Lowell Deeds

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

June 29, 2007

Busy, but not as Busy

by @ 6:41 am. Filed under Registry Ops

The registry is obviously not as busy as it was in 2002 or 2003, but we are still expecting a lot of recording today. Yesterday also was unusually busy for us. We recorded 608 documents. This is double the daily average we have maintained during the real estate slump. On Monday we’ll post some mid-year statistics which will include Deeds, Mortgages, Order of Notices and Foreclosure Deeds. For now…it’s back to a busy recording counter for me.

June 28, 2007

iPhone

by @ 9:31 am. Filed under Current Events, Technology

A thought came to me this morning…today is a very significant day in history. It is the last day the world will exist without the iPhone. After years of development it is finally time for Steve Jobs and Apple to bring in the harvest. Tomorrow June 29, Apple officially ships its new iPhone to the marketplace. Tonight hordes of “AppleHeads” will assemble in lines branched out for blocks around Cingular Stores tonight (by the way, did you know that Cingular is the new AT&T). They’ll wait in the rain, snow, sleet, wind, humidity, lightning or whatever else Mother Nature has planned for this momentous occasion. And when the sun goes down and the sales are counted it will be a juicy day for Apple. How juicy? Check this out…For just $499.00 you can get your own iPhone…unless you want the better one? Then it will cost you $100.00 more…$599.00. Then there is the monthly usage fee for the iPhone. That ranges from $59.95 to $99.95. Oh Yeah, there is also a one time activation fee…but that’s only $36.00 and it’s one time. And…did I mention if you want to get the iPhone data service it will be another $20.00…no not one time, a month. But the iPhone is truly different…How? you ask…you can’t use it right away. You need to take it home and activate it “yourself” (after you pay the one time fee, of course)…Now, how do you think it’s activated? you guessed it…by connecting it to Apple iTunes. By the way did I mention I am writing this post on an Apple computer?

June 27, 2007

More Bad News

by @ 10:33 am. Filed under Statistics, Real Estate

If you read the Boston Globe this morning you know there is more bad news on the real estate front. The article’s headline says it all… “Hopes for Real Estate Revival Wilt”. The article in the business section of the newspaper explains that the sale of single-family homes in Massachusetts fell 9% in May. This decrease is a steeper decline than the one seen in April. Strange enough areas closer to Boston are doing better as are condominium sales. In fact the Realtor’s association figures show the medium price of a condo rose 1.4 percent in May to $290,000. The spring market has not lived up to optimistic expectations even though inventory is down. Normally, shrinking supplies means increased prices, but in this case higher interest rates are beginning have a negative affect the market. Boston Globe reporter Rob Gavin did a nice job on this article. I suggest you check it.

June 26, 2007

Say Cheese

by @ 8:33 am. Filed under Technology

Over the weekend my nine-year-old granddaughter and I went to my favorite computer store. I had decided a few months ago to purchase a new Apple iPod. No, I am not the only person in North America without one…I have a smaller Apple Shuffle that I enjoy very much…but last Christmas my granddaughter got a nice iPod Nano and well, truthfully I was jealous. I said to myself “Hey, I’m the First Assistant Register of Deeds…why does a nine year old have a better iPod than me!” As we approached the audio section of the store little did my granddaughter know she was actually taking part in repairing my bruised ego. The two of us picked out a smart looking black 30GB iPod. This device plays full-length movies, downloads TV shows, plays Podcasts and holds close to 7,500 songs…in other words, it is better than hers!
After picking out the iPod my granddaughter said, “Papa, lets go look at the laptops”. “Sure…Ok with me”. She continued “why don’t you buy one of the new laptops that have a built in camera”…”Honey”, I said “laptops don’t come with built in cameras”. “Yes they do”…“No they don’t”. “They doooo!” said emphasized. I thought to myself, I’m not going to fight about this. Hey, I read the Technology section of the New York Times. I know what I’m talking about. My answer was simply, ”whatever”. As we approached the laptops I saw a really nice HP, “Wow, I really like this one… Here’s another one with 200GB of memory… Boy I would love that one”. “Papa, look at these” she calls out. “In a little while, I’m busy”… I continued to salivate, “I wonder how much is this one costs?” “Papa look, this one has a camera”… “Honey, please don’t start that again”…”It does! Will you please (she is very polite) come here?” I walked up to the laptop and look into the screen…to my complete shock there was my large South Beach deficient face. My granddaughter runs up beside me, now both of our faces appear on the screen…”Look Papa, say cheeeessssseeee”, she declares as she makes a funny face in the camera…”do you like this one with the built in WebCam?”…Humbly I uttered, ”Yes, honey I do”. During the drive home I kept asking myself…maybe I should give her the 30GB iPod…I’m sure she could make better use of it than me.

