The latest on real estate recordings and new technology from the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds in Lowell
Yesterday’s Globe carried a front page story “Housing slowdown squeezes borrowers: Foreclousre cases hit 12-year high” that certainly got my attention. The key statistic used by the story is the number of Orders of Notice filed at the Land Court. Here’s an excerpt from our website that explains Orders of Notice in the context of the overall foreclosure process:
In Massachusetts, a lender seeking to foreclose a mortgage
must first obtain permission from the court. As part of this
process, the court issues an ORDER OF NOTICE that must
be recorded at the Registry of Deeds. The ORDER OF NOTICE
names the parties, the property address, and the Book and Page
where the mortgage is located. Once the court gives permission
to proceed, the lender may schedule the foreclosure sale at
any time. The next document that gets recorded at the Registry
of Deeds, the Foreclosure Deed, is not recorded until after the
sale has occurred.
Here in Middlesex North, the statistics tell a different story: The number of Orders of Notice recorded in 2005 (340) was down slightly from the number recorded the previous year (346), however, the numbers recorded in both years were higher than at any time since 1997 when 483 were recorded. The highest annual amount in the past 15 years? That would be 1992 when 975 were recorded. Of course, with today being the last day of the month, we can look at our first indicators for 2006 and they don’t paint a particularly bleak picture: in January we’ve only recorded 23 Orders of Notice which, if projected out over a full year, would only come to 276, far fewer than last year’s total.
Yesterday was the 42th anniversary of the death of Robert Frost, American’s great poet. I must admit, Frost is my favorite poet. When I was in the 8th grade I had a football coach/English teacher. Of course, he preferred to talk more about football than poetry, but for some reason (which I never figured out) he made us memorize “Stopping By A Wood On A Snowy Evening”. That poem stays with me even today (“The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep”). Frost was local…I mean Merrimack Valley local. He moved to Lawrence, Massachusetts when he was just 11 years old and met his future wife there. In his early life Frost was a part of the fabricate of the Merrimack Valley. He wrote his first poem while in Lawrence High School and taught in Methuen. He once said “my year and a half in the Lawrence District School and my four years in Lawrence High School were the heart of my education”. But for many of us in our mid fifties and older, our strongest memory of Robert Frost is at the inauguration of President John Kennedy in 1961. I was ten years old…it was a frigid day in Washington DC. The Capital was covered in snow from an earlier storm. The sun glared off the snow so intensely it blinded the poet. Frost could not see the poem he had written for the occasion titled “Dedication”. He was 86 years old and feeble, yet stately. I can visualize him at the podium as if it were yesterday… the gray hair, the distinguished, wrinkled face. The text of his verse rendered useless by the sun, he recited from memory a poem he wrote in 1942 called “The Gift Outright”. The first line reads…”The land was ours before we were the lands”… fitting.
We have been experiencing some “minor” problems with the computer which displays the Assessor’s Map. It keeps losing its connection to our server. We have been in contact with the state’s IT people regarding the issue and they are helping us work through it. For now, if you have a problem with the program please tell our MIS Directorm, Donna Underwood (most of the time she is in the South Satellite Office) or me, Tony Accardi. “Ususally, we can get it going…sorry for the inconveience.
Is anyone else writing a blog about real estate in Massachusetts? A quick survey of the web located a few. There’s one by Meltzer Law Offices of Concord that concentrates on development and land use law and decisions. Another, Essex County Massachusetts Real Estate by Phyllis Jones, an attorney and real estate broker from Andover seems to focus on buying and selling real estate. Now all I did was go to the Google Blog Search and type search terms such as “Massachusetts Real Estate” and “Massachusetts Property Law” or “Property Records” but there seems to be an extremely limited number of sites discussing these topics. Of course, this blog never appeared in response to my searches and we’ve been writing on these topics for more than two years, so it could be that the search engine is defective. Let’s perform our own search. If any of our readers have other blogs or websites that you find helpful in your work, please send us an email or post a comment with the address of those sites so we can investigate them further.
Things are moving a little faster than expected on the Middlesex South Scanning Project. PaperTrace, our digital conversion vendor, was not expected to begin work on the project until next week. They showed up this morning (a few days early) and picked up the film. The images will be named by “Town”, “Book #” and “Page #”. Example: Bill0010001 is the “first page” of the “first book” in the “Billerica” series. The way these images are named becomes very important later during the process of making them available to the public .
Big things happening “next week” at the registry…About three years ago we began scanning our Land Court Plans. Unfortunately, we were forced to stop this project when business exploded in 2003 (remember… the Good Ole days). Before stopping about 75% of these plans had been imaged. Yesterday, we decided to explore what was needed to resurrect this project. Our inquiries were well rewarded…in fact better than we hoped. Within two hours we loaded a newly developed, Registered Land Plan scanning program on the ACS system. We are thrilled to say the least. Next week the project restarts. Once the remaining 25% of the Registered Land plans have been scanned they will be available on our in-house database and the Internet.
