The latest on real estate recordings and new technology from the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds in Lowell
10 Seven new registers of deeds will soon take office across the state in the following districts: Berkshire Middle, Berkshire South, Franklin, Worcester North, Essex North, Nantucket and Bristol North. With much registry-related policy now being established by the Massachusetts Registers of Deeds Association, a turnover of a full one-third of that organization’s membership (there are 21 registries in the Commonwealth) will have a major impact across the state.
9. On December 23, 2006, the LowellDeeds Blog celebrated its 3rd birthday, making it one of the oldest blogs of any type in the area.
8. Statistics became an item of greater interest at the registry this year. For example, early next week we will add a chart to our website that shows thirty years worth of recording data and associated information such as the prime rate and unemployment stats in an historical context.
7. The Middlesex South Satellite Office moved from the rear of the Superior Courthouse to former Record Hall in the front of the building.
6. The electronic images of all pre-1855 documents (the old “Middlesex South” books) were digitized and have now been added to the registry’s website where they can be retrieved by book and page number.
5. The marginal reference data capture project was completed. Employees went through every existing record book to locate all marginal references. These were then entered into a database that will soon be imported into the registry’s primary computer system. With these references captured electronically, the last reason to retain printed books on the shelves was eliminated.
4. Two thousand record books that were created during 1999, 2000 and 2001 were taken out of circulation and placed into storage to allow us to recapture more of the Record Hall for work space. (We stopped making paper books entirely in November 2001).
3. The informal partnership between the registry and MassGIS (the state’s online mapping agency) advanced with Middlesex North participating in GIS Day at the statehouse on November 16 and with both agencies making significant progress in our efforts to integrate our documents with MassGIS’s maps and overhead photos.
2. The slide in the real estate market continued with our overall volume of documents recorded down by 17% from the amount recorded last year. The number of foreclosure deeds recorded this year (165) was a 300% increase from last year, but still not close to our historic high of 761 in 1992.
1. To reduce the risk of identity theft, registry employees redacted thousands of social security numbers from previously recorded documents.
Wishing all a Happy New Year from the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds
Today we are beginning a test program involving document scanning. The ultimate goal, which we hope to acheive in the next few months, is to institute a “scan at the point of recording” operation. We believe this will streamline our document handling process. Of course, the first thing we need to do is to find the strengths and weakness in our plan…so, for the next few weeks we will test the system. In the beginning the “scan at the point of recording program” will be in operation for approximately three hours daily. Here’s how it will work… Documents will be recorded in the normal fashion…but, rather than placed in a basket to be scanned “hours later” they will be handed to an employee who will scan them “immediately”. These documents will then be mixed into the normal workflow…now remember, that’s how the test will work…but… In the “near” future, when we feel comfortable, we will use the “scan at the point of recording” method full time. The full time program will differ from the test in one major way…After the document is scanned it will be returned to the document’s custodian (the attorney, title examiner, homeowner etc). In addition… both the test and final system institute a change in the way we make certified copies “at the time or recording”. Here’s how that change will work…When a document’s custodian requests a certified copy it will be made from the newly “scanned image”…not from our copy machines. The document custodian takes the receipt to the copy area where the certified copy is retrieved.
I’ve been working on a chart that contains 30 years worth of registry and land-related statistics that will be available on our website early next week. For comparison, here are some of the numbers for this year (as of last Friday, December 22). In 2006, we have recorded a total of 71540 documents. Of these, 6883 were deeds and 19689 were mortgages. There were also 593 “foreclosure filings” (the new name for “orders of notice”) and 163 foreclosure deeds. Looking back over the past 30 years, the busiest was 2003 when 146956 documents were recorded (9044 deeds and 41638 mortgages). The busiest (some might say “worst”) year for borrowers was 1992 when 975 orders of notice and 761 foreclosure deeds were recorded. The slowest years varied: Only 24067 documents were recorded in 1979; just 3340 deeds were recorded in 1987; the least number of mortgages (5056) were recorded in 1981. And even though the prime rate was 10.5%, borrowers had it best in 1985 when only 87 orders of notice and 6 foreclosure deeds were recorded.
