The latest on real estate recordings and new technology from the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds in Lowell
We crunched some numbers today comparing recordings for August of 2006 with August of 2005. For total documents, this month we recorded 7091, 26% less than the 9546 we recorded last August. The number of deeds recorded was down by 30% from 987 in 2005 to 695 in 2006. Mortgages were down similarly (by 27%) from 2782 in 2005 to 2034 in 2006. Unfortunately, foreclosure filings (orders of notice) and foreclosure deeds were both up substantially. Foreclosure filings (what the media now is calling oders of notice) rose 116% from 25 in August 2005 to 54 this month. Foreclosure deeds rose a disturbing 283%, from 6 in August 2005 to 23 this month. Check back tomorrow when we try to put this upward spike in foreclosure activity in historical context.
Yesterday’s Globe announced the launch of an amazing online resource, Ireland’s Historical Mapping Archive. Nearly two centuries ago, the government (of the United Kingdom, I presume) commenced an effort to map all of Ireland for “valuation purposes.” This project took 22 years to complete but the result was a superbly detailed color map of the entire country that depicts everything from roads to individual buildings and, in some cases, trees and bushes. This project (in the form of 30,000 separate maps) is now available online providing an unbelievable resource for historians and genealogists. While there is a fee associated with using this service (5 Euros per day, according to the Globe), that’s not a huge expense if you do your preliminary research off-line and lump all your map exploration into a single 24 hour period. Since I’m still at the very beginning of the “preliminary research” stage, it will be some time before I’m ready to plunk down my 5 EUR (about $6.40 by today’s exchange rate) and report back on the result. In the meantime, there are sample maps and a more descriptive account of the project on the official website.
This morning’s Boston Herald reports that mortgage foreclosures in Massachusetts are on the rise. The information comes from ForeclosureMass.com a company which keeps detailed statistics on foreclosures and “Orders of Notice”. Statewide foreclosures have increased by an average of 56%. Here is a sampling of some Mass counties…Plymouth County 102%; Bristol County 72%; Worcester County 65%and Suffolk County 63%. The figures compare July 2005 to July 2006. In July 2005 lenders began foreclosure proceedings on 866 mortgages in 2006 the number ballooned to 1,348. To create some balance, the Herald sites economist Mike Fratantoni of Mortgage Bankers Association. Fratantoni concedes that the July 2006 figures represent a large increase but the current foreclosure rate represents only .59 percent of all the state’s mortgages. According to Fratantoni this is about one third the 1.98 percent seen in the last housing slump of 1992.
Milton State Senator Brian Joyce is advocating that the state require loan officers and mortgage brokers be licensed. Currently, it is the responsibility of the individual mortgage company to check the qualification of loan officers. There is no state test, license or certificate required to be a mortgage officer. Unfortunately, Senator Joyce is a not optimistic about his bill. He introduced to the MA legislature last year and it failed and he believes it will fail again this year…but the bill’s prospects might have improved a little last week. After an extensive investigation, The Boston Globe revealed numerous cases of lending fraud in Lawrence. The Globe found instances of inflated income, identity theft and loan payments higher than stated. This malpractice led to serious troubles for borrowers, some victims were even forced to file for bankruptcy. Of course, the vast majority of mortgage brokers are knowledgeable and honest…but Senator Joyce is right. When I became a real estate “agent”, I was licensed by the state… when I became a real estate “broker” I was required to take classroom instruction and pass a test, then the state licensed me…The point is really brought home with the senator’s own words as quoted in this morning’s Boston Globe…“My God, we license manicurists and hairdressers”.
For some reason, several people recently asked me why our registered land department will not return original document to property owners as is the case with recorded land. That’s a question that I always had and five or six years ago I finally received a reasonable answer at a seminar with Land Court officials. With registered land, the Commonwealth guarantees title to the property which is why we have such a high standard for documents to be “registered.” But a document might appear perfectly legitimate but still be a forgery. If a claim of forgery ever arose, having the original document available for analysis by a document examiner would be crucial. A document examiner not only compares the appearance of a signature (something that can be done from a copy) but also uses a microscope to view the physical characteristics of the signature: at what point did the pen first touch the paper; at what point was the pen lifted from the paper; how much pressure was used at what point in the signature. Those are all factors that could not be determined from a photocopy and so, for that reason, the Land Court requires us to retain possession of original documents in registered land matters.
