Lowell Deeds

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

October 31, 2006

National Websites in the News

by @ 11:27 am. Filed under Technology

Two nationally known websites that we’ve written about before are in the news today. Internet giant Google just acquired a company called JotSpot, the creator of a “Wiki tool developer.” For those of you unfamiliar with the term, “Wiki” according to Wikipedia (the most famous Wiki of all) is is a type of website that allows the visitors themselves to easily add, remove and otherwise edit and change some available content. We have long wanted to launch a Wiki on LowellDeeds but creating and installing the required software is a relatively complex process, until now, at least. Our Wiki would be about registries and real estate. Users would be able to add and edit content. Once Google digests and regurgitates JotSpot, a simple-to-use Wiki function should be freely available through Google. Once that happens, we’ll launch our version of it.

Zillow.com emerged on the scene about eight months ago, providing anyone with an Internet connection with free real estate valuation data. Now, the National Community Reinvestment Coalition has lodged a complaint alleging that Zillow has misrepresented the value of property in low-income neighborhoods. Zillow maintains that it uses a complex formula that is usually quite accurate, but that in neighborhoods where few sales occur, reported values may be more imprecise. It seems unlikely that Zillow would intentionally understate the value of anyone’s real estate. Still, if there’s a flaw in their software they should address it since understating values can have adverse consequences for homeowners who try to sell or refinance their properties.

October 30, 2006

A Parking Car

by @ 11:02 am. Filed under Pop Culture

The automotive industry has wowed the world with its latest innovation. It is a car that parks itself. I love the advertisement…One older person remembers cleaning clothes using a washboard and a second person explains how he would hold a set of rabbit ears to get reception on his black and white TV…then finally the camera pans to a driver sitting in his brand new Lexus. The steering wheel begins to slowly move on its own and he says “I remember the old days when I had to parallel-park the car myself”. That’s right… you pull up to a parking space and press a button and the car parks itself. It is an incredible innovation and it makes me wonder what other astounding inventions lie in the future and how long it will be before they become reality… yes,…I wonder how long before…
How long will it be before there is a garden rake that has a force field that attracts leaves? Just lay it in the middle of your lawn and the leaves are drawn directly to it?
And…how long will it be before there is a TV that selects programming for you, based on your personality?
And…how long will be before there is a snowblower that automatically starts on contact with snow and navigates your driveway while you sleep?
And…how long will it be before there is a machine that washes, drys and “folds” your laundry?
How long, I wonder…how long…

October 27, 2006

Economic Impact of Housing Slump

by @ 9:29 am. Filed under Statistics

Many news outlets report today that US economic growth for the 3rd quarter is the worst in more than three years. Economists lay much of the blame for this slump on the downturn in the housing market. Spending on the construction of new homes in the 3rd quarter dropped 17.4%, the biggest quarterly drop since 1991 when 1st quarter spending on new home construction plunged by 27.7%. While our data doesn’t provide information about home construction, the number of deeds and mortgages recorded this month compared to those recorded in October 2005 show a significant decline. Of course, there are still 2+ days of recording left in this October, so the final figures won’t be as dire, nevertheless, they will indicate a substantial reduction. As of mid-day on Friday, October 27, we have recorded 414 deeds and 1402 mortgages for the month. Last October (for the entire month) we recorded 717 deeds and 2119 mortgages. These figures equate to a 42% decline in the number of deeds recorded and a 34% decline in the number of mortgage recorded. But check back next Tuesday for the final statistics for the month.

October 26, 2006

Homeowner Associations

by @ 5:26 am. Filed under Indexing

A controversy has arisen over the recording of certificates issued by homeowner associations regarding fees owed or not owed by members of the association. Some registries (including this one) routinely record such certificates, reasoning that they are equivalent to the routinely recorded 6D certificates from condominium associations. Other registries, however, refuse to record such documents, reasoning that such a certificate constitutes a lien on the property and without statutory or judicial authority, the homeowner association has no right to record such a document. After hearing the arguments on both sides of this dispute, I have concluded that these documents should not be recorded and here’s why. There is a strong public policy in favor of setting some threshold requirement before documents that would constitute a lien on real estate may be recorded. It is only in limited cases, primarily with Mechanic’s Liens, that a private individual may freely record a lien against another’s real estate. The condominium statute specifically entitles a condo association to a lien for unpaid condo fees, thus allowing the aforementioned 6D certificate to be recorded. In all other cases, however, a judicially issued attachment must be obtained. Two decades ago, the legislature made a major change to the lis pendens law, requiring that such a document be judicially authorized before recording contrary to the former practice that freely allowed anyone to record such a document. This action on lis pendens and the more recent tightening of the Mechanic’s Lien statute confirm this public policy. Those who do not work in registries of deeds would be amazed by the number of citizens who present themselves at the registry with all manner of claims against the real estate of friends, relatives and neighbors. To allow them to freely record a document asserting a claim and thereby encumber the real estate of another would unnecessarily burden our system of real estate ownership. While the homeowner association, with its previously recorded by-laws and deed covenants does possess the indicia of authenticity and reliability, claims by such associations still fall short of the formal legal authority needed to record a document that would constitute a lien against the property of another. The registers’ association did not take a final position on this but agreed to study the situation further. But I predict that the outcome will be that absent some specific statutory authority or a judicial order, certificates of homeowner associations regarding amounts due or not due will no longer be accepted for recording.