On Monday (next week) the first fifty rolls of microfilm containing our Middlesex South records (1630-1855) will be sent out for digital conversion. There are 114 rolls in all. I estimate that the entire project should take no more than two months to complete (I Know, I’m an optimist). While the “South Record Book” films are being scanned we will be cropping the “South Grantor Indexes” in-house. Our paart of the project should take only about two weeks.
Yesterday I was asked what information was available on the Middlesex Probate Computer located in the Registry of Deeds. I had an idea but wasn’t sure, so I called Probate. Divorce records are available from January 1, 2000 to present. All other Probate records (Wills, Name Changes etc) are avilable from October 1, 2001 to present. Probate Officials in Cambridge also said there is a small number of records available before 2000. Usually these are records that had been recently pulled.
Our theme of statistical analysis continues. Despite a 34% decrease in the number of documents recorded from 2003 to 2004 (158,000 down to 104,000), the number of deeds recorded in those two years stayed almost exactly the same (9,781 in 2003 and 9,686 in 2004). The transition from 2004 to 2005 was quite different, however, with the total number of documents decreasing by 9% (104,000 down to 94,500). The startling drop came in the number of deeds recorded. 2004’s 9,686 descended to 7,152 in 2005, a decrease of 26%. What was really bizarre, however, was that the amount of excise tax we collected during that period increased from $10,340,685 to $11,807,728, a 14% rise. Because the excise tax is based on the sales price of property ($2.28 per $500 of purchase price), you might assume that if the number of deeds decreased by 26%, the amount of excise tax collected would decrease proportionately. But the exact opposite occurred: excise tax collections rose. The only explanation I can imagine is that the price of homes being sold in 2005 rose considerably thereby yielding more tax on less sales.
They’re called Millennials…“They” are the newest generation of consumers. Born between 1980 and 2000, the oldest of these Millennials is only 25. According to a recent New York Time’s article, by the year 2010 the Millennials will out number prime consuming “Baby Boomers” and “The Gen-Xers”. Even now their likes/dislikes, wants/needs and technology habits are shaping how information is sent and received… and what information is sent and received. They do not read newspapers “Papers are clunky and big” according to the Times article. They do not watch “prime time” news or TV for that matter. Rather, Millennials download their favorite shows and music and enjoy them commercial free on an iPod or PC. It’s an “on demand” generation…When they want to know the weather they log into weather.com. What were yesterday’s football scores? It’s NFL.com. Is school canceled? Millennials do not glue themselves to a long, alphabetical, radio list. They receive a text message directly from the news source. Without doubt, they are turning the information world upside down and making traditional media providers shutter. We have already seen the demise of the 6 o’clock National News. Newspaper circulation figures throughout the country are plummeting… And most of that was the work of “The GenXers”…what are these “kids” going to do?
Recent media articles have reported a surge in foreclosures although our statistics haven’t really reflected this. We counted the number of foreclosure deeds (you can’t get any better evidence that a foreclosure’s occurred than that) from 1990 to 2005. The number of foreclosure deeds recorded for Lowell in 2005 was only 16 while in 2004, there were 32. That’s a 100% decrease the way I do math. Still, I’ve long had a sense that foreclosures were on the upswing, so we dug deeper into our records and compared the number of orders of notice (the document that signals the start of the foreclosure process) to the number of foreclosure deeds recorded. In 2005, there were 143 orders of notice for Lowell but only 16 foreclosure deeds. That means only 11% of properties where an order of notice was filed went on to foreclosure. Contrast that with our peak year of 1993 where 411 orders of notice led to 380 foreclosure deeds, a 92% ratio. To get a sense of the reason why so few orders of notice culminate in actual foreclosures these days, we tracked 15 Lowell properties that had orders of notice recorded between January and March 2005. Of the 15, three went on to foreclosure, three others were rendered moot when the property was sold to a third party, one had a second order of notice recorded and eight had no further activity. Does this mean that half of those whose property was in financial distress suddenly became current in their payments? That’s hard to believe, but it certainly suggests that lenders are hesitant to follow through on the actual foreclosure sale of these properties.
Today’s announcement by Freddie Mac marks the sixth straight week that fixed mortgage rates dropped. The average 30 year mortgage rate fell from 6.2% to 6.1%. This rate is the lowest consumers have seen since late October, 2005. Over the last six months, rates have dropped a quarter of a percent. The news is similar for fifteen year and jumbo mortgages as well. Those rates went down also. The average jumbo rate dropped to 6.3% and fifteen year rates to 5.7%. As of this writing these decreases have not had an affect on business at this registry. Interestingly enough, casual discussion with some local attorneys indicate that February will be a busier month than the past two.