Tony and I traveled to Springfield yesterday to see the public unveiling of the BookScan 1200 at the Hampden County Registry of Deeds. This scanner, sold by Kirtas Technologies Inc., was an extremely impressive machine. A large-format registry document book was placed face up in the machine’s cradle and an overhead camera took a digital picture of each page of the book. What is most impressive was the mechanical device that automatically turned the book’s pages, making the scanning process completely automated. First, the machine blows a jet of air against the side of the book to loosen the pages, then a mechanical arm with a vacuum-like attachment reaches over and stops just before touching the open page. Suction from the vacuum device pulls up one page and the arm returns to its starting position, dropping the page on the other side of the book and allowing the camera to snap the next picture. According to Hampden County Register of Deeds Don Ashe, one of his employees doing this manually could scan only three books per day, while this machine can do twelve books per day. The machine stores the images initially in JPEG format until they’re touched up and cropped by the machine operator. They’re ultimately saved as TIFF images. The event was well attended, particularly by the local press. There were three TV cameras and a photographer and reporter from the Springfield Republican which ran a story about the scanner in today’s paper. In response to the reporter’s questions, Register Ashe said that the machine cost $170,000 and that it was paid for by a grant from the Secretary of State’s Information Technology Fund.
Yesterday we achieved a long awaited goal…we finished our marginal reference project. This massive project captured every marginal reference in record books from 1855 to 1987 (132 years). Employees flipped page by page and recorded the references in an Access Database…Here is some of the statistics: We worked on the project on and off for the past three years or so; Over the course of the project approximately 2 million record book pages were examined; In total we captured over 600,000 references; We discovered most documents have one or two references but, during the condo boom of the 1980’s some Master Deeds had as many as eighty marginal references.
The next step is to make these references available to the consumer both on the Internet and on our in-house database… congratulation to our staff for a job well done.
In an effort to make better use of some of the data in our recording system, I attempted to calculate the average sales price of properties in Lowell over the past few years. Because that’s not the primary function of our system, the data is not precise, but it certainly can disclose trends. For each year since 2000, I used the computer to count the number of deeds recorded in Lowell that stated a consideration greater than $75,000 and less than $1,000,000, and also to find the average price. Here’s the results:
In 2000, 5124 deeds (in the above category) were recorded with an average sales price of $155,371.
In 2001, 5111 deeds - average price of $179,213
In 2002, 5338 deeds - average price of $203,933
In 2003, 5648 deeds - average price of $238,058
In 2004, 6791 deeds - average price of $254,718
In 2005, 6802 deeds - average price of $267,967
In 2006 (to date), 3265 deeds, average price of 270,083
Some observations: In 2000, ‘01 & ‘02, prices rose an average of 15% per year. In 2004, the increase was 7%, in 2005, it was 5%, and this year, it’s only 1%. The number of deeds recorded also paints an interesting picture. The number was relatively stable from 2000 through 2003, but in 2004, the number of deeds rose by 20% and that number held steady through 2005. While we’re only in August of 2006, the numbers don’t look good. The number of deeds we’ve recorded to date average 99 per week. Projected over the full year, this would mean that only 5036 deeds will be recorded, a 26% decrease from the past two years and the lowest figure since before 2000.
Some operational updates…
L Plans: If you would like to see an original “L Plan” you can request it in Customer Service. Unfortunately, these plans had to be placed in storage because of their fragile condition… But copies of the “L Plans” are located in the tunnel area of the lower record hall beside the Plan Index Cabinets.
Record Hall Changes: We have received two important cost estimates for changes to the upper record hall…the first to move the furniture and the second for the additional data/voice cabling that is needed…we are making significant progress, the trial court’s electrician has disconnect all power going to the 76-95 consolidated index cabinet. We are on schedule to begin the move shortly after Labor Day.
PS 7000: All problems that I reported earlier with the PS 7000 have been resolved (finally)… and we are ready to begin scanning with it. The PS 7000 will be used to correct problems with bound books (books 1-2348). This is going to be a slow project, but we are starting today.