October 25, 2006

Formatting Standards on Hold

by @ 11:31 am. Filed under Indexing

One of the most controversial amendments to the Massachusetts Deed Indexing Standards has been Document Formatting Standards. These were enacted on January 1, 2006 with an announced effective date of January 1, 2007. As that date approaches, however, it became clear that the document production industry had not paid much attention to these standards. It would seem predictable, therefore, that if the registries of deeds were to strictly enforce these standards come January 1, very few documents would be recorded. With this in mind, the Registers of Deeds Association revisited this issue at our Fall Meeting and agreed to treat the formatting standards as advisory only until January 1, 2008.

One of the main reasons for this delay was the anticipated problems that would be caused by the strict enforcement of Item 10-4 which set mandatory margin sizes (3 inches on top and one inch on sides and bottom of first page and on top of second and subsequent pages). A subcommittee of the Association will seek a more viable standard that recognizes the registry’s need to have adequate space to affix recording data on the same location on every recorded document but balances that need with the vast inventory of forms that are in use. The subcommittee will meet with the various constituencies involved in the recording process and seek a mutually acceptable resolution of this issue. Aside from the margin requirement, however, all of the other formatting standards were ratified and confirmed by the association.

October 24, 2006

MAR Sept 06

by @ 7:34 am. Filed under Statistics, Real Estate

Yesterday, the Massachusetts Association of Realtors released their September 06 statistics… and as you might have expected, the news isn’t good. Home sales dropped 24% while prices fell 5.3% last month. The median price of a single family home slumped to $341,000 a 6% decrease from last year’s $359,900.
September 06 posted the slowest sales in a decade. It is obvious we are in the middle of a market correction. This is the eighth straight month that housing prices in Massachusetts have either fallen or flat lined… And things aren’t much better for condominiums…Condo sales fell 28% last month,…but there is some good news…condo prices didn’t drop in September. The Massachusetts Multiple Listing Service (MLS) currently lists 64,000 properties on the market. This is 14% higher than September 05. It is unlikely that prices will increase or stabilize until the present inventory shrinks.

October 23, 2006

Google Election 2006

by @ 8:20 am. Filed under Technology

No one would dispute Google’s reputation as an innovator. Earlier this month the company purchased the video sharing website YouTube and this Sunday it will unveil another major innovation. This time Google has brought its creativity to the US elections (Election 2006). On Sunday Google will release a mashup that combines its mapping program (Google Earth) with information about the 436 congressional races in the United States. The giant search engine has gathered large amounts of information about the congressional candidates in all races. This information has been layered over Google’s popular mapping program. Each congressional district is indicated with a star on a 3D map. When a user clicks on the star, information about the candidates in that district’s race appears…and more… It also links the latest news and images about the race as well as the district’s voting locations. In the past Google teamed up with the US National Park Service, the Discovery Channel and National Geographic doing similar mashups. The company wants to help voters become better informed so they can make better choices. Here at Middlesex North we hope to use similar technology to integrate property sale prices and assessed value.

October 20, 2006

GIS Revisited

by @ 10:12 am. Filed under Website, Technology

Back in the summer of 2005, we had high hopes of partnering with MassGIS, the state’s geographic information system agency, to integrate mapping and overhead photography with registry records. Some bureaucratic obstacles frustrated those efforts, but we’re going to give it another try. November 15 of this year is national GIS Day, so we will try to use that as a catalyst to revive our integration efforts. Our concept is that when you view a record on the registry website, we’d like a new button to appear that says something like “view imagery.” By pressing the button, a new window would open on your computer showing the overhead photo of the property the record you were viewing was associated with. This is just one example of how different government agencies might share and link data to better serve the public.