Here’s a little seasonal humor…
Why does Santa have three gardens?
So he can ho-ho-ho
What do snowman eat for breakfast?
What is Frosty the Snowman’s house made of
What happens if you get bitten by a vampire snowman?
You get frostbite
Who delivers presents to dentists at Christmas time?
What did Mrs Santa say to Santa when she looked out the window?
Looks like rain dear.
What kind of motorcycle does Santa ride?
A Holly Davidson
Where do elves vote?
The North Poll
What does an English teacher call Santa’s helpers?
What do elves learn in elf school?
…Hey, I said it was a” little” humor
A study released on Wednesday and reported in yesterday’s New York Times predicted a dire future for those holding subprime mortgages. These are mortgages made to people with bad (or not very good) credit. Because the bad credit history poses more of a risk to the lender, a higher rate of interest is charged. Well it appears that some lenders may have gotten greedy and were enticed by the prospect of a higher rate of return when interest rates were historically low. This caused the subprime market to blossom. They now make up a quarter of all outstanding mortgages. This study predicts that twenty percent of these mortgages will be foreclosed in the coming years, causing one of the study’s authors to predict “the worst foreclosure crisis in the modern mortgage market.” While I wouldn’t go that far, the situation is worsening here in the Northern Middlesex District. We will, of course, provide frequent updates on this situation.
Google, Google, Google… Is there anyone left that hasn’t heard of Google…it is the 500 pound Internet search gorilla. If I need to know something I “google it”…and it seems like I am not alone…millions of people are “Googling it” everyday…but the question is what are they googling? Google officials keep statistics on what people search on the popular site. According to Douglas Merrill, VP of engineering for Google, “it (Google’s statistics) captures the changes of our cultural perspective” (Come on Doug, cut out the flowery intellectualism. What you mean to say is your statistics indicate what people are interested in).…and Google ranks the results of the searches. Google ranks by considering “the increase” in the number of queries a search term has as opposed to simply “the number” of searches…So, what are we interested in, I mean what are “our cultural perspectives”? Here are the top five terms searched by google users in 2006…
Number one: “Bebo”
Number two: “myspace”
Number three: “The World Cup
Number four: “metacafe”
Number five: “radioblog”
Bebo, myspace, metacafe, and radioblog are all “online social networks”.
and…here are a few more “number ones”:
The number one searched wedding of 2006…Nicole Kidman to Singer Keith Urban (sorry Tom).
The number one divocre (this is easy)… Paul McCartney and Heather what’s her name.
The number one searched death of 2006… Beverly Hills, 90210 creator Aaron Spelling (and don’t forget “The Mod Squad”)
The number one sought after tickets on google…The Cheetah Girls (I’ll have to ask my grand-daughter who they are)
What???? you want me to give my prediction for next year’s “number ones”…
Assistant Register Tony Accardi and I travelled to the Worcester North Registry of Deeds in Fitchburg today for a retirement reception for John McLaughlin who has served as register of deeds for that district since 1989. While that registry is somewhat smaller than Middlesex North in terms of volume of documents and number of employees, the Fitchburg Registry seems to have more physical space. One of the reasons for that perception, at least, is that the registry now is located in rented space within a refurbished factory building in the middle of downtown Fitchburg. The state has adopted a model whereby registries of deeds are moving out of courthouses and into leased space. Fitchburg was the first to make such a move, Lawrence (Essex North) did the same thing last fall, and Salem (Essex South) and Worcester will do the same this year. Another item of interest in Fitchburg was the Worcester South Satellite Recording Office. While this is, in many respects, similar to the Middlesex South Satellite Office that operates in Lowell, at the Worcester Satellite Office, newly recorded documents are immediately scanned and then handed back to the customer, never to be held by the registry for more than the time it takes to record and scan. This is a direction we are heading in Lowell, so it was great to be able to chat with registry workers who are already operating in this manner. Congratulations to John McLaughlin and thanks for your many years of service.
