The latest on real estate recordings and new technology from the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds in Lowell
Here are the statistics for the end of September (as of 3 pm, so there may be a slight increase by the end of the day). There were a total of 5971 documents recorded, a 29% decrease from September 2005. Of those documents, 539 were deeds (a 32% decrease from 2005), 1599 were mortgages (a 30% decrease from 2005), 51 were Orders of Notice, aka “Foreclosure Filings” (a 113% increase from 2005) and 20 were foreclosure deeds (a 567% increase from 2005). While the 500+% increase in foreclosure deeds appears stunning, it just means that we went from 3 in September 2005 to 20 in September 2006.
Social Security Number Project Update:
The “Social Security Number Project” is really a two-pronged effort. One group of employees is working on locating social security numbers from 2005-1976, while another is working from 1975-1935. Since there is no index for these years, finding these earlier documents is much more difficult. The employee must flip through record books page by page. As of today we have examined from 1975-1963. Those 12 years have garnered 1100 Social Security numbers so far.
In addition we ran into another a small obstacle in the project this morning. From 1999-present, we find Death Certificates by running the document code “Death “…Easy…but, before 1999 Death Certificates were simply indexed in the registry’s computer system as Certificates. The problem is there were thousand of other types of documents also called Certificate. After some examination we discovered a way to deal with the problem…In the “description column” of the index the certificate type is indicated… so we run doc type Cert then sort the description column alphabetically.
We have “redacted” and “re-scanned” Massachusetts Liens & Releasse, Federal Liens & Releases and Death Certificates from 2004 to May of 2001.
We’ve been writing about the precarious state of the local housing market for many months. Today the mainstream media joined in rather emphatically, precipatated by yesterday’s release by the Mass Board of Realtors of August 2006 house sales. Two statistics broadly cited are that the number of properties that sold in August 2006 was the lowest since August 1995 and that the median price of a house sold in August 2006 was 6.1% less than a house sold in August 2005. This was the steepest one month drop since January 1993. The Lowell Sun article is “Housing decline deepens: August price drop is largest since 1993.” The Globe writes that “Mass home prices fall 6.1% as downturn gathers speed” and the Herald writes that “Housing ills a ‘weight’ on the economy.” Since the registry is able to measure sale faster than the Board of Realtors, we should be able to have similar comparisons for September 2006 by close of business this Friday.
LOOK OUT! Microsoft is under attack…the attackers? Google and Company and they are coming at the software giant from about every imaginable direction. Everyday, Explorer the company’s Internet browser, loses numerous surfers to Mozilla’s Firefox.
Sun Microsystems’ Open Office and Google’s Writely are the latest to force Microsoft to rethink its business plan. Both these competitors provide consumers free downloadable word processing and spreadsheet programs. This is cutting into Microsoft’s profits… But Bill Gates isn’t saying “uncle” just yet. In a major policy shift Microsoft has decided to offer a web based version of its highly popular word processing and spreadsheet programs (Microsoft Office Suite). Yes, Microsoft is offering the programs free…but advertising will provide the financing…and the user won’t get the real deal. The free download is a watered down version of the hugely popular Office. Microsoft’s Office Suite dominates the software market. Currently, Microsoft generates about 25% of its revenue from sales of Office Suite. Interestingly, Microsoft plans to offer a new version of Office in 2007… But that one you’ll have to pay for.
US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales spoke earlier this week on interim measures being proposed by the federal government’s Identity Theft Task Force. Although the Task Force’s full report will not be issued until November, several measures were recommended now. “We are recommending that the public sector look seriously at ways to reduce access to Social Security Numbers.” The Middlesex North Registry of Deeds is in the midst of a massive redaction project in which we seek to identify and remove social security numbers from our online records. This has been a labor intensive effort but after about a month, we are back to 1991. In case we miss anything, we plan to add a “social security number redaction request” form to our website. This would permit someone who discovers that their SSN is on our website to ask us to remove it which we would do promptly.
Does anyone out there still have a manual typewriter? If you do, and you’re willing to loan it out for a while, Lowell’s Revolving Museum is creating a public art project called ARTventures. While I don’t know the details, I do know that the Revolving Museum does great work and this will undoubtedly be a memorable project. If you do have a manual typewriter and are willing to loan it to the museum, call Jerry Beck at 978-937-2787.