June 25, 2007

Is MySpace Coming to the Registry?

by @ 9:11 am. Filed under Current Events, Pop Culture

Will MySpace, Facebook and other social networking sites soon find their way onto computers at the registry of deeds? Speakers at a recent technology conference in Boston apparently think so. Today’s Globe reports that the “Enterprise 2.0” conference at Boston’s Westin Waterfront hotel predicted that “wikis, blogs, videos and mashups” would soon play as vital a role in business as they do in social networking. While none of these applications were developed with a business purpose in mind, their functionality it extremely adaptive and, as time goes by, more and more young people who have grown up with these things as an integral part of their lives will be entering the workforce. As they do settle into jobs, they will bring with them a comfort level with these sites and applications that makes them as natural to use in a business context as the telephone is today. There are doubters, of course. In citing the need for companies to maintain tighter control over what goes on in their names, computer consultant Tim Scannell said of using social networking tools at work, that “the potential is there to turn the key to the zoo over to the animals.” Despite concerns of this type, it’s inevitable that the various communications tools described above and now used by millions will find many uses in a business setting.

June 22, 2007

Cover Sheets & Formatting Standards

by @ 11:45 am. Filed under Indexing, Registry Ops

From our very first electronically recorded document, we have used a cover sheet automatically inserted by our computer system. The reason for this sheet is that the non-uniform appearance and formatting of the documents we receive deprives us of a safe place to imbed recording information. On tangible documents, we are able to squeeze in recording info labels in any available space, but that’s a poor practice. The quality of our documents would benefit from having the recording information in the same location on every document. In seems that many mortgages routinely leave a 3 inch by 3 inch blank box in the upper right hand corner of the first page for recording information. This is that standard that we will be adopting on the first of the year. But we also recognize that our customers are often powerless to effect the formatting of documents that are received from governmental entities or large corporations, and they would get caught in a bureaucratic crossfire should be strictly enforce such a standard. The solution we’re considering is a coversheet for walk-in and mailed-in recordings. The cover sheet is an old concept, going back to the 1990s where it was considered as part of indexing by OCR (optical character recognition). While OCR- cover sheets are an obsolete concept now, the idea of a cover sheet is widely acceptable. So what we propose, is having a stack of blank cover sheets at the recording counter. If a document presented for recording doesn’t contain sufficient space in the upper right corner for recording info, we’ll just attach a cover sheet to the front of it and put the recording info there. If the customer doesn’t like it, the next trip to the recording counter, he can bring a properly formatted document. But in the meantime, we won’t be rejecting a large number of documents for noncompliance with this standard.

June 21, 2007

Document Formatting Standards

by @ 11:54 am. Filed under Indexing, Registry Ops

The Registers of Deeds Association re-visited document formatting standards at our meeting yesterday. You may recall that these standards were adopted last year to go into effect this past January. By last fall, however, it had become apparent the great majority of document routinely presented for recording would not comply and would therefore be rejected. Turning away 75% or more of all documents didn’t make much sense, so we indefinitely delayed the effective date. After meeting with representatives of REBA (Real Estate Bar Association of Massachusetts) and others, we presented a revised set of standards. Here’s an overview: Paper must be white and of sufficient weight to be scanned at the registry. Document pages may be no larger than 8.5 by 14 inches. Printing shall be on one side only - double sided documents will be rejected. The print font shall be of sufficient size to be properly scanned. Margins shall be of sufficient width to allow the document to be scanned without losing any text. A three inch by three inch blank space at the upper right hand corner of the first page of each document shall be required on all documents. This is where recording information will be affixed. In the absence of this space, we are considering using a standard cover sheet that would become part of the document, much like the coversheets that are used on our electronically recorded documents. This last item won’t be finalized to this fall, but it seemed to have widespread support. I’ll write more on this topic tomorrow.

