The latest on real estate recordings and new technology from the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds in Lowell
A couple more changes for the record halls…
We are still on schedule for the removal of all remaining furniture in the Upper Record Hall on Saturday, May 12.
Last week the Grantee Indexes were moved from the second lower record hall room to the first. Over the next two days we will be moving the Grantor Indexes also to this room. The books were moved to give users “a little more elbow room”.
This may not happen for a few months…We have abandoned the traditional large research tables layout in favor of individual workstations. When completed each workstation will have its own public access computer terminal.
The old, large green table in the upper record hall that holds the “probate” computer will be replaced by one of the unused computer technology tables in the back hall.
Throughout the day today our website has been going in and out of service. The technicians were here all day and have yet to pin down the problem. If you experience difficulty, please go directly to www.masslandrecords.com to perform your searches.
The cost of postage will rise to $0.41 come May 14, 2007. Because some customers still give us self-addressed stamped envelopes in which to return their recorded documents by mail, we will require that any such envelopes left for registry use on and after Friday, May 4, 2007, carry the increased amount of postage. We must begin receiving higher amount of postage earlier than the USPS cutover date since we do not mail documents back the same day they are recorded. Under the new fee structure, the cost of one ounce of first class postage will be $0.41 with each additional ounce costing another $0.17.
Of course, you can dispense with return postage entirely if you take advantage of our scan and return policy at the recording counter. That process allows us to scan documents as part of the recording process and then hand back the original document (with all recording information affixed to it) to the person who recorded the document in just a few short minutes. For now, we’re offering this service on an optional basis, but soon it will be the way all documents are recorded.
We have been redesigning the lower record hall for the past week and have just about concluded the plans. I will write more about this in another post. Below is the schedule of work that will take place over the next six to eight weeks.
First week in May: The Grantor & Grantee Indexes will be moved to the bookcase adjacent to Elm Street in the first lower record hall room. These record books will be re-shelved in the second lower record hall room replacing the Indexes.
May 5: Employees of the Trial Court will remove “from the walls” the remaining record book cabinets in the upper record hall.
May 12: Toupin Rigging will removed the two remaining research tables and the unattached record book cabinets from the upper record hall.
Last Weekend in May: The Middlesex North Recording Counter will be moved into the area which is now the “Copy Department”… Andthe Copy Department will move to the room located directly across from the current location of the Recording Counter. The opening in the upper record hall wall which is parallel to Elm Street will be re-opened for copy/plan sales.
First week in June: Aulson Company will removed the carpeting and tile from the Recording Counter area.
In June: We are exploring the purchase of more compact and efficient furniture for the lower record hall.
We are also developing a new public access computer terminal that will incude “all” of our digitized documents. This includes, Miscellaneous Jurist, Reg Land Decrees, Registered Land Condominium Plans, Grantor & Grantee Indexes back to 1629 and more.
I know this is an ambitious schedule but I feel confident we can make it happen on time.
Here’s a quick comparison of the number of major document types recorded from April 1 to April 24 this year compared to last. For this period in 2007, we recorded 338 deeds. In 2006 there were 380. Mortgages slipped to 1050 in 2007 from 1147 in 2006. Foreclosure deeds rose to 24 in 2007 from just 7 in 2006. Orders of notice increased similarly, up to 88 in 2007 from 48 in 2006. One thing that seemed strange was the total number of documents recorded. In 2006, we recorded 4214; in 2007, that number increased to 4548. What accounted for the additional 334 documents? One thing that really stood out was the number of assignments. In 2006, we recorded 279, but in 2007, that number rose to 646. I haven’t quite figured out what would cause the number of assignments being recorded to rise so steeply, especially when the number of mortgages recorded has steadily declined. Any theories?
April 23 is a high holiday for literature majors and English teachers…It is the birthday of the esteemed “Bard”… The one and only William Shakespeare (don’t tell me you’re one of those people that think he isn’t the real author of the plays?…a pox upon thee!) Anyway, in his honor I have provided a Shakespearean quiz…Good Luck.
1. What is Hamlet’s royal title…
Thane of Cawdor, Duke of Sussex or Prince of Denmark?