Hi, my name is Tony Accardi and I am a political junkie (”Hi, Tony”). Over the years I have tried to quit on my own but have had little success. Oh sure, sometimes I even went six months without reading or talking about politics. But in the end my urges always won out. I am weak… I admit it. For me watching last night’s election coverage was like a sculptor seeing Michelangelo’s David for the first time. I delighted in flipping from news outlet to news outlet making sure I didn’t miss a comment or updated result. In reflection the excitement culminated with irrationality. My poor wife…last night around 10:30PM I woke her up with a shake and a shout… “Honey, New England Cable News has results on the Clerk of Courts race in Franklin County”. Looking into her half opened eyes I could read her thoughts…“I live with a sick man”. I recognize my problem and am working to control it. This morning I made a promise to myself. I will be stronger during the general election. I promise to talk about politics with no more emotion than if I were talking casually about the weather… “Yes, yes, I do agree, that senate race in Duke’s County is somewhat intriguing, but you know, I think it might rain today”…I know I can do it…I know I can…at least until I see the first negative advertisement.
Today is Primary Election Day in Massachusetts. All 21 of the state’s registers of deeds offices are on the ballot this year. While many do not face opposition and will therefore be elected to another term, there will be at least five new registers in the Commonwealth due to incumbents not seeking reelection. They are Mary K O’Brien of the Berkshire Middle Registry in Pittsfield; Irene M Skorput of the Berkshire South Registry in Great Barrington; Thomas J Burke of the Essex North Registry in Lawrence; John B McLaughlin of the Worcester North Registry in Fitchburg; and Joanne L Kelley of the Nantucket Registry. While I don’t have the names of those seeking the office in Nantucket and Fitchburg, I do have some names for other districts. State Representative Arthur Broadhurst of Methuen and Atty Robert Kelley of Andover are seeking the Democratic nomination and since there is no Republican, the winner of today’s election will run unopposed in November. In Pittsfield, State Senator Andrea F Nuciforo Jr, who stunned the political world in western Massachusetts by running for register of deeds instead of state senate, is running unopposed. In the Berkshire South District, there are four unenrolled candidates who will all appear on the ballot in November. They are Sheffield attorney Harry Conklin, Great Barrington selectmen’s secretary Helen Kuziemko, Wanda Beckwith of Great Barrington and Sheffield selectwomen Julie Hannum.
Some Title Examiners that frequently use our registry have generously agreed to lend us “updated” copies of our district’s Assessor’s Maps. In the next few weeks we will begin scanning these maps into the ACS computer database. The images will be available to the public on both the in-house database and the Internet. Once completed these Assessor’s Maps will be viewable on “every public access computer” in the registry . Before beginning the project we need to develop a naming convention for the images. The program we use to scan our daily plans will not accept letters. This presents a problem. We would like to label each plan with the first three letters of the town’s name used as the Plan Book number and them the appropriatePage number (example: Plan Book “Car” Page 1 for Carlisle Assessor Map 1).This can not be done with the plan scanning software we use. We need to resolve this problem. There are approximately seven hundred images in total. This project is long overdue. The Assessor’s Maps we currently provide access to are about ten years old…and they can only be viewed on “one public access computer” in the registry. Check in again and I will give more details as the project moves along.
Reminder: If you are storing any personal items in the registry of deeds please remove them before the close of business on Wednesday September 20. Thank you.
Last October Google announced that it was releasing the code to its mapping application as open source software. The company’s intent was to allow anyone to combine their own data with Google maps, creating what’s called a “mashup.” We immediately saw great potential in using Google maps in combination with our own data on property sales, foreclosures and other things. Unfortunately, we don’t have total control over our network and website and ran into bureaucratic inertia at echelons above registry (EAR) that are still frustrating our efforts. The Boston Globe at its www.boston.com website, however, launched a great example of a Google mashup just last night. The Globe took publicly available information containing the name and address of individuals who have donated to the various candidates running for governor this year and plotted them on a map that is searchable by zip code. Color-coded circles plot the location of donors. When you click on a circle, a “data balloon” appears containing the name, address, date and amount of donation. It’s very interesting but also a little disconcerting, but that’s the direction society’s heading. Hopefully, we’ll be able to add a Google mashup containing registry data to our website in the coming months.
Assistant Register of Deeds Tony Accardi and I spent this morning at the Lowell Senior Center conducting a homestead seminar. We’ve done this many times and have a set procedure. First, I explain how the Declaration of Homestead operates and then answer questions. Those in attendance then have the opportunity to complete homestead forms on the spot with us notarizing their signatures. They give us the filing fee and the completed form which we bring back to the registry and record. Every time we do this someone says “I’ve been meaning to do this for years but I never got around to it” which is evidence that our services our useful to people. Because of the many ambiguities surrounding homestead law, the question period is always a challenge. I used to wonder if someone would ask “do I need a new homestead if I refinance?” but now I just wonder who in the crowd will be the one to ask that question because it always gets asked. In addition to homestead questions, it’s apparent that many people have great interest in real estate matters and find it a interesting topic for discussion. If anyone would like to organize a homestead seminar, they can send me an email or call me at 978/322-9000.