We came very close to ordering up wireless internet service for the registry. This wouldn’t have anything to do with our network, so it’s not like we’d be allowing people with “strange” laptops to tie into the registry’s network and essentially have their own public access computer. Instead, this would allow folks with wireless-equipped laptops to log onto our website and perform research over the Internet. For users, one of the big benefits of this would be the ability to obtain electronic images of documents. You can do that easily from our website, but not from our -in-the-registry system. There, you must print the document if you want a copy of it. As I envision it, title examiners would be able to prepare an electronic title report right at the registry, complete with document images and then email the full report to the customer. The wireless capability would also give us some redundancy in the event our computer system went down like it did one day last week. (The Internet server is separate from our network server). Sounds good so far, doesn’t it? The hesitation is that once we allow Internet access to the public, we will be allowing full Internet access, not just access to registry and other land related sites. There’s no telling what people might be accessing and, while I understand that’s the nature of the Internet, government is a particularly conservative institution when it comes to things like that. I have to give it a lot more thought. In the meantime, if you have any opinions on this topic, please share them with us.
Before a document can be returned to the public it must be scanned, microfilmed and verified. For this reason documents must remain in our possession for a reasonable period of time. Prior to January 1 this work period was sixty days. The current decrease in business has allowed us to assign additional staff to the task of processing documents after recording (microfilming, scanning, verifying etc). This has allowed us to dramatically shorten the return time for documents. Over the past week we have processed over six weeks of return mail. As a comparison…before the change we processed approximately one week, per week. One of the short-term consequences of this new policy is that registry boxes are overflowing. So… please, stop by Customer Service and pick up your registry box on a “regular basis”.
An article in last Tuesday’s Boston Globe (”Most Mass. home buyers using out-of-state lenders”, Jan 10, 2006 - sorry I didn’t get a chance to create a link) explained how out-of-state lenders were the grantees on 74% of all mortgages in 2004, an almost exact reversal from 1990 when Massachusetts banks made that percentage of mortgages. Besides taking business from local banks, these non-Mass lenders have ushered in an era of “exotic and often risky loans.” To see if this trend was corroborated by Middlesex North recording statistics, I ran some preliminary reports. While there’s no easy way to determine the percentage of mortgages attributable to out-of-state versus in-state lenders, I was able to compile some relevant information.
I compared the grantees on all mortgages recorded in 2004 (31014 total mortgages) with like figures from 1986 (28557 total mortgages). Here are the names of the top ten lenders during these two periods followed by the number of mortgages each made and the percentage of the total number of mortgages that number represents:
Fleet National Bank—-1941—-6.3%
Jeanne d’Arc Credit Union—-882—-2.8%
Sovereign Bank —- 835—-2.7%
BankNorth —- 834—-2.7%
Citizens Bank of Mass —- 724 —- 2.3%
Wells Fargo Bank —- 699 —- 2.25%
Washington Mutual Bank —- 684 —- 2.2%
Digital Federal Credit Union —- 604 —- 1.95%
Enterprise Bank and Trust Co —- 556 —- 1.8%
Central Savings Bank —- 1970 —- 6.9%
Comfed Savings Bank —- 1553 —- 5.4%
First Bank —- 1343 —- 4.7%
Lowell Five Cent Savings Bank —- 1292 —- 4.5%
Baybank Middlesex —- 982 —- 3.4%
Union National Bank —- 922 —- 3.2%
First Eastern Mortgage Co —- 833 —- 2.9%
Lowell Institution for Savings —- 795 —- 2.8%
Merrimack Mortgage & Trust —- 720 —- 2.5%
Jeanne d’Arc Credit Union —- 707 —- 2.5%
You may be seeing more of these types of statistics. And maybe a “bank trivia” competition that will help us compile a record of what happened to all these banks that no longer exist.
We’re in the midst of a major outage of our in-registry computer system. All recording and public search functions are shut down until the technicians can resolve the problem. Sorry for the inconvenience; we’ll post again as soon as it’s fixed. In the meantime, the website search function seems to be working OK as an alternative.
Problem solved at 9:00 a.m. The problem, it turns out, that a computer tech tinkered with the sytems last night and, to paraphrase the law of physics, “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” A consequence of last night’s minor modification was to cause the computer to act, this morning, like it was experiencing a major problem. The solution turned out to be a simple one. Unfortunately, no one told us about this in advance and we had to scramble around for 30 minutes, inconveniencing our customers in the process, to have someone tell us after the fact “that was expected to happen.” I wish I could say everyone would learn from this experience, but that’s never happened before, so I’m not hopeful it will happen now.
