Lowell Deeds

The latest on real estate recordings and new technology from the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds in Lowell

March 30, 2006

Multiple Documents Revisited

by @ 8:05 pm. Filed under Indexing

This past Monday, representatives from most Massachusetts registries of deeds gathered in Worcester to discuss the indexing standards that deal with “multiple documents” and “multifunction documents.” A multiple document is one that consists of a primary document with one or more other documents attached to it (a deed with a death certificate attached, for example). A multifunction document is one that does more than a single thing. For example, a single piece of paper that discharges three different mortgages would be a multifunction document. Despite codifying this as one of our indexing standards, there still was a great deal of confusion and inconsistancy on this issue. The registries agreed to compile lists of specific document combinations that would trigger these categories, treating them like we do documents that must be notarized. If it’s not on the list, it’s not a multiple document. We expect that final result of this will be implemented on July 1, 2006.

March 29, 2006

Jerry Maguire

by @ 10:11 am. Filed under Registry Ops

Did you hear yet? The registry has two “budding” discussion forums and you, yes you, are invited to take part. One is a public discussion of the Massachusetts Indexing Standards and the other deals with daily happenings and operations at the Lowell Registry of Deeds. I Know there are many people out there with something to say about the way “registries” are operated…I know… because people often stop me in the halls and give me their opinions. At Middlesex North we try hard to operate in a way that is best for the consumer. To do this well, we need to stay in touch, with you…the easiest way to do this is through our discussion groups…We need your feedback! It helps and its fun. In the words of Jerry Maguire… “help us, help you”. See you in the forum.

March 28, 2006

Striking it Rich on Tax Liens

by @ 1:01 pm. Filed under Real Estate

I’ve received several emails recently that go something like this:

Can you tell me when there will be a tax lien auction? I’ve heard of people buying properties for as little as hundreds of dollars? Is there any truth to it?

I don’t know what has precipitated these inquiries - maybe all the stories about the real estate market slowing down. And other states may handle this differently. For instance, most states outside of New England rely on county government to assess, collect and enforce real property taxes. In Massachusetts, that’s all done by each municipality. The property tax lien system in Massachusetts is also designed to produce revenue for towns; not to make the towns big landowners or to enrich speculators by selling half million dollar homes for $500 at a tax lien auction. So if you want to strike it rich here in the Commonwealth, you’re probably better off buying lottery tickets than you would be chasing after tax lien auctions.

March 27, 2006

A Hard Days Night

by @ 9:03 am. Filed under Current Events, Technology, Pop Culture

Hello…Do You Want to Know A Secret?…well it’s not really a secret. When Steve Jobs, Apple Computer’s Sun King, woke up from his Golden Slumbers this morning he must have thought … “Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away”. Apple Corps, the Beatles’ music division is suing Jobs’ Apple Computer. At issue is iTunes, Apple Computer’s online music store. This marks the third battle between the two Apples. The Beatles (IMO, the best Rock and Roll Music group around In My Life) formed Apple Corps in 1968. Steve Jobs was 13 years old in 1968 and couldn’t Help but be aware of the Beatles’ Apple…don’t Ask Me Why Jobs didn’t pick another name for his upstart company (there were plenty of fruits still not taken… Mango Computer, Apricot computer), …Excuse me, let me “Get Back” to the topic…The Beatles first sued Apple Computer in 1980 accusing the company of stealing their name. The Beatles won…but Apple Computer was just a small start-up then with little Money, led by Jobs, a virtual Nowhere Man. The Beatles received a small settlement and were happy to Let It Be. Nobody thought Apple Computer would be around long, never mind create a Revolution in the computer world…Eleven years later, after a Long and Winding Road and Steve Jobs working Eight Days A Week, Apple became a computer giant…it was then that the Beatles sued for a second time.This time they wanted to give Jobs A Ticket to Ride… and they won again…The settlement was Something…$26.5 Million. The Beatles claim the decision, in the 1991 lawsuit, prohibited Apple Computer from selling music… So, as expected, when Apple launched iTunes in 2003 the Beatles filed suit for a third time. It Won’t Be Long before this case comes to court unless officials from the two Apples tell a judge We Can Work It Out…but, I’ve Got A Feeling things are Getting Better between the Apples… If you are a Beatles lover, you are aware that their music is not available on iTunes or any other download…and…There is speculation that if the parties do Come Together the settlement may lead to the availability of Beatle music on iTunes… Meanwhile Steve Jobs must be thinking…I Should Have Known Better