Coming to your living room soon…Johnny Depp starring in Pirates of the Caribbean!… brought to you by Walt Disney Co and Apple Computers…Apple Computer? What does Apple have to do with bringing me a Disney movie? Apple Computer announced a partnership with Disney to sell movie downloads through its iTunes online store. iTunes will make movies available the same day they are released on DVD… the price per movie? $12.99. There’s more, Apple is also going to provide a receiver box that will connect your computer to your television wirelessly…so you can watch “Pirates” at home on your new, flat screen, LCD, wide screen High Definition TV. Steve Jobs has tentatively named his new product (the receiver box) iTV…price? about $299.00…But, Apple may not find the movie industry to be warm and fuzzy …when iTunes broke into the music market it was a fabulous success, but the company’s recent venture into downloaded TV shows has not been quite as successful. One problem is studios are not completely sold on the idea of movie downloads. They are concerned with downloads competing with DVD sales and with letting buyers transfer a movie onto an unlimited number of iPods…and this consumer’s point of view…I pay $299 for an iTV box which allows me to watch a movie that I pay $12.99 for on my TV…Can’t I do that with a $2.99 video rental?
Yesterday’s mail brought a document that was so poorly drafted that it took many minutes of close scrutiny to even determine that it was a deed. Since it did meet the minimum requirements now in effect, we did record it. While scrutinizing this document, I couldn’t help but notice the microscopic margins (1/16th of an inch) left by the drafter. This experience reminded me that the Massachusetts Association of Registers and Assistant Registers of Deeds have already adopted Document Formatting Standards that will take effect on January 1, 2007. The standards are as follows:
Documents recorded after January 1, 2007 must meet the following requirements:
10-1 Be on white 20-pound paper without watermarks
10-2 All document pages and attachments must be on paper that is a minimum size of
8.5 inches by 11 inches or a maximum paper size of 8.5 inches by 14 inches.
10-3 Printing shall be on one side of page only; no double-sided pages will be accepted.
10-4 On the first page of a document, the top margin shall be 3 inches; the side and bottom margins shall be 1 inch. On second and subsequent pages of the same document, all margins shall be 1 inch.
10-5 All documents must be printed or typed in a font size no smaller than 10 point Times New Roman or equivalent.
10-6 Blanks in an instrument and corrections to an instrument may be made in pen.
10-7 Signatures shall be in either black or dark blue ink. Names shall be typed, stamped or printed beneath all written signatures.
10-8 All documents must display on the first line of print on the first page a single title identifying the recordable event that the instrument represents.
10-9 Do not use colored markers to highlight text.
While the deed cited above would certainly violate these standards, my cursory examination of other documents recorded at this registry during the past few days disclosed that hardly any of them meet these formatting standards. Unless registry users and registry officials (myself included) devise a realistic implementation plan between now and January 1, we will suffer disastrous consequences come the first of the year. We will write more about this topic in the weeks to come.
Preparations are being made to begin the Upper Record Hall changes. I called Toupin Rigging to set a date for the removal of the Index Cabinet and the other effected furniture (waiting to hear back from him). We believe the work will take two days…one to disassemble the furniture and the second to move it to the basement .At least one “research table” and possibly two will be removed from the Upper Record Hall and relocated to the Lower Record Hall. We have made a small change in our original plan. The Middlesex South Satellite Office will be moved to the newly created space adjacent to Elm Street and the Copy Area will remain where it is now. Originally, it was going to be the opposite. Please note…Title Examiners and other individuals that do independent research in the registry MUST remove all personal belongs from the Upper and Lower Record Halls by the close of business on September 20. This includes file cabinets, work items, food items etc. Overnight storage for personal belongings will no longer be allowed in the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds.
While researching the nationwide treatment of document format standards - yes, they’re coming to Massachusetts in January, but more on that next week - I came upon another blog written by a register of deeds. Jeff L. Thigpen, of the Guilford County (North Carolina) Registry of Deeds seems to have started his blog back in June 2004 as part of his successful campaign to be elected register. Fortunately, he continued writing on his blog although unlike this one, his is kept separate from his registry’s official website. There are some advantages to that, for he can venture into political, cultural and other topics that would be “no go” areas for an official government site. I especially enjoyed reading about that registry’s recent transition to a new computer system which is something we experienced back in July 2002. As for the official registry website, I found it informative and easy to use. There was a prominent section on preventing identity theft, a topic we’ve written about often but which hasn’t generated much enthusiasm here in the Commonwealth. I might even “borrow” a modified version of the downloadable “Register of Deeds Redaction Form” that customers can use to remove personal information from the registry’s website. Also of note is the registry’s “Good Deeds Team” which seems to be a group of registry employees who join together on a voluntary basis to support charitable and community activities. Both the blog and the Guilford website are excellent examples of how public agencies can utilize technology to better serve the public.