Social Security Numbers: We have isolated Social Security numbers in the years 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998 and1997…This has been done for Mass Tax Liens, Federal Tax Liens, Mass Tax Releases, Federal Tax Releases and Death Certificates…although, we have actually only redacted one month.
Yesterday’s Northwest Weekly section of the Globe carried a story about a dispute that has arisen regarding the disposition of the land that was once Fort Devens, a US Army base that came into existence during World War One that was recently closed (sorry, but I can’t find the article online). The land acquired for Fort Devens formerly belonged to the Massachusetts towns of Ayer, Harvard and Shirley. Officials in those towns, especially the town of Harvard which lays claim to 60% of the former Fort Devens, want the portions of the military outpost that were once part of their communities to be “re-annexed.” Others, however, want Devens to be incorporated as the Commonwealth’s 352nd town (East Brookfield, incorporated in 1920, was the last “new” town in Massachusetts). Having once been assigned to Devens and being somewhat aware of its vast expanses of undeveloped land, I can understand why there is a dispute about its disposition. An interesting twist from a registry of deeds perspective is this: should Devens be incorporated as a separate town, which registry district would it fall within? Ayer and Shirley are both in the Middlesex South District, but Harvard is in the Worcester District. Next time I see Gene Brune and Tony Vigliotti, (the registers of Middlesex South and Worcester) I’ll ask them what they think.
Ever heard of Cere? How about Charon? Or Xena? Well, you will. These are the names of three new planets being added to the solar system… By whom?…the International Astronomical Union that’s who… Shortly, ever kid in American will be memorizing Mercury, Venus Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, Cere, Charon and Xerox, I mean Xena.. Every textbook will be changed also. Apparently, we have known about these round orbiting objects for quite some time…we just didn’t call them planets. What does it take to be a planet anyway?…Here is some of the things I think the International Astronomical Union should have considered before giving planet status to these orbs…
Is there a WiFi hotspot somewhere on it?
Is the sphere on Captain Kirk and the Starship Enterprise’s “must go there” list?
Did it take part in the “Big Bang”…even a small part is acceptable.
Did George Jetson ever have a part-time job there?
Was it ever referred to as planet X in a 60’s Sci-Fi movie?
And another thing…
I don’t really like the new names…Cere, Charon Xena? What’s up with that? Most of the other planets are named after mythological gods and goddesses…so why don’t we do something similar now?…Here’s an idea, we treat celebrities like deities, so why not name the new planets after movie stars…Suggestions: Cruise (namned after Tom Cruise) this will be the planet with the most irregular orbit; Simpson (named after Jessica or Homer whichever you prefer) this would be the dimmest of the new planets and finally Brando (named after the late, great Marlon Brando) this would be the largest of the new planets.
Actually, I have a solution to this whole problem…With this compromise we won’t have to change the text books or school lesson plans…Here it is, if the first letter of its name fits in the phase…“My Very Educated Mother Just Showed Us Nine Planets” then it’s a planet,… if not, we call it a celestial object. What’s the difference?, they’re all orbiting the sun anyway…wait, they haven’t changed that yet have they?
Today’s Globe reports that the state Division of Banks has shut down two mortgage companies in Lawrence (Diamond Mortgages Services and Synergy Mortgage Group). Both companies have been accused of fraudulently inflating income statements of borrowers so they would qualify for loans. Unfortunately for the borrowers, these were loans they were, in many cases, unable to pay with the predictable result of foreclosure. Community leaders in Lawrence praised the crackdown, explaining that such mortgage companies “are preying on residents who do not speak English well and are naïve about financing and eager to buy a houses.” After reading this article, I searched the index at this registry for entries bearing the names of either of these companies and found none. Still, that doesn’t rule out the possibility that similar companies are operating in this region. A short time ago, we provided some statistics on foreclosures to a Lowell-based community advocacy group that suspected that members of minority groups and recent immigrants were disproportionately represented among those whose homes were being foreclosed. While drawing conclusions about a person’s ethnicity or national origin just from their surname is always risky, the data we compiled did corroborate their suspicions. From January 1, 2006 to June 30, 2006, thirty-seven foreclosure deeds were recorded for the city of Lowell. Based on surnames only, it seemed that seven of the property owners were Southeast Asian in origin, five were African in origin and three were Latino in origin. That means fifteen of thirty-seven mortgages that were actually foreclosed (or 41%) were owned by members of minority groups or recent immigrants.
