Lowell Deeds

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

May 31, 2007

The Furniture is Here

by @ 8:47 am. Filed under Registry Ops

Eleven of the twenty-one new research tables we ordered were delivered yesterday. Not surprisingly, one was damaged. The deliveryman told us the other ten tables would probably come tomorrow. When I came in this morning I randomly arranged the tables in the basement record hall. Because today is the last day of the month (usually busy) and tomorrow is the first of June (usually busy) we will not roll out the new Public Access Computers until Monday. At that time we will also begin to re-arrange the furniture to fit our design plan. The tables are 48”X24” in size and each will be outfitted with a Public Access Computer. In order to make more space for work papers we are going to place the computer CPU’s on the floor.
In addition… maintenance employees applied the final coat of paint in new recording hall yesterday. The colors match perfectly…

May 30, 2007

More on Paperless Registry

by @ 5:12 am. Filed under Registry Ops

The “paperless registry” applies to the recording process as well as the use of our records for research. With electronic recording, the registry never even sees a paper document. Instead, the customer transmits an image of the original document plus associated data to the registry via a secure internet connection. This electronic package arrives at our recording terminals with an announcement that an electronic recording is ready to be processed. We open the package, review it for accuracy and, if all is in order, record it – both the data and the document image – with a single click on the computer screen. Recording fees and documentary stamps are paid by bank transfer from the customer to the registry, so checks, cash and the need to deposit them become a thing of the past. No one expects 100% of our recordings to be electronic, however, but recordings done the traditional way – by physically bringing a paper document to the registry – have in a sense become “paperless” as well. Over the past five months we have gradually transitioned to a scan and return process at our recording counter. This means that scanning the document becomes part of the initial recording process which allows us to return the actual document complete with affixed recording information to the customer along with his receipt. There’s no denying that this process does increase the difficulty of correcting a scanning error. Under our prior system where we retained the original document for weeks, we could easily rescan a document if we subsequently discovered that a page was missing, for example. When you give back the document right away, you can still rescan the document at a later time only you would have to retrieve it from the customer first. But the increased efficiency of this system, both for us and our customers, require us to fully move to this approach. With our low volume of recordings these days, this is the perfect time to implement this strategy and to discover safeguards and procedures that minimize if not fully eliminate the risk of scanning errors.

May 29, 2007

The Paperless Registry

by @ 10:01 am. Filed under Website, Registry Ops, Technology

Will paper soon join the quill pen and the typewriter in obsolescence when it comes to the operation of the registry of deeds? Recent developments certainly make it seem so. In Lowell, this migration began back in November 1994 with the acquisition of the registry’s first scanner. The few thousand pages of digital images of record books that had accumulated by the end of that year has now grown to nearly ten million. With just a handful of exceptions, all documents recorded since 1855 are now freely available on www.lowelldeeds.com and the number of missing or illegible documents is decreasing every day as registry employees discover and remedy such problems. All pre-1855 documents have already been digitalized; the only thing standing between them and a place on our website is our difficulty in finding a competent (and available) computer consultant to devise a program. The same is true for our pre-1976 grantor and grantee indexes. Rather than embark on the hugely expensive task of recreating those indexes on our existing computer system, we have simply scanned our index books, creating a digital image of each page. I envision presenting these electronically exactly as they were presented in paper form – in an alphabetized book that allows the user to peruse prior and following entries in the book, a method most people still prefer to the newer database search method. Internet access to recorded documents and indexes is just part of this equation. Other elements include electronic recording, document scanning at the recording terminal (so that originals are returned to the customer along with the receipt) and WIFI access for those who bring their notebook computers to the registry. But more on these other ideas later.