A story in the Business Section of today’s Globe regarding declining home values and their relationship to assessed values mentions the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds and some of the figures that we have compiled over the past few weeks. Here’s the relevant paragraph:
In Lowell, where housing values rose faster than Newton’s, more than 20 percent of its residential and commercial properties sold below assessment in recent months, according to an analysis of property deed records by Richard Howe, head of the Registry of Deeds for Northern Middlesex County. In May through June 2005, less than 10 percent sold below assessments, he said.
I’ve been writing in this blog for nearly two years now and every once in while I just can’t make up my mind what to write about. That happened to me this morning…
First I thought I would write about the new report released today by the Office of Federal Housing showing the once red hot US housing market has “cooooooooled”. Nation-wide sales in July dropped by 4.3 percent…naah…I don’t feel like writing about that.
Then I thought maybe I’ll write about the other Federal Housing report that states prices of homes sold in Massachusetts rose 3.4% over the past year, but fell .44% in the last quarter…just not hitting me right.
So, I said to myself… how about writing about something “different”…maybe Katie Couric’s debut as the new CBS news anchor last night. Did you see it?… “We have a new segment called snapshots” (isn’t that special). Did you hear her ask people to send suggestion on how she should end the show, why?…because she could think of one. Come on Katie, it sounds like a contest to name a minor league sport franchise…forget it!
Ok…no Katie, no real estate… how about Big Papi’s return to the Red Sox …truth be known, this is one of the few guys in professional sports that I think is worth the money…not just for the way he plays, but he has a great attitude…I’ll keep this in consideration.
Hey, I’ve got another idea…how about writing about Chevron’s big discovery in the US Gulf of Mexico…did you hear? They found the biggest oil well in recent history…but reports are it won’t help lower gasoline prices… No way! I can’t write about this…I can’t follow the logic… a huge increase in supply doesn’t lower prices? but even a “possible” decrease in supply increases gasoline prices?…Let’s not go there.
One more blog possibility …The battle of technology titans that is developing right before us. Eric Schmidt, CEO of Internet mega-giant Google has been named to the Board of Trustees of computer giant Apple, yes a partnership between Google and Apple (Gapple?) …Now if I were Microsoft CEO, Bill Gates I would think there is something fishy about this, and be watching my backside…
But in the end I decided to blog about what I wasn’t going to blog about…hey, I sound like an oil company.
At the end of each month we must compile a report showing the amount of “Documentary Stamp Sales” for the preceding month. This is submitted to the Massachusetts Department of Revenue. As many of you know, any time you sell real property in this state, the seller is obliged to pay an excise tax calculated at a rate of $4.56 per thousand dollars of the sales price. So, if you sold your house for $100,000, you would pay the state $456 in taxes. The registry collects this money when the document is recorded and affixes a “stamp” to the document showing that the tax has been paid. (Like the documents themselves, the stamps used in years gone by were much more ornate and intricate in appearance than are those of today). As I understand it, this tax is another throw back to Medieval England where the king owned everything. As part of the feudal system, the king granted the use of land to individuals in exchange for services they provided, but upon death, the land reverted to the king. Because these “land users” wanted to keep the same property in the family, the king eventually allowed the “land users” to pass the property on to their heirs, but the king required a payment in return. And so began the deeds excise tax, or at least that’s how I understand it’s origin. Back to the present day. While $4.56 per thousand might not sound like much, it adds up. In the twelve months from Sept 2005 until August 2006, this registry collected a total of $9.8 million in deeds excise tax for an average of $818,064 per month. If my math is correct, this represents the sale in that twelve month period of $2.15 billion worth of real estate.
After noting the increasing amount of space devoted to foreclosures in his paper’s legal notice section, Lowell Sun editor Jim Campanini called today to discuss the housing market. He’s written a lengthy report on the Sun’s “Community Forum” on this very important topic. As I mentioned in yesterday’s posting here, I’ve created two charts (in PDF format) that should help put recent activity in a historical perspective. The first chart, “Twelve Month Comparison of Foreclosure Filings, Foreclosure Deeds, Deeds & Mortgages” shows the total number of each of those document types recorded at the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds in each month from August 2005 to August 2006 (that’s actually 13 months). The second chart, “Comparison of Orders of Notice & Foreclosure Deeds Filed, 1990 to 2006″ shows the number of each of those document types filed per year since 1990. The statistics for 2006, of course, are just an estimate. They were derived by taking a monthly average for January through August and multiplying by twelve. If that estimate holds true for foreclosure filings (aka Orders of Notice), approximately 568 would be recorded this year, the largest number since 604 in 1996. Of course, 1992 saw 1036 foreclosure filings which leads to the question: Are things not really that bad compared to the early 1990s or is the housing market just at a midpoint in this latest downward spiral?
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