The lead story in the Real Estate section of Sunday’s Globe was “Adjusting expectations: Rising mortgage interest rates are giving homeowners with ARMs a bad case of ‘payment shock,’ but the certainty of fixed rates comes at a cost too, leaving people with a tough call on what to do.” The article’s focus was on the millions of homeowners who either purchased or refinanced with adjustable rate loans during the past few years. Now that many of those loans are reaching their three to five year “adjustment” period, many are or will see their monthly payments rise considerably. The dilemma they face (besides paying more each month) is whether to convert to the certainty of a fixed rate loan (which still carries a higher interest rate than the current adjusted rates of existing ARMs) or to ride it out with the existing adjustable rate mortgages. As the article says, even Wall Street economists can’t predict where interest rates are heading, so the average homeowner is not really in a position to do much more than guess. The article also emphasizes that as housing prices stagnate or slide, it will become more difficult if not impossible for many who purchased when prices were at their peak to refinance or sell since they may owe more than the property is now worth.
We arrived at work this morning to find our phone system and a number of computers without electricity and inoperable. Some circuit breakers had tripped and we reset them, but that didn’t work. The Trial Court’s electrician responded quickly, however, and restored the power right away (the offending circuit breakers apparently need just the right touch). Anyway, our website and our telephones were back in full operation by 9:30 a.m. with no lingering adverse effects. Still, this kind of episode always serves as a wakeup call to identify the gaps in your disaster recovery plan. While the hour we were down seems trivial in the aftermath when everything is running fine, when you’re in the midst of the crisis you always vow to be better prepared the next time. The challenge is to follow through on those vows. When this morning’s episode is added to the planned, maintenance-related outage of the www.masslandrecords.com site on Friday night-Saturday morning, our service proved to be a bit erratic this weekend and we apologize for that.
Our effort to remove all social security numbers from our digital documents is well underway. Rather than scan through all documents searching for SSNs, we’ve identified certain document types (such as tax liens and death certificates) that tend to have SSNs present. Then, we run an index search for a month at a time, retrieving all instances of that document. Exact electronic copies of these documents are then saved in a private location on our computer system. The document is then printed, we use a marker to blacken-out the first five digits of the SSN, leaving the last four digits visible. This redacted document is then rescanned, replacing the original image with the redacted one, both on our in-house computers and on our website. We’ve retrieved and redacted many months of documents (it’s going faster than we expected) but we’ve only rescanned a single month’s worth. We’ll wait a week or two to resume scanning which will give us an opportunity to continue testing this method. If anyone discovers any problems with documents they have retrieved, please let us know so we can ensure the problem has not been caused by this project.
Here’s a message I just received from the Secretary of State’s office:
Due to maintenance on the main UPS for the computer room at Ashburton place in Boston, the network will be unavailable Friday August 11, 2006 from 5 PM until 6 AM Saturday. This will not affect the local Registry networks but will affect Mass Land Records and all VPN traffic into the Registries.
This means that you will not be able to search our land records database from 5 pm this Friday until 6 am on Saturday (assuming the system comes back up on schedule). Sorry for any trouble this may cause.