With the number of foreclosure deeds recorded still rising – there have been 88 recorded for Lowell thus far this year compared to only 19 for the same period last year – we’ve been scrutinizing this year’s foreclosures, looking for patterns that might help to predict what’s in store for 2007. Because of some minor problems with the way we extracted the data from our regular recording system, we eliminated nine of the 2006 Lowell foreclosure deeds, leaving us with a set of 79 to examine. Remember, we’re working with foreclosure deeds which are typically recorded at least 30 days after the auction occurs – this means that the time periods cited below tend to add an extra month to the foreclosure process. Of the 79 Lowell mortgage foreclosures we examined, the average time between the recording of the mortgage (when the borrower got the money) and the foreclosure deed (when the borrower lost the house) was 25 months. The median time was 20 months. Eight properties went to foreclosure less than one year after the mortgage was obtained; 42 properties went to foreclosure between one and two years after the mortgage; 12 went to foreclosure between two and three years; 11 went to foreclosure between three and four years; and 6 were foreclosed four or more years after the mortgage was obtained. Because the mortgage being foreclosed was not always the purchase mortgage but a refinance, the time between the deed establishing ownership (when the borrower first became owner) and the foreclosure (when the borrower lost the house) showed greater time intervals. For example, the average time between obtaining title and foreclosure was 39 months while the median time was 28 months. Of the same 79 properties, 5 were foreclosed less than a year after the borrower became owner of the property; 27 were foreclosed after owning the property between one and two years; 11 were foreclosed after owning the property between two and three years; 16 were foreclosed after owning the property between three and four years; and 20 were foreclosed after owning the property for more than four years.
With Christmas just a week from Monday, I just wanted to remind everyone that we will be closed on Monday, December 25 for the Christmas holiday and on Monday, January 1 for the New Years holiday. We will be open during our normal hours of operation at all other times. Although the very warm temperature of today makes the thought of snow seem remote, it is winter which means that a bad storm strike sometime soon. The registry normally stays open for our normal operating hours unless the weather makes travelling extremely hazardous. If it’s an overnight storm and most everything else in the state is closed, you should probably call the registry first before you travel to it. If the storm occurs during the day, we try to stay open but sometimes the weather deteriorates very quickly thereby creating a safety risk to our staff. In such a case, we would close prior to our normal hours of operation.
Historically, registry of deeds records have been indexed primarily by the name of the human beings involved in the transaction memorialized in each document. Only recently – within the past dozen years – have property addresses treated as an important item to be added to our index. Once you move beyond the traditional title search, however, and look at how most people could best utilize our records, you would have to conclude that an address based system would be more useful. If someone is interested in a particular property, they are more likely to know that property’s location than they are the name of the current or past owner. To better meet this need, we have started work on an address-based system of finding registry documents that will run outside of and in addition to our current land records system. This new application as we envision it will allow you to find the most recent deed to a property by selecting that property’s address. That deed, in turn, will be connected to the other deeds in the chain of title going back in time. Currently, those types of connections do not exist within our database – that’s what title examiners get paid to do – but we’ve decided to have the registry staff begin working on this and make their product available to the public. Besides linking together all the deeds that represent the ownership history of a particular parcel, this new application will also have direct links the maps, photographs and land usage data help by Mass GIS, the state’s mapping agency. Once this is up and running, a single click of your mouse will bring you from the property deed to a parcel map and then to an overhead photograph. Eventually, we will add links to the assessor’s office and perhaps even a comment feature that will allow members of the public to add their own information about particular properties. We’ve been thinking about this for many months but now we’re about to start turning it into a tangible program. It’s deployment is still months away, but we’ll keep everyone apprised of our progress with frequent blog entries on this topic.
The latest news on the Massachusetts real estate market is not good.…This morning’s Boston Globe is reporting that foreclosures in Massachusetts rose 300 percent in November 2006 as compared to November 2005. The report is based on onformation provided by RealtyTrac of Irvine California. According to the article 2,100 properties in Massachusetts either faced foreclosure or were being foreclosured on last month. In comparison in November of last year there were (excuse the expression) only 526. The Globe quotes RealtyTrac vice president Rick Sharga, “some of the states that had the biggest boom over the past few years are now experiencing the highest number of new foreclosure filings”…that puts Massachusetts right in the middle. We have one of the highest priced housing markets in the country. The Middlesex North end of the year (2006) statistics report should be very interesting…be sure to check them out.
