Lowell Deeds

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

January 31, 2007

National Prices Down

by @ 11:52 am. Filed under Real Estate

Lately, it seems all news dealing with the real estate market has the same theme…”Things are bad and getting worse”. An article in this morning’s Boston Globe business section confirms this. According to the article the national decline in home price is not slowing down. The articles cites a study that indicates single family home prices rose slower in November than in the past ten years. Prices grew at the rate of only 1.7%…experts believe this shows that the weakness in the real estate market is continuing to spread. The nation’s housing martket appears to be following the same track as the Massachusetts market. The statistics used in the study came from a “20 city composite index”. All cities in the survey except for Charlotte, North Carolina showed a decline in prices when compared to the prior month.

January 30, 2007

“Foreclosures up 46%”

by @ 12:20 pm. Filed under Statistics

The lead headline on page one of today’s Lowell Sun is “Foreclosures up 46%: Filings by mortgage lenders well above last year’s pace.” The reporter, Dan O’Brien, called me yesterday afternoon about recently released figures on the pace of foreclosure. What I told him (and what is reported in the story) is that the pace of foreclosures drastically increased in the final third of 2006. Here are the actual month-to-month figures for 2006. The first number shown is the number of Orders of Notice (known in the press as “foreclosure filings”) that were recorded, while the second number shows the number of actual foreclosure deeds. Remember, these are all for 2006:
Jan 23/10
Feb 30/7
Mar 48/13
Apr 58/8
May 78/8
Jun 41/16
Jul 38/11
Aug 51/22
Sep 48/20
Oct 50/16
Nov 72/24
Dec 88/11

Check back this Thursday for the final figures for this month. Also, our first issue of the Registry E-News, a twice per month email containing news and info about the registry, will be sent this Friday. If you’d like to receive it, please send an email to lowelldeeds@comcast.net. Those of you who have already sent an email to subscribe are all set.

January 29, 2007

I didn’t Know That

by @ 10:16 am. Filed under Technology

Here are five techie shorts…I didn’t know…Did you know them?

Did you know Apple Corp has entered the cell phone market? and its new device is called the iPhone and is offered with service provided by Cingular?…you did! me too…but did you also know that before Apple made arrangements with Cingular to be iPhone’s exclusive distributor Version rejected the deal???? Wow…Now, I didn’t know that!

Did you know that tomorrow Microsoft’s long awaited operating system Vista is hitting the consumer market?…(a few months ago Vista became available for businesses). Think back…in 1995 hundreds of people waited in line at midnight to get the first copies of Windows 95. The excitement surrounding that OS release was amazing… now come back to today…The only person I heard is excited about Vista’s release is Bill Gates…do you know anyone waiting in line tonight to get Vista?…me neither.

Did you know that Google has decided to attack Microsoft right in the wallet?…I didn’t…Google intends to launch “a bundle” of software applications (Word processing, Spreadsheet and Database programs) Free…these bundled programs will compete directly with Microsoft Office…which is Microsoft’s biggest revenue generator.

Did you know that Fox sent a subpoena to YouTube (Google again). Apparently, a YouTube user (without permission) uploaded the first episode of 24’s sixth season and 12 episodes of The Simpsons. Fox is demanding that YouTube indentify the user with the intend of prosecuting. He/She goes by the Username ECOTotal.

Did you know that if you “google” the words “miserable failure” President George Bush tops the list of results and if you “google” the word “liar” Prime Minister Tony Blair tops the list and in 2004 if you “googled” the word “waffles” John Kerry would have topped the list. It seems all three of these respected gentlemen have been victims of what is called a “Google Bomb”. A Google Bomb is a term used to describe the way online pranksters influence the results of Google searches. Fortunately, Google is changing its search logarithm to stop these culprits…I didn’t know that.