At the recent NACRC conference I attended a presentation by Reynolds Cahoon, the chief of the Electronic Records Archive at the National Archives. Using IBM punch cards, 8 track tape cartridges, and even 5.25 inch floppy discs, Mr. Cahoon explained how technology has radically changed the way we do our work, but it has not really changed the way we keep our records. Not only has the storage media changed as he so vividly demonstrated, but electronic formats have changed, as well. My first word processing program was made by a company called Leading Edge. While I still have a bunch of electronic documents created in that format, any computer that operated the Leading Edge program is long gone and my ability to read or use those files is likely gone along with it. When I first became register of deeds back in 1995, we found a cabinet filled with Xerox computer tapes that were once part of the index creation system. But there was no Xerox machine to read them and whatever data they possessed was lost. The Electronic Records Archive hopes to preserve electronic records for posterity. They have a two-pronged approach. First, they preserve electronic records intact in their original format. The second approach is more technical in nature and involves “deconstructing” the files into smaller components that can then be electronically packaged along with instructions on reconstituting the files and the actual operating system needed to use them. To use a simple example, think of a structure created out of Lego blocks. That’s the file and one version would be kept intact. But a copy would be made and that copy would be taken apart, block by block and all of those blocks along with instructions on how to put the original creation back together again would be stored in their own box. It sounds very complicated (that’s because it is) but it’s also very important. The National Archives is striving to make this methodology of electronic data preservation widely available so other archives and offices can use it to preserve our electronic present.
Yesterday’s Lowell Sun had a list of common abbreviations/acronyms used in Instant Messaging, Forums and Blogs. Over the past few years these abbreviations have established a permanent place in the computer lexicon. Here is a list of some of the abbreviation/acronyms published in the newspaper along with their meanings…
TEOTD………………………………….. At the end of the day
BTW…………………………………….. By the way
GAL…………………………………….. Get a life
DHYB………………………………….. Don’t hold your breath
JK………………………………………. Just Kidding
JM2C………………………………….. Just my two cents
TIA…………………………………….. Thanks in advance
Excellent list…but…I believe a few were missed…some you’ll probably see this Fall & Winter…I have listed some “additional” abbreviation/acronyms and their meaning just in case you run across them in your favorite Forum or Blog this Winter…
YTGROAV………………………………………….. Why’d they get rid of Adam Vinatieri
CUBTPOG…………………………………………… Can you believe the price of Gas
WTNY……………………………………………….. Wait til next year
TRIRA………………………………………………. They raised interest rates again
HITFPT…………………………………………….. Hey, is that Fidel playing tennis?
WLEGWF………………………………………….. Will Lowell ever get WiFi
KMIIECA90WA………………………………… Kick me if I ever complain about 90 degree weather again
MHIWMTT!………………………………………. My house is worth more than that!
Although we’ve been recording documents electronically for more than a year as part of a pilot program for the Commonwealth, I’ve felt for some time that we had reached a plateau in our advancement and had ceased making progress. In an effort to break the logjam, I attended the Annual Conference of the National Association of County Recorders, Election Officials and Clerks (NACRC). Several of the presentations at this conference were on electronic recording and many of the participants from around the country have had considerable experience with this new method of recording land documents (some registries in attendance record in excess of 50% of their daily documents electronically). It looks like there are four distinct models of how electronic recording gets done. The first is a direct connection from the submitter to the registry (which, for now, is the way I think we should go); the second relies on the registry’s computer provider to control the electronic “gateway” into the registry (this is how we’re currently configured and one of the prime reasons we haven’t progressed any farther); the third creates a central, statewide “gateway” staffed by the state or by an independent company that doesn’t otherwise participate in electronic recording (Iowa has just adopted this and, while it sounds attractive and efficient, will probably become redundant because of) the fourth model which contemplates the major submitters banding together to create a central gateway that they can all use equally. This is how things will operate five years from now, but such a system is not currently in place and does not appear imminent which is why I will opt for model one as a short term solution to this situation. Later this week I’ll write more on this topic and on some of the other items (privacy, disaster recovery, digital archives and many others) that were covered at this conference.
Last month we purchased a Minolta PS 7000 camera. This machine is designed to scan bound books converting them to digital images. Unfortunately, the camera is having problems scanning our larger books. The PS 7000 scans standard size books (8.5X11) fine, but it freezes when a larger book is put in its carriage. Sometimes it freezes immediately, sometimes it scans a few pages then freezes. The vendor has been to the registry three times trying to resolve the problem without success…They changed the settings, room lighting, book covers etc… still the problem persists. We purchased this camera specifically to scan these large “bound” books, so we are obviously disappointed at this time. The problem with the PS 7000 has forced me to
re-think the entire project plan. While we wait for the vendor to solve the problem, I have decided to begin quality check our newer images…these images are in plastic covered books that can be easily disassembled and scanned on a flatbed scanner.
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