The Commonwealth is divided into 21 registry districts, each with an independently elected register of deeds. This coming January 3, the leadership at 7 of those registries will change. Yesterday I travelled to Greenfield for an informal retirment party for Peter Wood, the outgoing Franklin County Register of Deeds. He will be succeeded by Joseph Gochinski. The other registries that will see a change at the top are Berkshire South (Great Barrington) where Irene Skorput will be replaced by Wanda Beckwith; Berkshire Middle (Pittsfield) where Mary O’Brien will be replaced by former State Senator Andrea Nuciforo; Essex North (Lawrence) where Tom Burke will be replaced by Robert Kelley; Worcester North (Fitchburg) where John McLaughlin will be replaced by Kathleen Daigneault; and Nantucket where Joanne Kelley will be replaced by Jennifer Ferreira. The seventh registry that will see a change is Bristol North (Taunton) but the successor is undetermined at this time. The incumbent, David Simas, was re-elected, but has since been chosen by Governor-elect Deval Patrick to serve as his Deputy Chief of Staff. Because Bristol is still within county government, the county commissioners will name the new register of deeds once Mr. Simas formally resigns the position. We wish all the outgoing and all the incoming registers the best of luck.
Here’s a quote from an article I recently read in ZDNet…“Now that ECMA has approved Microsoft’s Open XML format, Massachusetts will take a look at it but will move forward with standardizing on the OpenDocument Format starting January 1,”…OK?… So I guess this is big news for Microsoft?…I know what “OpenDocument” is (yes, lowelldeeds has blogged on it before…you remember, “OpenDocument” is software that is designed to be nonproprietary…it is software without licensing restriction)…
OK, but who or what the heck is ECMA???
I didn’t know either so of course, I “googled” it…
Here’s what I found out…
In the early years of technology, computers built by different manufacturers ran on different “programs” and also had different “input and output codes” (no, I don’t really know what “input and output codes” are). Old time computer techies were pretty smart. They realized the need for standardization. Why, you ask?…Standardization would allow the use of data prepared for or by one computer to be used on another (it sure sounds logical to me). Standardization would also help prevent duplication of work. Having two companies working on the same computer program would have slowed development?
In 1961 the heads of many leading European computer companys formed an association. The association’s purpose was to promote standardization in the computer world. This was the birth of the European Computer Manufacturers Association or ECMA…So…I guess it really is good news for Microsoft that their Open XML format has been given ECMA approval…but Open XML still must be approved by ISO…ISO?… Oh, that’s a story for another day.
Last summer I attended a conference that discussed the future of the news media – things like how established newspapers were being affected by blogs, websites, podcasts and other new ways of communicating with “the audience.” (“Audience” is in quotes because now, people are active participants in the creation of media, not just passive participants as has previously been the case). One of the presenters explained the “disruptive innovation” theory which is explained by Clayton Christensen, a professor at Harvard Business School, in his book, “Seeing What’s Next.” In Christensen’s view, established companies will prevail against new competitors when it comes to “sustaining innovations.” That means, if you’re already a big player in the computer business, for example, when you roll out a new and improved computer and a new competitor does the same, you’ll prevail because you have more resources, experience, etc. But when it comes to a “disruptive innovation” – that is, an innovation that’s simple, convenient and low cost – the challenger is likely to prevail because at first, the established company will ignore the new thing entirely. But eventually, as the new thing gains widespread acceptance, it will get the attention of the established company but by then it will be too late to catch up. Christensen’s prime example is the telephone. In the late 19th Century, the communications industry was dominated by Western Union and the telegraph. When Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, he did not see it as a threat to the telegraph, but as a complement. He envisioned it as a device for people to communicate with the telegraph office from home. In 1876, Bell offered to sell the patent for the telephone to Western Union for $100,000 ($1.7 mil in today’s dollars) but the president of Western Union laughed, reportedly saying “What would we do with an electronic toy.” Turned down by Western Union, Bell came up with an alternate business plan, which led to the creation of AT&T. The first telephone went into use in New Haven, Connecticut in 1878. In 1879, 17,000 telephones had been sold, a number that rose to one million by 1900. By 1910, AT&T owned a controlling interest in Western Union. What’s this got to do with the registry of deeds, you ask? Well first of all, it’s an interesting story on its own. But it is inspiring a project we’re about to begin which I’ll talk about more next week. Oh, in case anyone was wondering, I paid my own way to that conference.