January 26, 2007

Real Estate Fraud 201

by @ 11:50 am. Filed under Real Estate

That didn’t take long. Yesterday I wrote about a USA Today profile of a convicted real estate swindler who described a variety of scams he (and many others like him) have pulled off. A front page story in today’s Herald discloses a similar scheme right here in Massachusetts. In this case, a wrong-doer assumed the identity of a Massachusetts woman (a 63 year old retired school teacher who’s also a former nun) and used the phony identity to purchase three different properties. This incident may have remained unknown to the victim and the authorities but for a police investigation that was apparently prompted by a murder in an abandoned Dorchester house back at Thanksgiving. Mayor Menino vowed to find the absentee owner and when the authorities investigated, they stumbled onto this large scale real estate fraud operation. Several of the participants were recently arrested in a sting conducted by investigators posing as real estate lawyers who participated in one of these sham transactions at the Suffolk County Registry of Deeds. Unfortunately, when it comes to real estate fraud, with all the money involved during this latest spike in values, this case reported in the Herald may be just the tip of the iceberg. Speaking of icebergs, just so the historical record is clear, the temperature here in Lowell early this morning was -6 degrees with a stiff westerly wind making it the coldest day of the winter thus far.

January 25, 2007

Real Estate Fraud 101

by @ 10:28 am. Filed under Real Estate

Today’s USA Today carries an interview with a convicted real estate scam artist who explains in detail how easy it was for him (and for anyone else) to execute scams involving mortgages and deeds. He used several techniques. For example, he might drive up in his Infinity Q45 Luxury car and pose as a wealthy real estate investor who owns so many properties that he is incapable of obtaining any more credit. He wants to buy a house, rent it, have the rent cover the mortgage payments and then sell the house in 18 months realizing a huge profit. All he needs is someone with clean credit to take title to the property. If you do that, he’ll split the profits with you when the house is sold. So the house is purchased with you as the buyer and the borrower. He collects the rents, never pays the mortgage, and disappears before the foreclosure sale, leaving you responsible for any deficiency. His second strategy is perhaps more worrisome. Here, he identifies a home that has no outstanding mortgage, usually one owned by an elderly person or couple. He then drafts a deed conveying the property to himself and forges the true owner’s signature. He records that fraudulent deed at the registry. A short time later, he applies for a loan. The title search discloses that he is the outright owner of the house and the loan is granted. He takes the money from the loan and disappears. Eventually, the bank begins sending out foreclosure notices but these are all thrown away. The first time the true homeowner (and actual occupant) of the house learns something is amiss is when the auctioneer shows up to sell the house. Unfortunately, these scenarios are not as fanciful or farfetched as we might hope. The law of document recording allows anyone to record a document for anyone else. When someone presents a deed at the registry for recording, we have no duty (and no way) to verify that the deed was in fact signed by the buyer or that the buyer is even aware of the transaction. The system assumes that anyone acts in good faith. It does not prevent anyone from acting otherwise; it just provides for harsh punishment if they get caught.

January 24, 2007

Scanning Changes

by @ 9:42 am. Filed under Registry Ops

This morning we began returning “some” documents immediately after recording. Right now we have limited this new procedure to just discharges and Homesteads filed by homeowners…but this is just the beginning…eventually, all documents will be given immediately back to the recorder…we have also given our recording counter staff the job of document scanning and have eliminated the designated scanner role (a job which had been in place since 1994)… and more scanning changes…Yesterday, we started separating all “Commonwealth of Massachusetts” documents from the general recordings. We now record, scan and mail these documents back to the state the same day as they are received. Since the Commonwealth mails in almost all of its documents separating theirs out is not difficult…Here comes my wish…Hopefully, within the next two weeks “all of our mail” will be handled in this manner (record, scan and return the same day). I say “hopefully” because we need a designated mailroom scanner to do this… We have had some problems connecting the new scanner to our database but we think we might have these issues resolved today.