May 25, 2007

Memorial Day

by @ 11:44 am. Filed under History

Next year will be the 100th anniversary of Memorial Day. It was first proclaimed in 1868 by leaders of the Grand Army of the Republic, the enormous post-war organization of Northern Civil War Veterans. There is some dispute about that being the origin of Memorial Day. Some say that even before the end of the Civil War, women in the Southern states had set aside a day in May to decorate the graves of veterans killed in the war. That event came to be known as Decoration Day. Eventually, all states - North and South - adopted the Memorial Day holiday. In Lowell, the city places small American flags at the graves of all veterans in the city’s cemetery. Local Veterans’ organizations hold a memorial ceremony at the Ladd and Whitney monument tomorrow in which they read off the names of all veterans who have passed away since last Memorial Day, and then another ceremony takes place at the Lowell Auditorium. Many other similar events including parades in Andover and Tewksbury on Monday morning will also take place across the region. While initiated as a way to remember those killed in America’s wars, Memorial Day has expanded to include the remembrance of all relatives and friends who have died. It is certainly a worthwhile societal event and not just a reason for a three day weekend.

May 24, 2007

Globe Reports Foreclosures Down

by @ 5:08 pm. Filed under Statistics, Real Estate

Today’s Boston Globe reports that the number of “foreclosure filings” (by which they mean Orders of Notice) was down in April when compared to March. Despite this news, the story contains a pessimistic tone that suggests this is just a temporary lull. Our own figures for May tend to corroborate these findings, however. From May 1 to May 24, we recorded 36 foreclosure deeds and 50 orders of notice. For the period April 1 to April 24, we recorded 24 foreclosure deeds and 88 orders of notice. A few days ago, I bumped into someone who’s involved in the lender side of the foreclosure business. My source said that contrary to the common practice of only bidding a certain percentage of a property’s value (it used to by 75 to 80% if I remember correctly), many lenders today are bidding 100% of the property’s value at foreclosure sales. I’m not quite sure the reason, but it sounds like they might be trying to defer the appearance of a loss on their books by substituting an asset of equal value (the house) for the non-performing loan.

May 23, 2007

Painting, waxing, heating

by @ 7:48 am. Filed under Registry Ops

Court employees will begin painting the newly exposed walls of the Recording Hall next Tuesday. I sent the colors out to be matched at a professional paint store. All the paint is latex and the work will be done off hours, so I don’t expect any inconvenience to the public. I also spoke to the Trial Court and made arrangements for the floors in the Recording Hall and the old Recording Counter area to be stripped, waxed and buffed. I am also in the process of arranging for the same work to be done on the floor in the Basement Record Hall. I hope this can all be accomplished by the end of June. Last week I spoke to the maintenance supervisor about the heating issue in the Basement Record Hall. I was told Court Facilities would investigate the situation further and possibly add supplemental baseboard heat.

May 22, 2007

Chain of Title Application Update

by @ 10:22 am. Filed under Website, Registry Ops, Technology

Several months ago we commenced work on our “chain of title” project which will link together all the deeds in the chain of title for each property in our district. It’s certainly an enormous undertaking but we’ve made a good start. We’re about to finish up the town of Dracut after which we will move on to Chelmsford. Here’s how we’re accomplishing the work: Using a combination of the ownership information used by the town assessors and sales information extracted from our own registry indexes, we create a street by street report, listing the address of each property and then the book and page number and date of each deed in our database that is affiliated with that parcel. Our employees then view the image of that deed and search for the title reference to the deed into the grantor. We then go to the image of that document and repeat the process. Our goal on the first pass through each town is to reach back to the 1950s. Of course, if a deed contains no title reference or an ambiguous or erroneous one, we simply by-pass that property and will return to it later. Our eventual goal is to link each set of deeds to that particular property’s overhead photograph and parcel data which are held by and readily available from MassGIS. We have a mock-up of the application we envision on our website at this link.

May 21, 2007

Weekend Work

by @ 8:20 am. Filed under Registry Ops

This weekend’s work went well… Aulson Company removed the carpet and tile from the old recording counter floor. They started Friday night at 6:00PM and didn’t stop untill close to 2:00AM Saturday morning. The Aulson crew returned to the registry on Saturday morning around 11:00AM and finished up around 4:00PM. The work actually went a little faster than expected. Originally, the removal schedule included Sunday as well. Register Howe and I came in Saturday to observe the work and make sure there was nothing Aulson needed. I was amazed that workers moved the old Recording Counter (all 30 feet of it) from its original location into the hallway “completely intact”. Eight men lifted the unit and carried it about ten feet. When I saw the counter Sunday morning it was back in its original location with no visible signs of damage…but, unfortunately, the newly exposed terrazzo floor is in worse condition than I expected (although, I must admit, I was warned…you never know what might be under the carpet). The floor has many hairline cracks and in some areas it appears the mosaic tile was removed and replaced with plain terrazzo. I think/hope that stripping and waxing will bring it back. For now, our summer interns will work in the old recording area…eventually we plan to move Customer Service there.