June 20, 2007

The End of an Era

by @ 7:43 am. Filed under Registry Ops

You may remember this…When we first began scanning and returning documents immediately after recording I tried to establish an apropos acronym to describe the procedure. Do you remember? I called it PORS (Point of Recording Scanning). I was proud of PORS. It was “my” brainchild. I had visions of grandeur…50/100 years from now people would be working/recording in the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds referring to the procedure as PORS…I can hear it now, ”Hey, remember the days before PORS when people had to give the registry $.41 and wait a month to get their documents back? Thank goodness for PORS!”. Yet, you’ve heard the saying…“build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door”. Well, someone built a better mousetrap and the entire registry world is at the door…Yes, my “PORS” is gone (truthfully, it never really caught on). It is, the end of an era…Registry officials all over the state are calling the new scan and return procedure…well, exactly that, “Scan and Return”. It seems every meeting I attend I hear it over and over…”Scan and Return”, “Scan and Return”…”How’s your “Scan and Return” project going? Our “Scan and Return” project is going great”. No one ever says PORS, not even me…but I must admit, I even like “Scan and Return” better…So from here on, when I write or talk about “that procedure” I will refer to it as “Scan and Return” (like everyone else)…still, it isn’t easy losing one’s attempt at registry immortality.

June 19, 2007

The Big Picture on Electronic Recording

by @ 10:36 am. Filed under E-Recording

Today I attended presentations by the director of ACS’s electronic recording division (called eRX) and by the president of Simplifile which is another company that does electronic recording. Two years ago at the Middlesex North Registry, we began a pilot program for electronic recording in Massachusetts. Since then, we’ve recorded more than 5000 documents, mostly mortgages and mortgage discharges. The system works fine although it hasn’t yet gained widespread acceptance in the Commonwealth. Part of the problem, I suspect, is that only one registry takes documents that way, and the submitters don’t want to expend the effort to train staff to submit documents to just one of 21 registries. That may be changing, however. As was made clear this morning, the mortgage industry has changed tremendously in the past five years. Everything now is about speed and automation, to get the executed and recorded mortgage to Wall Street where it can be added to a pool and sold to investors as a commodity. Thus far, every step of the process but recording is done electronically, but then the speedy flow comes to a screeching halt as a paper document is created and recorded much the same way it was done a hundred years ago. So there is a great deal of interest in the financial industry in getting registries to adopt electronic recording. This would remove the last speed bump to fully electronic mortgages in a business where more than ever, time is money.

June 18, 2007

QC MLC’s

by @ 8:51 am. Filed under Registry Ops

For the past three months we have been quality checking our old document images. Recently we have discovered a disproportionate number of problems than in past. A little research discovered that the vast majority of these bad images are Municipal Lien Certificates. Most of the documents being checked are from the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. In those days MLC’s came in all shapes and sizes…green, yellow, Onion Paper, etc. The process we used to capture the images may be partly at fault. Way back in 1999 (or so) we sent hundreds of rolls of duplicate microfilm to Florida to be digitized. The company we hired used and an automated scanning process. My speculation is that the scanner was set to a “standard exposure” which did not reproduce the “various” shapes and sizes” of the older MLC’s. Of course, the next step after finding the problems is fixing them…we do this on a daily basis.

June 15, 2007

Interest Rates Up

by @ 7:20 am. Filed under Statistics, Real Estate

Today’s Globe reports that mortgage interest rates are nearing a five year high which is about the worst news the region’s housing market could receive. While the pace of foreclosures in the Middlesex North District has slowed somewhat during the first half of this month, the number of people losing their homes around the country continues to rise (according to another Globe story). Our own mid-month figures are as follows: From June 1 to June 15, we recorded 22 foreclosure deeds, 35 orders of notice and 244 deeds. For the same period last year, the numbers were 10 foreclosure deeds, 17 orders of notice and 338 deeds. I’ve previously written that the average number of orders of notice recorded per month for January through May of this year was 96, and that any monthly total less than that was good news. We’re now halfway through June and have seen only 35 which would project to 70 for the month, a number significantly below the average. While this would certainly be very good news, the rising interest rates might create a new wave of defaults and trigger a whole new crop of foreclosures. The delicate housing market of today might now be able to stand too many more shocks of that nature.

June 14, 2007

Mass Board of Real Estate Appraisers

by @ 9:04 am. Filed under Real Estate

Yesterday I had the pleasure of speaking to more than 60 members of the Massachusetts Board of Real Estate Appraisers at an education seminar in Waltham. The first part of the program consisted of Attorney Catherine Eastwood of Partridge Snow & Hahn LLP giving a step-by-step explanation of the foreclosure process. Attorney Eastwood’s firm has an extensive practice in this area, so she was able to supplement her review of the law with the kind of real-world war stories that make a presentation interesting (and unnerving, when you realize all of the things that can go wrong). Following the foreclosure block, the focus shifted to the Commonwealth’s Registries of Deeds. I joined John Buckley of Plymouth and Bill O’Donnell of Norfolk in explaining the resources available at our respective registries. We also presented our similar, but certainly not identical, views of the “big picture” of where registries are headed. The program ended with a brief question and answer period on troublesome real estate issues, particularly easements and how they are found (or not found) in the registry records. It was a pleasure to appear before such an attentive audience that was clearly interested in learning more about real estate law and registry operations.