Here’s how I see the responsibilities of the respective parties involved in the electronic recording process:
Responsibilities of Customer
· Present proof of membership in eligible class (see above)
· Maintain security of connection with Agent
· Provide active point of contact to each Registry
· Submit documents in accordance with Mass. Law and Deed Indexing Standards
· Fully cooperate with Agent and Registry in resolving any recording problems
Responsibilities of Agent
· Establish secure network (VPN) from Customer to Agent
· Establish secure network (VPN) from Agent to Registry
· Pay any cost associated with establishing connection with Registry’s computer system
· Authenticate Customers
· Provide training and technical support to Customers
· Independently collect fees from Customers
· Solely responsible to Registry for paying all fees by start of day
· Post bond to secure payment of fees
· Maintain permanent audit trail of all Customer, Agent and Registry activity
· Fully comply with state rules of certification
Responsibilities of Registry
· “Open Standard” for computer connection
· Process electronic recordings as soon as possible
· Use statewide standardized QC procedures and rejections messages
· Immediate backup of incoming document images
· Reconcile accounts each day
The following changes went into effect at the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds on December 5….
The Middlesex South Satellite office has moved to the Gorham Street side of our record hall.
Four Middlesex South search terminals have been relocated to the upper record hall and four remian in the hall outside of the Registered Land Department.
The Secretary of State’s Corporation Computer and the computer with the Internet connect to other registries have both been moved to the Registered Land hallway.
The Probate Computer has not been moved. It is still located in the upper record hall on the Elm Street side of the building.
Copies made on all Middlesex South Public Access terminals, regardless of their location should be picked up in the Satellite office in the record hall.
The printer in the record hall designated for Middlesex North “account” printing has been removed. The accounts are still active and useable…but copies “paid by account” now print in the Copy Department.
The Reader/Printer has been moved out of the Copy Department. If you need an aperture card copy of a plan it must be ordered from Customer Service.
Note: Obviously, calling these “Phase I” changes means we are planning “Phase II” changes also. I’ll talk more about those plans in the weeks to come.
Back in 2003 when the state raised the registry of deeds recording fees, a $5 per document surcharge was also added. The proceeds of this fund were to be devoted to technology upgrades at the various registries of deeds. The same law that imposed the surcharge also created a Technology Advisory Committee that consisted of the Secretary of the Commonwealth, each Register of Deeds and representatives of the legal, banking, title insurance and surveying professions. That group met today in Boston to discuss electronic recording. I gave a presentation on our experience with the pilot program here in Middlesex North where we’ve recorded 2800 documents electronically during the past 18 months. My report also included recommendations, foremost of which was to move forward with electronic recording by activating the system at two additional registries by January 1. The registries in Worcester and Springfield volunteered to participate. While we are ready to proceed, there are still some very important details about electronic recording that must be resolved sooner rather than later. So we all agreed to reconvene in a type of electronic recording summit meeting after the first of the year to iron out some of the details. Please check back here this Thursday for more details about the rollout plan with links to the handout and PowerPoint presentation that I used at today’s meeting.
On Saturday I attended a book signing by Doro Bush Koch (My Father, My President). Doro is the sister of President George W Bush…But the real guest of honor at the event was Doro’s father, former president George H W Bush himself…
Now, if you are a regular blog reader you know I am a self confessed stargazer.
