate market might be perking up notwithstanding a recent rise in new foreclosures.

To get a better view of what's going on with home sales, I scrolled through the 181 deeds for property in Lowell that have been recorded from August 1st until today.  Here's the breakdown: 100 of the 181 were arms length sales between unrelated parties; 44 involved inter-family transfers for no consideration; 31 involved sales of previously foreclosed properties by banks to third parties; and 6 involved some other type of transaction, typically a business-to-business swap for no consideration.

In the past when I've done this kind of query, the ratio of sales for consideration to sales for no consideration has been closer to one to one.  For the past five weeks, the percentage of arms length sales is up considerably which corroborates the view that housing is picking up a bit.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Register of Deeds election results

There will be some changes in the ranks of the state's registers of deeds come January.  All 21 positions are on the ballot this fall.  Some are running for re-election unopposed but there are three open seats in which nominees were selected yesterday plus  two incumbents lost.  Here are the results of these contested races, all from the Democratic Primary. 

Middlesex South - Incumbent Gene Brune did not seek re-election:
Maria Curtatone - 13,908 - 24%
Maryann Heuston - 12,644 - 22%
Thomas Concannon - 9,587 - 17%
Robert Antonelli - 8,923 - 16%
Frank Ciano - 7,494 - 13%
Tiziano Doto - 4,786 - 8%

Hampshire - Interim Register Pat Plaza, who took over when Marianne Donahue retired, did not see election:
Mary Olberding - 4,669 - 37%
Bonnie MacCracken - 4,349 - 34%
Timothy O'Leary - 3,619 - 29%

Berkshire Middle - First term incumbent Andrea Nucifuro ran for Congress (losing to Richard Neal):

Patsy Harris - 6,693 - 61%
Jody Phillips - 2,446 - 22%
Scott Pignatelli - 1,832 - 17%

Franklin - First term incumbent Joe Gochinski lost in his re-election effort:

Scott Cote - 5,662 - 68%
Joseph Gochinski - 2,646 - 32%

Essex North - First term incumbent Bob Kelley lost in his re-election effort:

Paul Iannuccillo - 4,675 - 57%
Robert Kelley - 3,499 - 43%

Most of these races and a few others that had no primary opposition will be contested in November, either with Republican candidates or unenrolleds or both.