May 18, 2007

The Finish Begins

by @ 9:14 am. Filed under Registry Ops

More on the record hall work:

Today 21 tables measuring 48X24 will be ordered for use in the Basement Record Hall. The tables have an oak colored laminate top and steel legs.

Beginning tonight at 6:00PM The Aulson Company will begin removing the tile and carpet from the “old record hall area”.

Next Week:

On Monday the state electrician will cap off the wires that were exposed by the removal of the record book cabinets and will finish installing new outlets on the Elm Street side of the building that will be used to power computers.

On Tuesday a maintenance department employee will finish repairing the holes in the plaster molding where the record book cabinets sat. This repair work requires a bottom fill, finish fill and sanding. ..before it can be painted

Wednesday employees of the trial court will begin painting the exposed walls. The plan is to apply two coats of primer and two finish coats.

Additional…

FYI…I have submitted a work order to the trial court for the heating system in the basement record hall to be checked and repaired.

May 17, 2007

Recording Counter Relocates

by @ 6:04 pm. Filed under Registry Ops

The Recording Counter made the jump into the former record hall first thing this morning. The move was expedited by the temporary loss of electricity as Trial Court maintenance folks tried to ID the right switches to kill the power for this weekend’s work. In some respects, this move is like an urban architectural dig; as you peel away bookcases that have been in place for 90 years or carpetting that’s been there for 20, you learn about construction techniques through the years. For instance, since the building was constructed before the widespread use of electricity for indoor lighting, there are fixtures for gas lights all over the building. When electricity came along shortly thereafter, pipes that once carried gas to light fixtures were stuffed with wires to conduct electricity. As we are discovering, however, just because they covered up an electrical light fixture with a steel book cabinet back in 1916 doesn’t necessarily mean that they killed the power to that wire. Anyway, the recording counter is now in its new location with four operational recording terminals and two scanners. In the coming months we plan to bring that number up to a total of six terminals, all of which will have scanners attached. By then, all recorded documents will be scanned immediately and turned back to the customer within minutes of recording, and we’ll be out of the document storage and mailing business.

May 16, 2007

Next Step

by @ 9:29 am. Filed under Registry Ops

Here is the latest on our renovation project(s)…Last night I met with Aulson Company. This is the company that will be removing the carpet and tile from the Recording Counter area. The biggest problem they seem to anticipate is moving the actual counter. This unit is “L” shaped and approximately 30 linear feet long and is very, very heavy. It is made up of modular units with two large tops attached… “Ah, there’s the rub” (to quote Shakespeare). In order to disassemble the modular units the tops have to be removed. Some of the screws holding the tops on are difficult, if not impossible, to get at. In the end the workers decided to lift the entire unit at once (all 30 feet) then move it about five feet into the main hallway. After the workers remove the floor and they will bring the counter back to its original location. There are electrical boxes and computer drops that need to be disconnected from the sides of the counter before it can be moved. The work will begin at 6:00PM Friday night and last until 2:00AM Saturday morning. The crew will get some sleep and be back at the registry by 11:00AM on Saturday morning. There is a good chance that work will still be going on Sunday as well.
This is our plan…We will move the Recording Counter into the “old record hall” by 12:00PM Thursday. We will use the rest of Thursday and Friday to remove the remaining furniture form the the Recording Counter area.