June 13, 2007

Collectors and Treasures Conference

by @ 5:51 am. Filed under Current Events, Local Govt

This week I attended the Massachusetts Collectors and Treasurers Association annual conference on local taxation and finance. The conference took place in Falmouth and was well atended by Collectors and Treasurers from all parts of the state. Every August I also attend the association’s conference held at UMass, Amherst. In fact for past ten years or so, either Register Dick Howe or I have taught a course in Amherst called the Tax Collector and the Registry of Deeds…but back to Falmouth…A number of state officials also came to the conference either to address the group or teach. Katherine Craven, Executive Director of the Massachusetts School Building Authority discussed the procedures for school building projects and gave an update; Kathleen Colleary from the Bureau of Municipal Finance Law (Mass Department of Revenue) hosted an open forum on understanding a town’s audit. Today (Wednesday) Attorney Gary Blau from the Property Tax Bureau (DOR) will explain and discuss new laws affecting the duties and responsibilities of Treasures and Collectors. This is a “don’t miss class” and very well attended. Also scheduled later today are Dennis Mountain, Kathy Reed, Jim Podolak and Deborah Wagner all from DOR. With the current burden on cities and towns in Massachusetts they will discuss a very timely topic “Is Your Community In Jeopardy”. Collectors and Treasurers use credits earned attending class at the conference here and in Amherst to gain certification.

Real Estate Literacy

by @ 2:41 am. Filed under Registry Ops

Whenever I spend some time in our Customer Service office, I’m reminded that the average homeowner knows more about his cable TV bill than he does about the ownership of his house. That’s not said as a criticism of homeowners, it’s more of a comment on how arcane Massachusetts property law can be. This summer, we will make an effort to provide more information on our website about real estate basics. Some of the most frequent questions asked by registry customers are “How do I take someone’s name off of my deed?” or “I just paid off my mortgage; can I get my deed back now?” or “Where can I get a copy of my plot plan?” Out of state calls inevitably come from big mortgage servicers asking for property tax information. When we say, “You’ll have to get that from the assessors” they respond “Can you connect me.” You see, in most of the rest of the country, it’s the county that administers and collects the real estate tax system, so the concept that the local town hall handles that in Massachusetts is foreign to most out-of-staters. While these are all legitimate questions, the answers tend to surprise most people. Putting those answers on our website should help.

June 11, 2007

Website Woes

by @ 10:17 am. Filed under Website

My apologies to all who were inconvenienced by our website being down this weekend. The Lowell site, www.lowelldeeds.com, was operating fine, but the “search land records” link within that page brings you to a completely different site, www.masslandrecords.com, and that’s where the problem occurred. Although our computer provider, ACS, is normally responsible for the website, they were blameless in this matter. It seems that the Secretary of State’s office, the owner of that site, chose to switch to a different Internet Service Provider (ISP). From my own experience in doing that, I would have known that service would have been disrupted for some period of time – usually 24 to 48 hours – so I would have placed a warning well in advance on the website. But I didn’t know anything about this until this morning, after normalcy had resumed. The problem was magnified for us over the weekend because Saturday morning’s Lowell Sun contained an article by Attorney James Horoutunian on the Declaration of Homestead which included his recommendation that homeowners visit www.lowelldeeds.com to look up information about their property. That drove a significant amount of new traffic to our site, but this weekend’s visitors were met with frustration and “server not found” messages. But, as I said, everything should be back to normal now and, if there is any good news to be found here, it’s that the problem was fully explainable and not an unexpected crash of our otherwise reliable website.

June 8, 2007

Basement Heat

by @ 9:16 am. Filed under Registry Ops

I met with a Court Facilities Department supervisor this morning regarding a couple of registry area issues. One of my main topics was improving the heating source in the basement record hall. We need to put this topic in front of Court Facilities early so the work can be completed by fall. I explained that the space heater presently providing the only source of heat in the area has two major problems…the first and most obvious is the unit is too small. The second issue is the unit is tied into the main heating system. This means when the building’s primary boiler is shut off the basement heater is also shut off. Court Facilities suggested that electric baseboard heaters be installed to supplement the space heater. CFD also told me a state electrician will look at the situation in the next few weeks. We also talked about stripping and waxing the recording hall floor…truthfully, I expected it would have been done by now. I don’t think the floor will be worked on until late July or early August.