October 19, 2006

M.I.T.E.A.

by @ 12:08 pm. Filed under Registry Ops

A delegation from the Massachusetts Independent Title Examiners Association, Inc. visited the registry this morning. I first became aware of this group some time ago when I tried to use the name www.massdeeds.com as a website name and discovered that MITEA already owned it. Today, the association’s president, Denald McCarthy spoke to a gathering of title examiners and registry employees about the benefits provided by membership in the association. I then had an opportunity to speak and chose two topics: the implications of the pending Document Formatting Standards and our ongoing and future plans for the physical layout of the registry (which have been touched upon in other postings here on the blog throughout this week). The MITEA website is impressive and filled with timely information. Also, the leadership of the association certainly seems to acknowledge that technology is bringing radical changes to the business of title examinations and, rather than resist the change, they seem determined to adapt their practices to the new realities of this business, all of which was very encouraging.

October 18, 2006

1894 revisited

by @ 8:39 am. Filed under Registry Ops

Thank you for bearing with us during our record hall renovation. As plans get more detailed we have discussed the possibility of restoring the record hall to its 1894 look. Of course, we know this is a big undertaking. We see the work being done in phases. Tomorrow a court facilities employee will repair the damaged plaster molding along the walls where the cabinets once stood. Then on Saturday the newly exposed walls will be cleaned and readied for painting. Once court facilities finishes this work I am going to take a chip to the paint store for a color match. The floors of the record hall and adjacent rooms is a decorative stone with a beautiful mosaic tile border. We have also decided to remove the carpeting in the recording counter and customer service areas to expose the wonderful original floor from 1894. There is still a lot of work ahead but things are going well.

October 17, 2006

WIFI Progressing in Boston

by @ 3:06 pm. Filed under Technology

Today’s Herald reported that the first phase of Boston’s municipal wireless internet service will launch near the first of the year in a neighborhood in Roxbury. Residents will be able to pay something between $10 and $15 per month for full WIFI service to be provided by a nonprofit corporation chosen by the city. Hopefully, the city of Lowell will move into this arena, as well. Closer to home, as part of the renovation of the Middlesex North’s record hall renovations, we hope to provide free WIFI access to our customers in the not too distant future. This will allow registry users to bring their own WIFI enabled notebook computers with them to the registry and to use them instead of the registry’s public access terminals. In conjunction with this, we’re also working on a redesign of our website that will allow far more data and images to be available online.

October 16, 2006

Record Hall Renovation

by @ 9:17 am. Filed under Registry Ops

Last Saturday Toupin Rigging moved four large storage cabinets out of the upper record hall. In addition they removed two large research tables. One of these tables was brought downstairs to the lower record hall for public use and the other was put in storage. I currently have an employee making a detailed, scaled drawing of the newly created space. The plan is to move the Middlesex South Satellite Office and the Copy Department into the new space. The drawing will help us determine the most efficient way to arrange the furniture and equipment for these departments. This Friday LanTel will begin installing twenty-eight new network drops. I am hoping the electrical work will begin in the next few weeks. Sixteen public seats are still available in the upper record hall and thirty-two in the lower (this does not include the 19 in the rough tunnel area). Over the past three months we have kept a daily count of the number of people using the record hall at 9:00AM and 3:00PM. The average was 4.8 users at 9:00AM and 5.1 users at 3:00PM. The highest number of people at either of these times was ten (which only occurred once).

October 13, 2006

A Thriving Bar Association

by @ 8:45 am. Filed under E-Recording

Last evening I joined the Real Estate section of the Worcester County Bar Association for a discussion on electronic recording. My compliments to that group. It is certainly an energetic and vibrant organization. The meeting was hosted by Worcester Register of Deeds Tony Vigliotti and we were joined by Kathi Guay, the Merrimack County (New Hampshire) Register of Deeds who already has considerable experience with electronic recording. I spoke of our experience with electronic recording which is still in a limited, pilot program. I identified five “challenges” that should be addressed before we move forward to full-scale use of this technology. They are, in no particular order: (1) How do you do the final, pre-recording rundown when you are at your office some distance from the registry? This is an easy one - the registry’s website is continuously updated with data from newly recorded documents, so the rundown could be accomplished on the website just prior to sending the electronic submission to the registry for recording. (2) How do you handle the “gap” between the final rundown and the moment of recording? With walk-in customers, the “look-back” feature of our computers will identify matching names that were recently entered in the system. When a match occurs, the registry clerk just asks the customer if he wants to proceed with recording. With electronic recording, it is much more difficult for that conversation to take place. (3) How do you integrate walk-in recordings with those submitted electronically? We want all documents to be recorded in the sequence they are received, so live customers at the registry might have to wait until a large number of electronically submitted documents are processed before their documents are recorded. (4) How do you synchronize multiple companies that submit documents electronically all using different software with multiple registries which are not all using the same computer system? And (5) who can submit documents? We need regulations to establish the minimum standards for submissions. At last night’s meeting, we had an excellent discussion on these issues. These are topics that should be addressed in a variety of forums so that the solutions we decide upon are acceptable to the broadest possible audience of registry users.