March 24, 2006

More Real Estate News

by @ 10:36 am. Filed under Real Estate

The Mass Association of Realtors released some statistics for February home sales yesterday, prompting a story in today’s Globe. “Real Estate market in state may be stabilizing” reports that home sales in February 2006 were only 1.7% lower than those in February 2005. This came as a great relief to those in the real estate field because the January 2006 sales were 21% lower than sales in January 2005 and a continuation of that level of decline would have been clear evidence of a collapse. On an optomistic note, the story states that “the market may be stabilizing as the busy spring real estate market begins.” Others, however, caution that an unseasonably warm January this year had much to do with the level of sales consumated in February and that the market is still unstable. People “are divided” over where prices are headed but agree that “years of strong appreciation are over.” I guess it’s a question of whether you see the glass as half-empty or half-full. If you believe the market is in decline, then there are facts to support that, but if you feel it is just a slight correction with a strong market persisting, you can find facts to support that, too.

March 23, 2006


by @ 7:30 pm. Filed under Technology

Today’s Globe had a story about Loki.com, a new, “Internet based location and navigation” website. Here’s how it works: Loki has had employees drive around major American cities and plot the location of wireless routers. Each router emits a unique electronic signal. By knowing the location of these routers and the signal emitted by each, Loki can tell someone with a laptop computer exactly where they are located. The technology uses what I came to know as Direction Finding. I became familiar with it 25 years ago while serving in an Electronic Warfare unit in the US Army. Of course, we used it to locate targets of our potential enemies, so while I understand how it works, I have some hesitation using it. You see, if you can use the system to establish your location, the people running the system (and others too, perhaps) can use it to track your location as well.

March 22, 2006

Some Techie Things

by @ 11:36 am. Filed under Technology

Headlines for Techies from Google News :

There’s a war going on… between France and Apple Computer. They are at odds over the exclusivity of Apples wildly successful iTunes and iPod. “Apple iPods” you can only download music from “Apple’s music store, iTunes”…do you see a pattern?…Apple works only with Apple. This doesn’t sit well with the French government. A bill passed by the French legislature would require iPods to be manufactured so that music downloads would be available from “all music stores”, not just iTunes. The question…will Steve Jobs (the CEO of Apple) say
Au revoir to France?

And…things aren’t that rosy for Microsoft and Bill Gates either. Apparently, Microsoft has decided to postpone the release of its new operating system, Vista until January of 2007. January… as opposed to the original release date of November 2006… that means the release will be a month after Christmas not before it…Retailers are upset to say the least (No Vista to put under the tree)…Microsoft is saying Vista still has some security issues that need to be ironed out before is released.

Have you hear of Firefox yet? It’s an open-source Web browser. It is in direct competition with Microsoft Explorer (I’ll bet you didn’t even know there was an alternative to Explorer…well, I just found out too)…and it’s FREE. Anyway, Firefox is ready to release a beta version of Firefox 2.0 anytime now. I use Firefox on my home computer and am very pleased with it.

And final an exclusive piece of techie news that you will not find in Google News…
I have completed burning 1629-1855 CD’s for six of our ten towns…”Bill and Steve, how do you like them apples?” …I know Google News isn’t too impressed.

March 21, 2006

Economists Predict Housing Market Rebound

by @ 8:50 am. Filed under Real Estate

According to stories in the Globe and the Lowell Sun, David Lereah, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, and Cathy Minehan, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, both stated yesterday at the New England Realtors Conference in Boston that they expected the regional housing market to remain healthy and even bounce back from its current slump through the remainder of the decade. Both did acknowledge that the market has slowed, but emphasized that such a turn must be placed in the context of the five-year expansion that saw historically high increases in home prices in New England. Still, Lereah cited a high level of existing debt, slow sales, and homes remaining on the market for longer as reasons for concern. Both Lereah and Minehan seem to discount the threat posed by declining prices in a time of rampant 100% financing of new home purchases. If someone bought at the peak of the market and borrowed the entire purchase price (which is what we see, more often than not, at the recording counter), if the value of that house declines even slightly, the new owner is stuck owing more than the house is worth which is fine so long as the owner can continue making the mortgage payments.

March 20, 2006


by @ 8:46 am. Filed under Registry Ops

The 1629-1855 historical document and index images are nearing ready for “publication”. We plan to make the first set of these CD’s available to our towns. Obviously, each town will receive the documents that relate to its community. The largest benefit to the most people will come by giving these unique records to historical societies and libraries. Before distribution the CD’s and covers must be labeled. The purpose of the picture/labels is more than just aesthetic. The labels help users identify CD’s. Other than Lowell, our towns have three CD’s in their set. The first CD will be labeled with a picture of the community’s Town Hall, the second a picture of the Library and the third a famous monument in the town. We are working on the picture/label prototypes right now.