May 15, 2007

Lowell Sun Reports Foreclosures Still Rising

by @ 11:26 am. Filed under Statistics

An article appearing on the Lowell Sun’s website this afternoon proclaims “Foreclosure announcements skyrocket” and cites a reprt by the Warren Group that says the number of actual foreclosure auctions held in April of 2007 almost quadrupled when compared to last April. This report caused us to examine our statistics. In April 2007, we recorded 29 foreclosure deeds. In April 2007, we recorded 113 orders of notice compared to only 58 for last April. Our year-to-date statistics showed similar increases. From January 1 to May 15, 2007, we recorded 117 foreclosure deeds and 431 orders of notice while for the same period of 2006 we recorded 42 foreclosure deeds and 206 orders of notice. The figures for the first two weeks of May paint an interesting picture. From May 1 to 15, 2007, we recorded 17 foreclosure deeds, a major increase from the 4 we recorded during the same period in 2006. Orders on notice tell a different story: From May 1 to 15, 2007, we only recorded 36 while for the same period in 2006 we recorded 47. Could this be a sign that the foreclosure crisis is beginning to slow? Hopefully, yes, but we’ll keep tracking these statistics weekly to look for confirmation of this trend.

May 14, 2007

Renovation Update

by @ 9:05 am. Filed under Registry Ops

Much work was accomplished on Saturday. Toupin Rigging moved the remaining World War One era bookcases from the former Upper Record Hall to a storage area in the basement. This uncovered a double door size opening into a side room (long ago the Registered Land Department) which is now our Copy & Plan Room. Next weekend we will remove the carpeting from the current Recording Counter area. Prior to this, we will move the recording counter into the former Record Hall (the area vacated last week by the Copy & Plan equipment). While this move is necessitated by the renovations to the current Recording Counter area, it may turn into a permanent move, making the former Record Hall the Recording Hall since it will contain both the Middlesex North Recording Counter and the Middlesex South Satellite Recording Office.

May 11, 2007

Identity Theft Legislation Advances

by @ 6:26 am. Filed under Current Events

Earlier this week the Massachusetts State Senate passed a bill that provides protection to the victims of identity theft. The Senate bill is nearly identical to one passed by the House last week, so it’s likely that a version acceptable to both houses of the legislature will emerge. Governor Patrick has already indicated his willingness to sign such a law. Perhaps the most significant portion of this bill gives consumers the right to freeze their credit reports so that only creditors who are preapproved by the consumer will be given access to the credit data. This, of course, outrages merchants, credit card companies and other entities who profit from the quick provision of credit. (It will probably also annoy consumers who freeze their credit just to be safe and then find they can’t take advantage of that great deal they find in a particular store because they’re unable to instantly open a new credit account with the merchant). But to make the credit freeze a little tougher to impose, it must be requested in writing by the consumer and there is a $10 fee. The bill also contains requirements that merchants who have disclosed private financial information of consumers must notify the consumer of the breach in a timely manner. The Herald has written a favorable editorial about this soon-to-be law.

May 10, 2007

Registering the World

by @ 10:41 am. Filed under Registry Ops, History

A registry of deeds conference in Dublin, Ireland? Sounds interesting. It’s being sponsored by the Property Registration Authority of Ireland in association with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe’s Working Party on Land Administration. The “Who should attend” section suggests that “officials working in Land Registration and Land Administration” would benefit the most. Conference topics include “the evolving role of land information in an e-society” and “experiences to date and future direction of e-registration and e-conveyancing.” One additional topic will be preventing fraud. This conference is part of the Tecentenary celebration of the Registry of Deeds in Ireland which purports to be one of the “longest established, continuously operating government offices” in that country. (That’s certainly impressive, but considering that our recorded documents begin in 1629, I guess we find ourselves in the unusual position of having been in operation for longer than a comparable office in Europe). If you’re interested in attending the conference, more information can be found here.

May 9, 2007

Work Continues

by @ 7:21 am. Filed under Registry Ops

We plan on moving record books 3002-4174 from their present location in the record hall to the annexed area. At this time these books will remain available for public use. The purpose for moving these books is to create move space for worktables in the record hall. As of today we have moved books 3625-4174. ..but we still need to move 3302-3624. This cannot be done until the old, unused cabinets in the annexed area are put in storage on Saturday…so watch for these to move by Tuesday. We are planning to furnish the record hall with workstations designed for individual use. Each station will be approximately 44” long by 24” wide with a public access terminal. I must admit I am having a little trouble finding a workstation that fits our needs. I will keep you informed.