October 12, 2006

Mortgage Trends

by @ 8:12 am. Filed under Statistics

An article I read somewhere (sorry, no citation or hyperlink) suggested that there was an upturn in refinancing activity as people with adjustable rate mortgages from 2003 hit the adjustment period and opt to refinance for a more stable (even if higher interest) fixed rate loan. There’s no clear indication that this refinancing boomlet has hit Middlesex North thus far. For example, the number of mortgages recorded in the third quarter of 2006 (5075) was 7% less than the number recorded in the second quarter (5444). Besides these sequential statistics, we also compared the number of mortgages recorded in each community in our district in the third quarter 2006 with the same time in 2005. Here are the results:
Total mortgages in 3rd Qtr 2006 (5075) was 28% less than in 2005 (7062)
In Billerica, 3Q mortgages in 2006 (706) were down 20% from 2005 (895)
In Carlisle, 3Q mortgages in 2006 (75) were down 31% from 2005 (109)
In Chelmsford, 3Q mortgages in 2006 (574) were down 36% from 2005 (895)
In Dracut, 3Q mortgages in 2006 (618) were down 31% from 2005 (895)
In Dunstable, 3Q mortgages in 2006 (70) were down 5% from 2005 (74)
In Lowell, 3Q mortgages in 2006 (1457) were down 32% from 2005 (2132)
In Tewksbury, 3Q mortgages in 2006 (547) were down 23% from 2005 (713)
In Tyngsborough, 3Q mortgages in 2006 (261) were down 16% from 2005 (310)
In Westford, 3Q mortgages in 2006 (300) were down 44% from 2005 (535)
In Wilmington, 3Q mortgages in 2006 (379) were down 26% from 2005 (515).

October 11, 2006

First Step to a Vision

by @ 8:25 am. Filed under Registry Ops

Toupin Rigging began disassembling the upper record hall cabinets early this morning. As I write this the grantor/grantee cabinet sits in eight pieces adjacent to the location it occupied for 90 years. Interestingly, this impressive 18’ unit is actually made of 14 modular units 20” wide by 14” deep. The riggers also removed the “L” shaped cabinet along Elm Street exposing the original 1894 wall color (if you’re wondering it’s beige). One cabinet and table remain to be disassembled. I estimate the work will go on for the remainder of the workday. On Saturday Toupin will move the cabinets to the courthouse basement. I am impressed with the excellent job these workers are doing. They carefully disassemble the units destroying nothing. Even though we do not intend to ever using these cabinets again, preservation is the goal. I am truly excited about this record hall reconfiguration. It is the first step in our vision of “a new registry of deeds”.

October 10, 2006

Holiday Schedule

by @ 11:26 am. Filed under Registry Ops

Having just finished a weather-wise wonderful long holiday weekend - Columbus Day - it might be appropriate to provide some information regarding registry operating hours during the coming fall and winter holidays. The standard rule is that if the courthouse is open, then the registry is open for our standard operating hours which are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The Massachusetts Trial Court actually has its official holiday schedule on it website which is helpful. Since Veterans Day (November 11) falls on a Saturday this year, the registry (and the courthouse) will be open for business on Friday, November 10 and on Monday, November 13. Everything is closed for Thanksgiving (November 24) but we will be open all day on Friday, November 25 (but with a reduced staff). Christmas falls on a Monday (as does New Years) so we’ll obviously be closed both of those days and since Christmas Eve and New Years Eve will both we on Sundays this year, there’s no issue about us closing early on either of those days.