January 23, 2007

Downtown Summit

by @ 9:51 am. Filed under Current Events

Tomorrow (Wednesday, January 24, 2007) is the first of three “Downtown Summits” sponsored by the city of Lowell. Beginning at 8 a.m. at the Doubletree Riverfront Hotel, this summit is expected to bring together more than one hundred residents, business representatives and government officials with the the intent to “generate enthusiasm, stimulate involvement and provide an opportunity to hear suggestions and ask questions on a wide variety of issues that concern those who live, work and play Downtown.” The keynote speaker for this session is Teresa Lynch, a Senior Program Associate of the National Main Street Center of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The Main Street Center strives to assist urban communities in combining historic preservation with “grass-roots based economic development.” As an added bonus, the city of Lowell is supposed to introduce its new economic development director at the summit. Everyone is welcome to attend, but since seating is limited you are supposed to first call Chris Samaras at 978-446-7150 to register. During the past five years, downtown Lowell has undergone a transformation unrivaled in any time in its prior existance. The conversion from an office environment to what is essentially a bedroom community of residential condominiums with ancillary businesses has totally changed the face of Lowell’s core. Getting the stake-holders together to talk about how this all is supposed to work will certainly be time well spent.

January 22, 2007

No More Books?

by @ 9:25 am. Filed under Registry Ops, Current Events, Technology

This morning I was struck by a headline I read in Google News…quote, “Could This Be the Final Chapter in the Life of the Book”. Can you believe it? The end of books? The headline made me think of this registry…As you know we have put great effort into converting from a paper based system to an electronic image system. In my opinion it is going to happen both at registries of deeds and in the wide-world of books.… The “final chapter” headline was motivated by an agreement made between the University of Texas and Google. During
the multi-year agreement between the parties, Google plans to digitize one million books in the University’s library. Using Google Book Search Internet users will be able to search, view and read the electronic books…and the University of Texas is not alone…Google has also partnered with the University of Michigan, Harvard, Stanford, Oxford and the New York Public Library. In all Google has agreed to digitize over 30 million books in these libraries…and Microsoft is also getting in the act. Bill Gates and company are working with the British Library and will scan 100,000 books in 2007 alone. Of course, there is a major copyright issue at hand…yet the project is still going forward.

January 19, 2007

The Ghost Map

by @ 12:32 pm. Filed under Technology, History

I just finished reading “The Ghost Map” by Steven Johnson. The book’s subtitle is “The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic and How It Changed Science, Cities and the Modern World.” In late August 1854, the Soho neighborhood of London, then the world’s largest city with a population of more than 2 million, suffered a cholera epidemic. Within 48 hours, 10% of the neighborhood’s residents were dead. Besides providing an unnerving description of cholera’s impact on the human body, Johnson tells a fascinating tale of medical detective work. Up until then (and for some time thereafter), the best minds in medicine believed that cholera was spread by noxious odors and fumes. Of course, in 1850s London, there were plenty of them to provide ever-present support for that theory. One prominent physician, John Snow, believed that cholera was transmitted by impure drinking water (which is actually the case), but neither Snow nor any of his colleagues had isolated the cholera bacteria through the use of a microscope. Instead, Snow used sociology more than science to convince people of his theory. From interviewing survivors in the neighborhood he established that everyone who had died in the epidemic drank water from a popular public pump located on Broad Street in the middle of the neighborhood. But many who lived in the most wretched, smelly, infested homes in the neighborhood but who drank water from other sources had survived. To better argue his case, Snow obtained a map that showed the streets, houses and water pumps of the neighborhood. He then placed a black line for each victim within each house that had contained a victim of the epidemic (the “map” in the book’s title). The map showed the fatalities blossoming outwards from the Broad Street pump and provided overwhelming evidence that it was the transmitter of the disease. As Johnson notes in the book’s final chapter, the methodology used by Snow – graphically depicting events by placing points on a map – is an extremely effective way of problem solving, particularly in a densely packed urban setting. He notes the modern technology such as Google mapping software is perfectly suited for these types of projects. Be sure to visit the author’s website and follow the link to his YouTube-based mini-documentary about the story.