Congratulations to the Lowell National Historical Park and the UMass Lowell’s Center for Lowell History for making three excellent historical atlases of Lowell available online. These are full color atlases that contain an incredible level of detail including the footprint of buildings on various lots, the name of the building owner, the square footage of the lot and the building symbols are color coded by usage. Atlas No. 1 is from 1896; Atlas No. 2 is from 1924; and Atlas No. 3 is from 1879. I’ve always hoped to incorporate these atlases into our map-based system for organizing historic records, so it’s wonderful to learn that someone’s successfully converted them to digital images. Thanks for that very valuable accomplishment.
The buzz word at both the Macworld conference and Consumer Electronics Show last week was “convergence”. In the Gizmo world “convergence” is probably best defined as the coming together of numerous, varied electronic devices. Example: The new Apple Video iPod allows you to download TV shows directly to your iPod and watch them “On Demand”. In recent years the leader in the convergence field has been Apple Computer. Apple has experienced an amazing turn around in the past few years. About five years ago Bill Gates (you know, the Microsoft guy) helped Apple stay afloat by investing millions of dollars in the computer company. The result…a turn around, led by the iPod, that has been stunning. It truly amazes me that Steve Jobs (Apple’s founder and CEO) beat the stuffing out of his rival, the giant Microsoft in the digital music area (that’s like me beating the defense and sacking Tom Brady for a lose). Apple launches iTunes, iPods, Nano’s VideoiPods and Microsoft launches…well, little…and it continues… At the MacWorld conference yesterday, Jobs announced that Apple would be installing Intel Microprocessing chips in its new iMac’s…Who cares???? Well, listen to this…Apple claims this will make the new iMac five times faster than its predecessors… Hello Bill, Bill!, anyone home Bill! (knuckles tapping on top of the billionaire’s head)…Its come to the point that Microsoft executives hope to “close the gap” on Apple’s operating system when they launch Vista later this year…Of course, most experts believe Microsoft has the “bucks” and power to turn this trend around…right Bill?, Bill!? Hello!… anyone home Bill?!… and history does have a tendency to repeat itself…just ask Goliath..
I attended a preliminary, very informal meeting with some folks from UMass Lowell and the National Park today about the prospects of a collaborative effort to digitize (scan) a wide variety of documents related to Lowell’s past. Because the registry of deeds already has a huge number of land-related legal documents available online, this is a very appealing project for us. While this is all very preliminary, the vision that’s emerging is one of a multitude of - media, I think is the right word - all linked to a point on the ground identified by the property address. Included would be basic documents such as deeds, building permits, and assessor’s cards but the concept is to expand the collection to include photographs of the home, both inside and out, shared by present and former occupants and other documents that would be almost unlimited in scope - letters written by prior occumpants, shopping lists, receipts for furniture purchases - there’s almost no limit on what could be included. This vision could provide a very unique and perhaps first-in-the-nation digital history of the community. How can this be all possible? Well, it is a huge undertaking but advances in technology have moved this vision from the hallucinatory to the achievable. For example, in 1995 at the registry of deeds we paid $50,000 for 50GB of electronic storage. Just last month I bought an external hard drive of 200GB for just $99 plus I’m waiting for my $30 rebate check. Almost unlimited electronic storage is completely affordable. That’s a big factor in making this project a reality.
Last week we got our first look at the digital image samples created from the South Middlesex Microfilm. These records span the years 1628-1855 (the opening of the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds) and are very historical in nature. A company named PaperTrac did the test work. Six rolls of microfilm were converted to electronic images, 4 rolls of Record Books and two rolls of Indexes. The images from these six rolls filled fourteen CDs. On Friday I checked all fourteen rolls. Overall, the images were excellent…They will surely be a great resource. Even while quickly scanning the CDs I found the records intriguing. I saw a number of references to “Indian” transactions and to Wamiset, a name often used to refer to old Tewksbury and parts of old Dracut. These records include the names of local family such as the “Coburns in Dracut”; the “Trulls and the Kittredges in Tewksbury”; the “Bridges in Chelmsford” etc. I am hoping these records will be available for public use in the next two months.
Someone asked me this question:
How quickly is a document received by the registry of deeds “recorded” and how soon after the document is recorded does it appear on the registry’s website?
Documents brought to us by a human being are recorded as the person is standing there. When the customer walks away from the recording counter, the document is already on recorded and as soon as a document is on recorde (i.e., in our computer system), the recording information about that document is immediately available on the website. Documents that are sent to us by mail (about 40% of our total recording volume) are almost always recorded the same day that they are received. All documents are usually scanned the day after they are recorded, so the images of newly recorded documents are typically available within 24 hours of recording. But again, data about newly recorded documents (the parties involved, property address, type of document, etc) is available immediately.
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