March 17, 2006

Zillow on the Front Page

by @ 3:49 pm. Filed under Real Estate

Today’s Globe reports that Zillow is the new buzzword at social gatherings. Just as everyone a few years ago was “Googling” their own names, now people are “Zillowing” their homes and the homes of their neighbors, relatives and friends. Since we first reported on Zillow on February 9 (and again on February 23) I guess that’s just further evidence that we’re on the cutting edge of new developments in real estate.

March 16, 2006

Interactive Maps Coming Soon

by @ 8:08 am. Filed under Website

For the past few weeks we’ve been experimenting with a website called www.mapbuilder.net which provides a simple (and free) interface for beginners to merge their own data with Google Maps software. You may be familiar with the Sales Reports page of our website on which we provide monthly data for property sales for each town within the Middlesex North District. Soon we’ll be adding a map to this page that will show the location of each property sold with a small colored “thumbtack” that will be familiar to anyone who has used Google maps before. By clicking on each thumbtack, you will cause a data window to open that will show the property address, the sales price and the date of sale. Because so many properties are sold (even still, despite the slowing market), we will create a separate map for each month. Our first map so far only shows sales for the city of Lowell for February 2006 but we have added the assessed value of each property and the difference between the assessed value and the sales price. Those properties that sold for more than the assessed value are depicted by green thumbtacks; those that sold below assessed value are shown in red. To see this map, CLICK HERE which will bring to to the Mapbuilder site and then select the Feb 2006 map. Mapbuilder is a new site and it’s free so you might run into some trouble reaching it. But if that happens, please check back later - it’s worth the visit.

March 15, 2006

Times They Are A Changin

by @ 9:26 am. Filed under Real Estate

Major changes are definitely happening in the real estate market. The media has been writing about this for at least a year. Finally, there seems to be undisputable evidence developing at the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds. March has seen a dramatic surge in the number of Foreclosure Deeds recorded. Here are the facts: Since March 1 we have recorded nine Foreclosure Deeds (that’s only two weeks)… two on March 7, five on March 8, one on March 10 and one on March 14. Here’s a breakdown by towns for that two week period: Billerica two, Chelmsford one, Dracut one, Lowell three and Tewksbury two. Last year from Jan 1 2005 to March 15, 2005 (that’s 10 weeks) we recorded only seven Foreclosure Deeds. When you look at 2006 to date the statistics are shocking…from Jan 1, 2006 to March 15, 2006 we have recorded twenty-six Foreclosure Deeds. This is even more significant when you considered that we only recorded forty-seven Foreclosure Deeds during all of 2005. If you have been looking for hard evidence of a major shift in the real estate market…look no further.

March 14, 2006

Selling Homes at Auction

by @ 12:55 pm. Filed under Real Estate

Today’s Globe claims that home sellers are increasingly turning to auctions as a method of finding buyers for slow moving real estate. The latest trend is towards multiple property sales where a dozen or more properties are auctioned on the same day at a central location. In fact, the auctioneer featured in the Globe story, JJManning.com Auctioneers, has a “huge spring auction event” scheduled for April 29 at noon at the Westin-Waltham Hotel. Procedurally, the seller at such an auction will sign a contract with the auctioneer setting a minimum price that is not disclosed to the bidders. If the auction yields a bid equal to or in excess of the minimum, the buyer must sell for that price. The auctioneer will try to get more, of course. According to today’s article, not many sales reached the minimum amount. Predictably, the auctioneer quoted in the story cited this lack of sales as indicative of the market’s “mood,” suggesting that the spring market will be “somewhat of a bust.” A real estate broker interviewed for the story claimed the problem wasn’t the market, it was sellers with unreasonably high expectations of the values of their properties.

March 13, 2006

The Sopranos? Who Needs Em?

by @ 10:06 am. Filed under Pop Culture

By now we have all heard of Podcasting. It is the “broadcasting” of a radio show on the Internet. It seems that Podcasting is already on its way out of style. What’s new?… How about locally grown Internet TV shows (no, it is not called Podvision, although I think that is a pretty good name for it). These TV shows are being produced by average, everyday people like you and me. You don’t need a TV signal, you don’t need an FCC license… all you need is a computer, microphone and camera. The shows appeal to small niche audiences…but remember, there are many, many niche groups… therefore there are more and more Internet TV shows being produced.
I asked myself… “Tony, why not you? Why don’t you produce an Internet TV show? You’re a man of many “small interests”… so here are some of my ideas for a possible show… Which do you like best?

Grantor TV…for those of us that are totally fascinated by the Grantor Indexes…You know people like me that wonder …hmmm…in the 1920’s were the Grantor Indexes hand written or typed?