2. Iago is responsible for the downfall of which character?…
Macbeth, Pericles, Othello
3. What was the name of Shakespeare’s London theater?…
The Globe, The Rialto, The Swan
4. Where was Shakespeare born?…
London, Oxford, Stratford-Upon-Avon
5. Who was the ruler of England during most of Shakespeare’s time as a writer?…
Henry IV, Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots
6. In Romeo and Juliet what is Romeo’s last name?…
Capulet, Montague, Verona
7. What is Macbeth’s wife’s name?…
Mary, Anne, Lady Macbeth
8. Which Shakespearean character said…”Friends, Romans, Countrymen lend me your ears”?…
Julius Caesar, King Lear, Marc Antony
9. Complete the title of this play written by Shakespeare, The Merchant of________?…
Venice, London, Cairo
10. In what play does the character Falstaff first appear?…
Henry IV, Richard III, Midsummer Night’s Dream
For the answers read the comments section of this posting…
Yesterday I attended a foreclosure seminar sponsored by Community Teamwork Inc., Community Housing Inc., the Lowell Foreclosure Task Force and First American Title. It was fabulous! I want to congratulate Avi Glaser (Community Housing Inc) and Ed Cameron (Housing and Homeless Services for CTI) for a wonderful job. The featured speaker was Attorney Ruth Dillingham, VP Special Counsel for American Title. Attorney Dillingham gave a comprehensive, informative and entertaining presentation titled “Residential Loan Concerns, Foreclosure and Fraud”. Her presentation lasted two and a half hours but it truly seemed like twenty minutes. Dillingham started with basic definitions: Mortgage, Promissory Note etc and ended with the laws and procedures governing a real estate auction sale itself. I would highly recommend if you have to opportunity to hear Ruth Dillingham speak…don’t miss it.
In addition a representative from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development was also in attendance. He distributed a very interesting pamphlet call “How To Avoid Foreclosure”. It addresses the following issues: What happens when a mortgage payment is missed; What are the alternatives other than foreclosure; Beware aware of scams; and What can I do before hand to avoid later problems. This information is also available on HUD’s website.
By the year 2000, it had become clear to me that providing registry information on paper was an obsolete, expensive and inefficient method of operation. The budget crisis of late 2001 gave us the incentive to cease making paper record books when our volumes were at number 12000. Today, six plus years later, we’re on (virtual) book 21000 which means in that short period of time (about 4% of the registry’s existence), we would have added 9000 additional books to our shelves (about 43% of the registry’s books). Our savings in materials and floor space have been substantial. Now it appears that the rest of the state will follow our lead. Yesterday, officials from the Secretary of State’s office met with the Registers of Deeds of all the state registries and announced the creation of a “digital archive” facility at the state record’s center in Boston. There, a massive scanning operation will digitize all registry record books after which the books can be placed into storage or destroyed. The message from the Secretary of State’s office was clear and unequivocal: The days of creating new record books must end as soon as possible and existing paper record books should be removed from the shelves once suitable electronic versions are readily available. Here in Lowell, we’re not only removing the books; we’re removing the shelves, as well, to free valuable for space for other registry functions. Much will happen over the next few weeks, so check back here for updates.
Tomorrow I will be attending a seminar in the Wannalancit Mills in Lowell. The topic is “A Proactive Approach To Prevent Foreclosure”. The seminar is intended to help professionals in real estate related industries understand the foreclosure process. Community Teamwork Inc. and Community Housing Inc along with the Lowell Foreclosure Prevention Task Force and First American Title Insurance Company are the hosts. The seminar will be geared toward bankers, lawyers, realtors and government professionals. The featured portion of the program will be a presentation by Ruth Dillingham, VP Special Counsel for First American Title. I will give a follow up report on the seminar later in the week.
Many people today are revisiting their security plans after yesterday’s horrendous mass murder at Virginia Tech where school officials and campus police have come under considerable criticism for their failure to alert the campus of the initial killings which occurred more than two hours before the second round of shootings. The authorities assumed the first was an isolated incident. It’s easy to criticize, but I suspect they simply did what we all do quite naturally – attribute rational behavior to someone who’s mentally deranged or a suicidal terrorist. That’s exactly what happened at this very courthouse back in 1976 when a night watchman (they had them back then) received an anonymous call that said a bomb was set to go off at the Middlesex Superior Courthouse in Lawrence. Being in Lowell, the watchman assumed the call was a prank and did nothing. When the morning custodian arrived for work before dawn, he spotted a brown paper bag leaning against the front door of the courthouse. Thinking it was trash, he bent down to pick it up. It exploded, severely injuring the janitor. The Weathermen terrorist group claimed responsibility. Today, we’re fortunate to have professional security controlling access to the building. Nevertheless, yesterday’s story from Virginia and the story of the 30-year old courthouse bombing remind us that we must view every unusual situation as a potential security risk. It’s an unfortunate but necessary approach to life these days.