October 6, 2006

Moving Day in Lawrence

by @ 11:08 am. Filed under Registry Ops, History

Good luck to the folks at the Essex North Registry of Deeds. They’re taking advantage of this three-day weekend to move the registry from its current location at the old Lawrence District Court to a new site at 354 Merrimack Street, Suite 304 (Entrance C). Although I’ve yet to see the new site in person, the linked photo from Google Maps shows the building (see the green arrow) along the southern bank of the Merrimack River. Rumor has it that the building is a refurbished textile mill now owned by the same person who owns Sal’s Pizza and that a restaurant is co-located with the registry. Everyone looks forward to the official grand opening. Not only is the Essex North Registry physically moving its location this weekend, but it’s also changing to a new computer system. Starting Tuesday, Lawrence should be operating the Browntech system which is also in use in the registries in Fitchburg, Springfield, Dedham and Barnstable. The installation of the Browntech system in Lawrence, of course, is a departure from five years of moving towards a standard statewide computer system (the ACS system which operates here in Lowell and in a total of 12 of the 21 registries in the Commonwealth), but that’s a story for another day.

October 5, 2006

Open Source and ODF

by @ 11:54 am. Filed under Technology

ODF and Open Source are computer software terms that you’ll be reading about with more frequency in the coming months. They mean very different things but many people use them (incorrectly) as synonyms. Open source software is more a philosophy than a thing. According to the Information Technology Division of the Commonwealth (ITD), Open Source Software refers to “software whose underlying code is available for inspection and modification by the licensee, may be available for re-distribution and may be deployed without a license fee.” Perhaps the best way to understand Open Source philosophy is to compare it to traditional software development, commonly called Proprietary Software. Proprietary software is “typically subject to a use fee under a license that limits access to and modification of the underlying source code and restricts redistribution to others.” (per ITD). Until now, most software is proprietary which is a direct outgrowth of our intellectual property laws that have existed since the enactment of the U.S. Constitution. Traditionally, the government has extended protection through copyright and patent protection to those who devote their intellectual energy to creating something of value. By protecting the developer’s right to distribute it, the government provides an economic incentive to that developer and others to create things. The Open Source movement pretty much discards that philosophy in favor of one that sees better societal value in the ability to collaborate and improve upon the work of others. So the underlying “source code” of open source software is available to anyone who is interested. People other than the developer can identify and fix bugs, improve the underlying code, create ancillary modules, and do any number of things to improve the product. As for ODF, that’s a much more specific term. It refers to Open Document Format which is a non-proprietary format used for saving and exchanging documents, spreadsheets, databases and other typical files used in a standard office. Space does not permit me to write more about it here, but check back next week for a lengthier explanation of ODF. In the meantime, you can learn more about both of these topics on the ITD webpage but remember, Open Source and ODF are two different things.

October 4, 2006

Copyless???

by @ 9:15 am. Filed under Registry Ops

Yesterday, we started an analysis of both our administrative and public copy machine volume. Why now?…As we move toward the next generation of registries it is apparent the role of copy machines will decrease. In recent years registries have imaged millions of pages and made them available in-house and on Internet. Every day more and more people get their copies from our printers or at home rather than from our copy machines. This has led to a huge decrease in public copier volume. Here at the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds public copier volume has been cut in half in the past year. Our future plans include the removal of approximately 6,000 record books over the next year. This will only worsen the situation. In contrast administrative copy volume has changed very little in the last three years (of course, enhancement projects cause fluctuations…especially in the summer when our interns are here). Twelve years ago when Register Howe and I first came to Middlesex North keeping our copy machines supplied and working was a big issue. I find it interesting that today we can envision a record hall without copy machines.

October 3, 2006

More Foreclosure Info

by @ 12:43 pm. Filed under Statistics

Today’s Globe reports that the state Division of Banks closed two more mortgage brokers for a variety of violations. They were Confidence Mortgage Corp of Lawrence and Middlesex Mortgage which is based in Moultonboro, NH but which had an unlicensed office in Lowell. Neither of these companies appear in our grantor/grantee indexes, so it does not appear that they were the actual lender on any local loans. In connection with this story, we looked more closely at the 20 foreclosure deeds that were recorded in this registry during the month of September. Of these, 9 were of property in Lowell, 4 were in Dracut, 2 each were in Billerica and Wilmington and there was one each in Tewksbury, Tyngsboro and Westford. It appeared that only two of the foreclosureds, both in Dracut, were for condominium units. Several lenders do appear with some frequency in these documents. Wells Fargo and Deutsche Bank each had 4 foreclosures, accounting for 8 of the 20. Countrywide Home Loans had 3, Option One had 2 and several other companies had one each. Most of the mortgages being foreclosed originated in 2004 and 2005, but the earliest of the 20 came from 2000. We will continue to monitor this trend and will write more as additional data becomes available.

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