EZ Pass TV… I think a program dedicated to the efficient use of EZ Pass at the Hampton, NH Toll would be very popular…topics for shows are endless. Examples…How to re-mount you Transponder after the velcro fails, How to avoid an “EZ Passless” driver backing out of the EZ Pass lane.

Toaster TV…if you have followed this Blog you know that I have a major problem with my home toaster (it doesn’t like me and I don’t like it)… I’ll bet there are many others like me (now this is a niche group)…people who can’t set the “done meter” correctly or those of us that can’t get the toaster lever to catch(click, pop…click, pop) or can’t seem to fit a bagel in the slots (I am thinking of cutting them in half to see if that works).

Did you know that the registry has 35 mm and 16mm microfilm? You would if you watched “All about the Reel” TV. My comprehensive Internet show on microfilm. If this is successful I am planning a spinoff called “All about DLT and Data Tapes TV”.

Registries Aournd the World TV…The show whisks you off to visit Registries of Deeds around the World…Paris, Rome, Vienna…we will dine out of the finest vending machines European Registries have to offer and drink the best “hot brown water” available in municipal buildings throughout the world (I refuse to call the liquid that comes out of those vending machines coffee)… We will take the time to observe ancient and historical deeds, like the one from Brutus and Cassius selling Caesar a small swamp outside of Rome (“don’t worry Caesar, you can trust us, it’s buildable”)

If this type of TV were available who would need The Sopranos?…These are just a few of my ideas…any suggestions?

March 10, 2006

Community Mapping

by @ 5:26 pm. Filed under Website

Sorry I missed posting a blog entry yesterday but I was attending a class at Lowell Telecommunications Corporation on “Community Mapping.” We’re learning how to use Google Maps software to customize maps for an almost infinite variety of purposes. For example, I’m working on a monthly sales map that will place an icon at the exact loaction of every house that’s been sold in this registry district during that month. By clicking on the icon, you will display a data box containing the address of the property, the date of sale, the book and page where the deed was recorded and the sales price. For Lowell properties, we’re also looking up the assessed value so it can be instantly compared to the sales price. For these preliminary efforts - you might start seeing some examples next week - we’re suing a free service called Map Builder which you should check out.

March 8, 2006

Registered Land Condo Plans

by @ 10:18 am. Filed under Registry Ops

Sometimes a random event can motivate a project…Yesterday we had a “rare” request for a Registered Land Condominium Plan…Years ago these plans were filmed on aperture cards but…they have never been scanned..The originals are in the basement and as I said rarely used. If you are a frequent user of the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds you know most of our documents and plans are now available digitally…but …I must admit, there are some “unique items”, like the Reg Condo Plans, that we are just getting to. Monday we will begin scanning these plans. There are less than 100 of them so the project should only take about a week. There is a slight problem related to the quality of these mylars. Some have faded over the years from being mishandled and poorly stored… but I think our experienced scanners will be able to work with them. These plans will reside in a folder named “Plan Book 500”. In order to view them you will need to first open the “ACS Plan Program”…put in a random plan book and page number…say Plan Book 100 plan 1. Once the “Plan Imaging Program” is open you can view a Registered Land Condo plan by entering Plan Book 500 and the number of the plan. Example: If you want to see Reg Land Condo plan # 22, you would enter Plan Book 500 Page 22. I will let everyone know when the project is complete..

March 7, 2006

Freakonomics and Real Estate Brokers

by @ 11:11 am. Filed under Real Estate

There was an interesting article on the economics of real estate brokers in this past Sunday’s Globe. Unfortunately, the link to it is already gone, so it’s probably only available in the Globe’s archives. Written by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt, the authors of the bestselling book, Freakonomics, “If real estate is prospering, chance are your agent isn’t” examines the propriety of the standard broker’s commission from the perspective of the real estate broker. The authors point out that most brokers charge of fee equal to 5% or 6% of the sales price of the home being sold. If the value of the home doubles because of rising real estate values, the amount of money going to the broker doubles as well even though the work performed and the effort expended by the broker remain about the same. This has given rise to some criticism of the commission system and has helped launch sites such as www.zillow.com which seek to supplant the functionality of the traditional broker. Dubner and Levitt argue, however, that in a real estate boom, all manner of people become real estate brokers which greatly increases the number of folks who are competing for those commissions. Even though the total amount of commissions increase substantially in a booming market, because there are so many additional brokers, the average fee per broker actually decreases. In tougher times when a large number of brokers turn to other jobs, the number of brokers dividing up the total fees is much less, so the remaining brokers earn more. It was certainly an interesting article although it really does sidestep the whole issue about the appropriateness of broker commissions.