There has been a great deal written and said about the current foreclosure crisis, but a Greater Lowell nonprofit agency, Community Teamwork Inc., is actually doing something about it. CTI provides foreclosure prevention counseling and mediation services, and assists troubled borrowers in submitting workout proposals to lenders. CTI is also hosting a seminar next week called “The Path to Follow: A Proactive Approach to Prevent Foreclosure.” This program is designed for employees of nonprofits doing foreclosure prevention work and for other professionals such as lawyers and bankers who want to help troubled borrowers. The seminar will be held on Thursday, April 19, 2007 from 9:00 a.m. to noon at the Wannalancit Mills, 600 Suffolk Street, Lowell. CLICK HERE for the program flyer.
Last Saturday I attended the New England News Forum at the Wannalancit Mills in Lowell. I found one seminar of particular interest. It dealt with the New England Indicator Project. One aspect of this project deals with mapping and plotting information crucial to understanding our region. The goal of the New England Indicator Project is to help the region survive in the face of tough economic competition from around the world and other parts of the country. Although the mapping portion of the project is still in the beta stage, the concept is fascinating… Using a digital map online users will be able to highlight and area, select the data type they want then watch the results. Information is being gathered in area such as housing, energy, transportation, safety, environment, education and health. Coincidentally, the demonstration prototype was designed to display median mortgage considerations in a particular neighborhood. This range could have been expanded to include much larger sections of the state. This project is expected to be live in the next six months to one year. For some reason I couldn’t find the link to the New EnglandIndicator Project but if you would like to see a similar example you can visit the Boston Indicator Project here.
Today’s Lowell Sun reports that city and state officials have agreed to locate the city’s new judicial center in the Hamilton Canal District, adjacent to the intersection of Dutton and Middlesex Streets. It seems that one of the big advantages of this site is that the city of Lowell already owns it, thereby minimizing if not eliminating land acquisition costs. The two other parcels under consideration, the Davidson Street parking lot and Central Plaza on Church Street, are both privately owned or contain significant amounts of privately owned property which would require expensive eminent domain takings. Other advantages of this lot include its proximity to the under-construction city parking garage on Middlesex Street and to the Gallagher Terminal which is the terminus of MBTA train line from Boston and the Lowell Regional Transit Authority’s bus hub for the region. The planned building will have 270,000 square feet of space spread over six floors. Tomorrow, I’ll write more about how this will affect the registry of deeds. If you’d like to see an overhead photograph of the Hamilton Canal site, CLICK HERE.
The Lowell Sun finishes its 3-part series on foreclosures today by exploring the question of who is responsible for the crisis in the subprime mortgage market. MSNBC.com also has a major story on the front page of its website on this same topic. The New York Times reports that an increasing number of borrowers with what were thought to be “less risky” loans are now in default. Nothing that’s happened at this registry during the first ten days of April suggests that the real estate market is starting to rebound. From April 1 to April 10 (and we still have a few hours left today) in 2007, we have recorded 7 foreclosure deeds and 40 orders of notice. For that same period in 2006, we recorded 4 foreclosure deeds and only 11 orders of notice. As for deeds and mortgages, for the same date range this year, we’ve recorded 127 deeds and 412 mortgages while in 2006, 164 deeds and 452 mortgages were recorded.
Yesterday, the Lowell Sun began a three-part series on our region’s mortgage foreclosure crisis. The lead story of the first day’s installment explored in great detail the story of a man who earns just $886 each month in social security disability and by working part time who was able to qualify for two mortgages totalling $295,000 (with monthly payments on the interest only mortgages of $2,300). He has since lost the house. This article tells this man’s story. An accompanying article explores the “war of words” that has arisen between the former home owner and his real estate broker over who was responsible for this situation. There’s also a small article containing some input from me about what might be in store a year or two in the future. Today’s article talks about plans by the state to increase the amount of scrutiny given to subprime lenders.
Here’s part of an email I received yesterday:
I happened onto this site and was surprised to see my mortgage information with my full name and social security number! This is an invitation for identity theft! What can I do to get my private information removed from public access? I saw that up there and said to myself, I’m shredding all these papers in my office and here’s the information I’m looking to protect on-line. With my signature!