January 18, 2007

Formatting Standards Revisited

by @ 10:58 am. Filed under Indexing

Since the first of the year, I have received many phone calls from around the country from companies that prepare real estate documents inquiring about the status of the Document Formatting Standards that were to become effective on January 1, 2007. As regular readers of this blog know, the implementation date of those standards was pushed back for a full year to January 1, 2008 to allow the Registers of Deeds Association to meet with the various constituencies effected by these rules to devise a more acceptable solution to our problem. And that problem is that a significant portion of documents now being recorded are difficult for us to reproduce as the official and lasting record of the transaction. Yesterday I met with the Registry of Deeds subcommittee of the Real Estate Bar Association of Massachusetts (REBA). The size of the document’s margins was perhaps the biggest stumbling point of the original formatting standards (and those were a 3-inch top margin and 1-inch side and bottom margins). After much discussion, it is apparent that a box in the upper right hand corner of a document that is at least 3-inches square is needed to allow the registry to affix recording data to the document and that a general admonition to “provide sufficient space for recording information” would be insufficient. But what about non-conforming documents, especially those crucial to a transaction that have come from a distant location? Should the person seeking to record such a document simply tape a blank sheet of paper to the back with a 3-inch overlap at the top to provide sufficient space? I think a better solution would be for the registry to provide a generic coversheet that could be downloaded from the internet or filled in at the registry just before recording. This coversheet would require the customer to insert some information about the document being recorded and would have ample space for the registry to affix its recording data. There is precedent for this. Every document that is recorded electronically has a coversheet added to it that contains recording information. As for the side and bottom margins, a full one-inch is probably not necessary. What the registry needs is sufficient white space between the edge of the document and the beginning (or ending) of the text to ensure that none of the text is cut off during the scanning process. Other items discussed included the rule that signatures be made only in black or dark blue ink, the prohibition against watermarks on papers being recorded and the desire for a clear statement that hand written documents are recordable. In the coming months I will be meeting with representatives of other groups which do business with the registries to solicit their input on the next version of the formatting standards.

January 17, 2007

Firefox Guy

by @ 2:43 am. Filed under Technology

I’m a Firefox guy…plain and simple. Yes, yes, I know, Microsoft just released the new and improved Internet Explorer 7.0…but it doesn’t matter to me…I’m sticking with Firefox…Why? About a year ago a virus attacked my computer and crashed it…I mean “really” crashed it. The virus installed hundreds of pop-ups advertising produces ranging from (excuse me) toe fungus eliminators to “six pack abs” creators. Every time I tried to open my Internet browser I was inundated with these pop-ups. This was the beginning of the end of my relationship with Internet Explorer. I started to do some reading on what might have caused the virus.The first thing I found was that most of the “strange people” that create these viruses target Internet Explorer because it’s the market gaint. I also read about a FREE open source browser called Firefox…and…it was much less vulnerable to viruses…so I downloaded it, tried it and I was hooked. Today 79.6% of Internet surfers use IE and 14.3% use Firefox (by the way, Firefox has increased in usage every year since it became available)…I know in this week’s techie periodicals Internet Explorer executives are bragging that they now have 100 million users. Congratulations Microsoft…but as Ben Franklin once said “fool me once and shame on you, fool me twice shame on me”.

January 16, 2007

Registry E-News

by @ 12:35 pm. Filed under Website, Technology

In early February, we will launch the first issue of Middlesex North E-News, a periodic email alert intended to keep subscribers informed of what’s going on here at the registry. With tomorrow’s forecast predicting the first subzero temperatures of the winter and with snow falling outside the registry as I type this (it’s just a snow “shower” according to the forecasters), stormy conditions that might cause the closure of the registry would be a perfect example of the usefulness of such a feature. The same would be true when we suffer our rare but not unheard of website problems. Rather than checking the website every 15 minutes to see if the system is operational again, wouldn’t it be easier for us to send you an email? In the absence of such “breaking news” we would probably send two regularly scheduled emails each month: One at the beginning of the month with a brief summary of our recording activity for the prior month (i.e., the number of deeds recorded compared to prior months) and, at mid-month, a quick list of the topics we’ve written about on our daily blog for the previous few weeks. We wouldn’t share subscribers’ email addresses with anyone, nor would we use them for non-registry functions in anyway. We don’t yet have a fancy way to sign up, so if you’d like to start receiving our E-News with the first issue in early February, just send me a quick email stating your interest by using this link.