March 6, 2006

shhhh, it’s a secret

by @ 9:42 am. Filed under Technology

I was asked to give a little more information on the Open Source software concept I blogged about last week…I am by no means a computer expert so please indulge me. Open source refers to computer software in which the “source code” is made available to the general public. What is the source code? Well, I’d compare it to the program’s DNA. Smart computer people (unlike me) know how to work with “source code”…Open Source software allows them to copy, modify and redistribute a program without paying royalties or fees. Let’s use a food (or more actuately a beverage) analogy…It is like Coca Cola making their “secret formula” public and letting anyone change it and then give the drink away (here you go, try this…I call it TonyCola) . Why would anyone give the formula( or source code) away? The thinking is with large numbers of people creatively contributing to the formula (or software in this case) you have a better drink (or program)…. and since everyone knows the ingredients (source code) there is no concern that your favorite drink will be gone if someday the manufacturer goes out of business…Well, if this explanation seems lame, try “The Real Thing” …The Open Source Initiative

March 3, 2006

Welcome Aboard

by @ 11:39 am. Filed under Technology

Last year Massachusetts began paving the way for the elimination of the use of proprietary software by government agencies. The problem is simple…government documents are “public records”. They need to be fully accessible “to all” today and a hundred years from now. Currently 90% of the world (including Massachusetts) uses Microsoft Office for document creation and storage. I know it is easy to forget, but “Windows” is a proprietary software…if it were to become obsolete hundreds of thousand of government records would be inaccessible. Here’s a good example that’s close to home…in the registry’s basement are racks of twelve inch computer reels designed to run on a (get this) Xerox Computer (stop laughing). The hardware is broken, the software is gone and nobody would have any idea how to use it anyway… in other words…the reels are unreadable. Fortunately, the information on these reels was transferred to another proprietary system (Wang) then later transferred to still another proprietary system (ACS/ Windows). Can government free itself from these closed systems? Yes, “Open Source” software is the answer. “Open Source” software is non-proprietary which makes it accessible and readable by most other software. This is what Massachusetts has been pursuing…And finally an effort outside of Massachusetts is organizing. A group called the OpenDocument Format Alliance is being formed on a national level (welcome aboard!). The group’s goal is to promote the adoption of open technology standards in government. The Alliance is made up of 30 companies, trade groups, universities, professional organizations and groups and (of course) rivals of Microsoft. According to Patrice McDermott, a member of the new Alliance, the “goal is to ensure that the largest number of people possible are able to find, retrieve and meaningfully use government information”. The state of Massachusetts has adopted a policy establishing the use of “Open Source” for the creation of government documents. This policy will be mandatory in the next few years. Firefox, Mozilla Suite, Thunderbird, Bugilla, Camino, WordPress… these are just a few of the “Open Source” softwares that are now taking center stage…”Open Source” is here and it’s here to stay…just ask the OpenDocument Format Alliance…

March 2, 2006

New Design for Website

by @ 11:02 am. Filed under Website

We’ve started work on a new design for our website. A reaction that we should leave well enough alone is understandable, but we can only ask for your patience - and your input. What about the website could be improved? What information is hard to find? What information that should be there isn’t? Two things have led to the decision to change the site.

We are nearly finished loading all document images from Book 1 through Book 1128 onto our website. This will give us coverage from 1855 up to 1950. These images were digitized by scanning the microfilm of those books. Unfortunately, the quality is not uniformly high and many of these new electronic images will be illegible electronically. We will work to improve the poor images, but the vast majority of the images in this range are fully usable. There’s an old saying that “the perfect can become the enemy of the achievable.” In our case, if we waited until we had 100% perfection in our older image collection, we might never get any old images up on the web. By going with what we’ve got right now, you’ll have access to about 80% of our pre-1950 images (which is 100% more than you have right now). Also, these new (old) images will not be made part of the ACS database with the more recent images but will reside on our website and be viewable through the image viewing program we used when we first had a website. It’s an old program but it works just fine. We’ll be reviving it along with the new website.

The other reason for changing the appearance of the website is to make more information available to you faster and more efficiently. The current format is dominated by short words or phrases with hyperlinks to other pages. Unless you’re quite good at discerning the thought process of the website designer, you may often have to engage in guesswork to find what you’re looking for. The new site will have a front page packed with links AND explanations. Your eye and your brain can scan through that information faster if it’s all on one page than if it’s scattered about in many different pages.

This process has just started so don’t look for the new site for at least a couple of weeks. In the meantime, let us know what features you like, dislike or can’t find at all.

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