The writer’s mortgage had been recorded in 2001 and on the last page, right below the space for his signature was printed: “Borrower’s Social Security Number” and the attorney handling the closing had required him to complete that line of the form. Since at least the summer of 2005, we have not allowed documents containing social security numbers to be recorded, except for state and federal tax liens and releases. In addition, any time we discovered a social security number or had one brought to our attention (usually by a customer like the one quoted above) we would immediately remove that social security number from our online records. Then, in December 2005, two things caused us to become more aggressive in our policy. First, instances of identity theft seemed to rise dramatically. Second, both the IRS and the Massachusetts Department of Revenue began sending us new liens and releases with only the last four digits of social security numbers visible. We took this as a green light to redacting the first five digits of SSNs on previously recorded IRS and DOR liens. We went through our records back to 1976 and removed all the full SSNs we could locate. Some still popup, as was the case cited above, but we take care of them immediately. I believe that makes this office one of the few governmental entities providing online access to records to have already removed the bulk of SSNs from our previously recorded documents.
We’ve started capturing more data in our index and I wanted to offer an explanation. Besides the normal information that’s entered into the Grantor/Grantee Index, I see great value in creating links between the deeds in a chain of title. Consequently, when a new deed is recorded, we will use the “marginal reference” feature in our system to enter the book and page number cited in the property description by the grantor. So if you’re viewing a deed, you may see a book and page number in the marginal reference section showing a link to another deed. That should be the prior deed in the chain of title. If the title reference is a probate number, we will enter that in the “Description” field which we don’t otherwise use. Also new to the description field will be the plan book and plan number (if any) cited in the property description. This will be entered simply as the plan book number, a hyphen, then the plan number. For example, if the property description says “shown as Lot A on plan recorded in Plan Book 135, Page 27, in the description field we will enter 135-27. If there are multiple plan references or a plan reference and a probate reference, they will be separated by a comma with no spaces. This might not be the format most conducive to reading it, but it is conducive to us extracting the data to use elsewhere. As I said, this started with documents recorded on April 1, 2007.
This morning’s business section of the Boston Globe has a Bloomberg News article that states the real estate market may be turning the corner. The report is based on information provided by the National Association of Realtors. According to the report buyers executed more Purchase and Sales Agreements in February than in January of this year. Although the increase is slight, just 0.7 percent it is significantly better than the 4.2 percent drop seen in the prior month. As expected annalist are crediting lower housing prices and good interest rates for the reasons buyers are re-entering the market. Most Purchase and Sales Agreements in the Northeast result in home sales so the indicator used by the NAR appears reliable. The average time between signing a P&S and the final sale is approximately 45-60 days. This means the registry of deeds will most likely feel the effects of this small increase within the next two weeks.
Amidst the news that New Century Mortgage Company has filed for bankruptcy and that mortgages in general, not just those in the subprime market, are becoming harder to get, we offer you our recording statistics for March, comparing 2007 to 2006, and for the 1st quarter of both years:
March 2006 & 2007 compared:
Total Documents decreased from 6495 down to 6309 ( -3%)
Deeds decreased from 627 down to 584 ( -7%)
Mortgages decreased from 1724 down to 1518 (-12%)
Orders of Notice rose from 48 to 132 (+175%)
Foreclosure Deeds rose from 13 to 32 (+146%)
Executions increased slightly from 52 to 54 (+4%)
1st Quarter 2006 & 2007 compared:
Total Documents decreased from 17,598 down to 16,424 (-7%)
Deeds decreased from 1,672 down to 1,469 (-12%)
Mortgages decreased from 4,595 down to 4,080 (-11%)
Orders of Notice rose from 101 to 282 (+179%)
Foreclosure Deeds were up from 30 to 71 (+137%)
Executions increased slightly from 135 to 142 (+5%)
At the moment (and yes, I am keeping my fingers crossed)…This Thursday a court facilities employee will begin working on the book cabinets in the upper record hall. First he will detach the units from the wall and then disassemble them. When we had this work done last spring it took three men a full day to complete a similar amount of work. Since only one person will be doing the job this time I am estimating it will take between three and four days. Once the work “begins” we will contact Toupin Rigging and schedule removal of the units. The units will be taken to the basement, reassembled and used to hold record books that have been put into storage. I think it is a safe bet that the removal of the research tables and book cabinets in the upper record hall will be completed by late April.
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