May 8, 2007

ACS Users Group Meeting

by @ 11:24 pm. Filed under Website, Registry Ops

The ACS User Group met earlier today in Worcester. This organization consists of all the registries in Massachusetts that use the ACS computer system – Berkshire Middle, Berkshire North, Berkshire South, Bristol Fall River, Dukes, Hampshire, Middlesex North, Middlesex South, Nantucket, Suffolk and Worcester. The Essex South Registry in Salem is said to be switching to the ACS system, but that might not happen until this fall, after they’ve into their new quarters. The major item of discussion was a revised registered land system. While this will have vary little impact on the customer/users of the system, there are several new tools that will make the task of the registry in creating new certificates of title considerably easier. Unfortunately, there’s no timetable as to when this new feature will begin being deployed to registries. It will require some conversion of existing databases and additional training, so it’s not something that is easily done. The second major topic of discussion was the appearance and functionality of the www.masslandrecords.com site which is where the data and images contained in the ACS system are displayed. The objective here is to have the website look and function more like the public access terminals within the registry. ACS is ready to make the necessary alterations as soon as the registers agree to a final list of changes to the website. This may take place as soon as this summer.

May 7, 2007

Changes Underway

by @ 8:31 am. Filed under Registry Ops

Last Saturday Court Facilities employees detached the remaining record book cabinets from the walls in the room formerly known as the Upper Record Hall. The work went faster and smoother than I expected. Register Howe checked out the progress of the work around 9:00AM Saturday. At the time of his visit all the work on the Hobson Street side of the “Recording Hall” was done. The workers had more to deal with than just the cabinets. Two electrical outlets had to be disconnect also… this was expected…but what wasn’t expected was moving and unbolting the Copico change machine. This morning I arrived a little early and pushed some of the detached cabinets back toward the walls to create more space. I also repositioned the copy machine. Since this area is no longer going to be used for research two of the copy machines will be put into storage. Around 7:00AM this Saturday Toupin Rigging will begin moving the detached furniture to a storage area in our basement.
Check Wednesday for more changes coming.

May 4, 2007

“Brokers in Blogsville”

by @ 12:11 pm. Filed under Real Estate, Technology

Last Sunday’s Boston Globe Real Estate section featured a front page story that examined blogs written by professionals in the real estate business. “Brokers in Blogsville” scrutinizes several bogs written by real estate brokers including Boston Real Estate Blog, InmanBlog and The Real Estate Tomato. The story makes it clear that if real estate blogs just become a different way of promoting land sales, they won’t succeed. People will return to sites that offer timely information in a unique, authentic voice.

No mere fad, the blogs are also changing the dynamics that have dominated home buying and selling for generations. They’ve allowed some agents to break away from larger brokerages and turned knowledge and media savvy, rather than personal connections, into the coin of the realm for ambitious brokers.

This blog – LowellDeeds – is now well into its fourth year of publishing. It’s nice to have some company.

May 3, 2007

April Stats

by @ 5:18 am. Filed under Statistics

The April 2007 recording statistics are in. While the plunge seems to have eased, we still haven’t turned the corner. Here’s a comparison of major categories for April 2007 compared to April 2006:

Total documents: 2007 - 6088 / 2006 - 5569
Deeds: 2007 - 541 / 2006 - 555
Mortgages: 2007 - 1459 / 2006 - 1546
Foreclosure Deeds: 2007 - 29 / 2006 - 8
Orders of Notice: 2007 - 113 / 2006 - 58

Here’s a comparison of April 2007 and March 2007:

Total docs: April - 6088 / March - 6309
Deeds: April - 541 / March - 584
Mortgages: April - 1459 / March - 1518
Foreclosure Deeds: April - 29 / March 32
Orders of Notice: April - 113 / March 132

Perhaps the best sign is in the slide in the number of foreclosure related documents recorded in April compared to the number recorded in March. Other than that, everything looks kind of static or still slipping slightly.

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