June 7, 2007

More on Foreclosures

by @ 11:40 am. Filed under Statistics, Real Estate

In Tuesday’s post, I suggested that the rate of foreclosures may be slowing. This was based on a decline in the number of orders of notice we saw recorded in May. The June stats will be critical in confirming or refuting this trend. I looked a little more closely at the numbers of orders of notice recorded in 2007, broke down the figures by month, and added in registered land documents (because registered land documents are kept in a separate database, we typically report on recorded land documents only, reasoning that all of are stats are used for comparison purposes so as long as we’re comparing just recorded land to just recorded land, the information accurately reflects what’s going on). Here are the monthly order of notice totals for January through May of 2007. January - 56; February - 101; March - 132; April - 113; May - 65. You can see by the drastic drop off from April to May why the May figures caught our attention. The bad news is that if we take the five month total and project it out over the full year, we would end up with 1157 orders of notice, the highest annual total ever and 10% higher than the previous high of 1037 in 1992. To get to that 1157 number, we would have to average 96 orders of notice per month for the rest of 2007. If June has significanly less than 96 (and we’ve recorded 23 thus far in June so we may not be out of the woods yet), it will confirm that the foreclosure rate is indeed slowing.

June 5, 2007

Foreclosures Up - but not for long

by @ 6:35 pm. Filed under Statistics, Real Estate

Two documents recorded at the registry allow us to track foreclosure activity. The first is the Order of Notice that comes at the beginning of the process. This document is the first step in the lender obtaining court permission to go forward with the foreclosure. One that permission is granted, the lender schedules and conducts an auction sale of the property. This occurs with no judicial supervision. The high bidder at the auction usually has thirty days to come up with the money for his bid. Once that money is paid over to the lender, the lender conveys the property to the high bidder by a foreclosure deed *which is the second document type related to foreclosures). The Foreclosure Deed is recorded a the tail end of the foreclosure proceeding. To repeat, Orders of Notice come at the beginning (and don’t always end up in foreclosure) while the Foreclosure Deed comes at the end of the process (and means the property has already been auctioned off).

With that process in mind, we can look at just a couple of statistics. In May of 2006, we recorded 78 Orders of Notice but only 8 Foreclosure Deeds. In May of 2007, however, we recorded 65 Orders of Notice and 40 Foreclosure Deeds. While the drastic increase in foreclosure deeds is certainly troublesome, the ratio of foreclosure deeds to orders of notice suggests that fewer houses are reaching the distressed condition that leads to foreclosure.

June 4, 2007

Prices Down…Sales Up

by @ 8:37 am. Filed under Real Estate

The Boston Globe has a front-page article this morning addressing the housing slump in Massachusetts. In line with basic economics, the decrease in housing prices is beginning to increase buying. Still it seems the upswing is mainly occurring in and around Boston. According to the article areas close to Boston are generally showing improvement while north and west of the city still appear to be stagnant. The article quotes Terry Egan, Editor and Chief of Publications at the Warren Group…”It’s pretty clear the market hasn’t found a bottom yet…The pace of the sales has been pretty steady, but inventories are only slightly lower than a year ago”. Today there are more homes for sale than in the past three years. Of course, the lending market also has a major influence on prices and sale activity. The Globe explains that lenders are tightening the reins. Marginal borrowers who in the past were approved are now being rejected. This change is shrinking the number of potential buyers aw well.

June 1, 2007

Nessie

by @ 7:46 am. Filed under Pop Culture

Have you heard yet? The Loch Ness Monster is back! ooow I’m scared.

Don’t believe it?…well, Gordon Holmes “claims” to have filmed the “whatever it is” swimming rapidly in the loch (a partially landlocked bay…why don’t they just call it a lake?).

Here is a quote from the amateur scientist…
“I saw something moving and dashed out of the car and switched the camcorder on…About two hundred yards away from me I could see something in the water. It was definitely a creature propelling itself through the water. It was fairly bubbling along the water. It was streaking along.”

Please, don’t be like me and pre-judge poor Mr Holmes. The intial reaction of experts is that the footage was not staged or tampered with. Even the BBC is showing the film!

Personally, I don’t believe in the Loch Ness Monster. I think at best this is some gaint squid, or mutated shark or something…It could even be Bigfoot taking a dip. Whatever it is, and even though I don’t beileve in it…you can bet I’ll be on YouTube tonight watching the video…and I thought Mr Holmes was strange.

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