January 12, 2007

Worcester Visit

by @ 9:37 am. Filed under Registry Ops

Yesterday I took a field trip to the Worcester South Registry of Deeds. Worcester is also experimenting with the POR (point of recording) scanning concept. They are currently using the system very successful on a limited basis. During this trial period they have separated the POR scanning from “regular” recording. Worcester has set up a designated recording line for only people that want to record and immediately receive the document back. They also limit recordings to three documents per person. After a document is recorded it is immediately scanned, but before the recording clerk releases the document to its custodian a ceritified copy is made and retained by the registry. They told me they were going to eliminated copying the document shortly. The Worcester method differs somewhat from our experiments. The biggest difference is one person handles the document from the POR to its release. They feel this “artisan” way of document handling minimizes mistakes. I intend on trying this method here at Middlesex North also. Worcester has done and outstanding job and has been a leader in develoing the POR scanning program. I always enjoy visiting other registries. I would like to thank Worcester Register of Deeds Anthony Vigliotti and Linda Curran for their kind hospitality and help.

January 11, 2007

New Look for Sales Reports

by @ 6:18 pm. Filed under Website

The monthly sales and foreclosure reports that we’ve offered on our website for several years will be getting a new look, possibly as soon as tomorrow. The existing format provides a matrix of town names and months with far too many hyperlinks. We’ve designed a new look for that page that features a drop down menu for each town. Each town’s menu will have links to consolidated annual sales reports for each year from 2000 to 2006, a link to “last month” meaning last month’s report, and, coming in February, a link to “2007.” Besides providing the prior month by itself, we will also post a year-to-date consolidated report for the current year. To illustrate, assume it is now the end of April. During the first few days of May we finish the verification of the last of April’s recordings, then we generate an April 2007 sales report for each town and a 2007 sales report that would include all sales from January through the end of April. The foreclosure reports will also be linked from this page as well. For a glimpse into how it should look, check out the Lowell sample here.

January 10, 2007

“POR” Scanning Update

by @ 11:26 am. Filed under Registry Ops

POR???? ………….Point of Recording!
Our “point of recording” scanning experiment has taken a number twists and turns that I didn’t anticipate when we first began the project. At this time I am not completely satisfied with the document flow…but, this is my fault. I keep changing the way we do things looking for the best results (of course, the quality of the work hasn’t suffered)…

Here are some of the things we have tried so far:

Using one experienced scanner located at the recording counter designated to do all the scanning. My objective here was to see if one person could keep up with the pace of recording. This worked fine…but truthfully our pace of recording right now isn’t very challenging. I am doubtful if this method would work if/when volumes increase to 2003 levels again.

We also trained our recording counter personnel to scan documents. I tried using them rather than a designated scanner. This worked very well also…I think even better than the single, experienced scanner…and I believe we could handle high recording volumes by adding more “recorder/scanners” when we get busy and a second ADF scanner.

Right now, we are using a combination of both of the above methods… After a short period of experimentation it seems the best path is using recording counter employees to do the scanning along with a separate employee assigned to do iamge QC duties only.

We have decided to handle our mail differently. A separate scanner will be put in the mailroom to be used only to scan mail. On an average we record about 700-800 pieces of mail a week. This volume will not require an employee to scan full time.

We have seen the most success with our new certified copy policy. All certified copies requested at the “time of recording” are made from scanned images. This is faster and more economical.

“POR” (Point of Recording) I like it. It has a nice ring to it.

January 9, 2007

Mortgage Applications Up

by @ 5:47 pm. Filed under Real Estate

Foreclosures aren’t the only thing rising in the mortgage industry. According to today’s New York Times, mortgage applications are rising, as well. It seems that a combination of falling real estate prices and continued low interest rates have combined to make purchasing a new home more attractive now than it was during the past year. Still, this isn’t exactly a rebound. New federal regulations, for example, require that applicants for adjustable rate mortgages must qualify based on the highest amount they might pay during the life of the mortgage and not just for their first couple of (artificially low) payments. If rules like this had been in place, the newspaper wouldn’t be cluttered by so many foreclosure notices these days.