The morning of the event I struggled with what to wear…
“Does this sweater look OK with this shirt?” I asked my wife
“Are you kidding! Do you really think the former president of the United States is going to notice what you have on?”
The event took place in the ballroom of the Nonantum Resort in Kennebunkport, Maine. Doro read some short excerpts from her book then she and her father took questions from the audience.
After Doro answered the last question hotel staffers moved her to a private room to sign books and escorted the president out of the ballroom. I had bought the book but wasn’t interested in Doro Bush Koch’s signature, so I headed for the hotel exit.
Like Tom Brady looking down field, my eyes quickly caught George H W Bush standing with a few people in the lobby. My wife and I were only about fifteen feet away. We moved toward him hoping to get a “real” book signing. Within seconds he was swarmed by other “book signing hopefuls”.
We stood about four tiers back watching him sign away…but the crowd just didn’t move…I didn’t think I had a chance of getting my book signed.
But…my wife possesses some unexplainable ability, like a broken field runner, to break through crowds.
She cut to the left and dashed forward without me.
Defying Newton’s laws of gravity and space she got within two rows of the former president. She looked back at me…”give me the book”. I handed it off to her with the efficiency of Brady to Corey Dillon.
Seconds later security announced to the crowd “Folks sorry, but the president has to get going”.
My wife was on the goal line and time was running out… Holding the book high over her head she leaped forward toward her goal. “Mr President”,she yelled “will you please sign my book”(What she really wanted to say was “Mr President will you sign this book so my brat of a husband won’t pout for the rest of the weekend”).
The former president turned and took my book. Just then two other Corey Dillon types plunged their books into his hand. Bush took my book and slipped it under his arm.
He signed one of the other books… three seconds go by, ten seconds, fifteen seconds…he signs the second book… twenty seconds, twenty-five seconds…all this time my book is under the arm of the man who was once the most powerful person in the world… thirty seconds, forty seconds…
With polite frustration security yells again…“Folks!, folks!…please, Mrs. Bush is patiently waiting in the car for the president”.
Oh no, I thought, what about my book?
Just then the president takes my book out from under his arm and signs it…If adrenaline was electricity I could have lit the city of Portland.
“Whose book is this”? he asks. My wife answers “that’s mine Mr. President”. He gives her a broad smile and passes it over to her.
Security takes control and whisks Bush out the door.
My wife slips the book back to me like Dillon back to Brady in the flea-flicker. I took the book, tucked it under my arm and scampered around the end breaking away from the crowd.
Outside the hotel I saw the the former president sitting in his Suburban. The window was down. Barbara sat beside him. The blue lights began to flash. As the vehicle started to speed away I yelled “good health Mr President” and he waved.
I remember standing in the cold holding my book knowing how Bob Kraft must have felt when he held the New England Patriot’s first Superbowl trophy.
Here are some raw numbers for recordings in November of this year compared to last month and to the month of November in the past few years. We’ll revisit these figures and add some percentages sometime next week. In the meantime, there might be a small bit of good news for the first time in a long time. The total number of documents we recorded in November 2006 (6258) was slightly higher than the number recorded in October 2006 (6131). (In case you’re wondering, there were the exact same number of days we were open for recording - 21 - in both months). The same trend existed for deeds, with 581 recorded in November but only 546 recorded in October. The trend was reversed with mortgages, however, with 1656 recorded in November and 1751 recorded in October. New foreclosure filings (orders of notice) and foreclosure deeds were both up: Orders of Notice in November - 72; in October - 50; Foreclosure deeds in November - 24; in October - 16. With deeds and total documents up, however, the increase in these two types of foreclosure related documents is not as disturbing as it would be with downward trends across the board. Long term, here are the total number of documents recorded in the month of November for the past few years: 2003 - 8629; 2004 - 7513; 2005 - 7027; 2006 - 6258. Conclusions? There were a lot of bad loans made during the past few years, so foreclosures will continue to rise until they’re cleaned up. December, January and February are usually our slowest months for deeds and mortgages, so November was the last chance to detect any possible reversal of the downward trend. While I can’t say the plunge has stopped, there are signs that suggest it might be slowing.
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