January 8, 2007

You’re plutoed!

by @ 10:07 am. Filed under Pop Culture

Did you ever get plutoed?
What’s does that mean?
Ever carry a murse?
A what?…
I sound like I’m talking in a foreign language don’t I…well, it’s not actually foreign, but it’s not exactly proper English either…”plutoed” is a new dialect word. And…it is an important one too…
What’s the big deal with it?
The American Dialect Society choose “plutoed” as the 2006 Word of the Year…
Who/What the heck is the American Dialect Society?
Good question…The American Dialect society is made up of linguists, grammarians, historians, scholars and other smart people.
Other smart people like me?
Not quite
How do they decide on the Word of the Year?
Members admit they do not vote with any thought that the word will be inducted in the English language…
Are they serious?
Not really, it is mostly for the fun.
Wait a minute…I still want to know what plutoed means…so I can figure out if I was ever pluoted.
Yes, back to the original question…Plutoed means “to demote or devalue someone or something”…
You mean like the way they “devalued” the once famous planet Pluto?
No, I was never actually “pluoted”… But a company I worked for once moved out of state and didn’t tell me where they were going…Was I plutoed then?
I would say so!…Let me give you a little quiz…See if you can tell me what this dialect word means…”murse”
Let me think…Let me think…”murse”, murse…I know… is it a curse put on someone by an Egyptian munny?
No, a “murse” is a pocketbook carried by a man. OK ,try this one…what does the dialect word ”flog” mean?
“Flog? Flog?”…I’ve got it! Flog is a type of “flu” that effects only dogs…yeah, that’s it Fllllooooog.
Wrong!…”flog” is a fake blog used to promote products. Hey, you better get back to work. If not, you know what Donald Trump would say to you…
Yeah I know…”you’re “plutoed”.

January 5, 2007

Inaugural Ceremonies (and the website)

by @ 9:01 am. Filed under Website, Current Events, History

These topics aren’t related other than they happened at the same time. (A coincidence, I’m sure). As many of you know, the masslandrecords.com site has been operating erratically for the past 48 hours. We believe the problems have been corrected, but please let us know if they persist. The server that holds the registry data is located in Boston, and it seems to have worked fine throughout this episode. The problem was with the communications link to that server. Yesterday, some people had access without difficulty, but others were not even able to reach the site. The technicians sent out an email at 3 a.m. today reporting that the problem was corrected, but later this morning we continued to receive customer reports of problems. It appears that the people who had access yesterday, lost it today, while those who were excluded yesterday, had no trouble today. Hopefully the news that it is corrected for everyone is accurate. As for the second topic, “inaugural ceremonies,” late Wednesday afternoon, I joined the other dozen Registers of Deeds whose offices are within the Secretary of Commonwealth’s office for a joint oath of office ceremony at the Great Hall of the State House. Secretary Galvin administered the oath and sponsored a brief reception. That event concluded just before 5 p.m., so we were able to walk a few steps to the grand staircase and watch Governor Romney descend the stairs as part of his “solitary walk” out of the building. Yesterday, all of the Registers of Deeds attended another ceremony at the Land Court where Chief Justice Scheier administered the oath as Assistant Recorders of the Land Court. So now all the Registers of Deeds, both those re-elected and the six who were newly elected, have officially commenced this new term of office.

January 4, 2007

Website Problems Persist (8:15 pm)

by @ 5:14 pm. Filed under Website

The website www.masslandrecords.com which contains all of our land records and indexes (and is the site that you link to from the “search land records” portion of our website) is still having problems. In fact, it seems to be worse now than earlier this afternoon. Then, at least some people could gain access to the site. We apologize for the inconvenience and assure you that people are working on it. We’ll write a report on what caused the problem once it is resolved and identified.

Internet Problem

by @ 10:08 am. Filed under Registry Ops

We are sorry for the inconvenience but the Internet site massland records is down.

This means you will most likely be able to reach our homepage but will be unable to connect when you click “Search Land Records”. “Search Land Records” hyperlinks to masslandrecords.com, the site which holds our database information. The latest report we received “theorizes” that the problem is related to the system’s firewall. People from both ACS and the Secretary of State’s Office are currently working to resolve the issue. Unfortunately, we have not been given any indication of when the problem will be fixed. As I get more information I will keep you posted.
Once again we are sorry for the inconvenience this has created.

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