The latest on real estate recordings and new technology from the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds in Lowell
The flurry of renovation activity here at the registry is nearly complete. The recording counter, the Middlesex South satellite office, the Customer Service office and the mailroom are all in their new locations (many with new furniture thanks to the donations from Worcester). By the end of this week, our three new combination recording/scanning stations should be fully operational. Two are going to the recording counter; the third to the mailroom. At the recording counter, that will give us a total of four scanners and six recording terminals which we feel is adequate to transition to the full document scan and return process. So beginning on Monday, August 20, all documents presented for recording will be scanned immediately after recording and handed back to the customer. Those not retrieved by the customer doing the recording will be treated as abandoned and will be disposed of accordingly. We will be writing more about this transition in the coming days and will soon have informational handouts available at the registry and on our website.
Last Friday we worked all day on moving the mailroom to its new location. “The new location” is the former location of the Customer Service Department. Not have we decided to change the location of the mailroom but we intent to change the work flow also. Here’s how the mailroom works now…workers open the day’s mail, check the documents, then record them. Using this procedure sometimes a “mailed in” document is not recorded until the next day. This is going to change… On Friday our computer company, ACS is going to install three combination cashier/scan terminals. These terminals that can be used to “record and scan” documents…something that now takes two separate computers. One of these new “super stations” will be placed in the mailroom. This gives mailroom employees the ability to scan their own documents. So…here’s the new work flow…One person will be designate to check the mail and organize it into packets of ten. On the same day other mailroom employees will take a packet, record the documents, scan them and then ready them for return (stuff the envelopes and affix the postage). The number of employees we have working in the mailroom will dependent on the volume of mail for the day. The new plan will allow all mail to be recorded, scanned and returned on the day it is received.
Back in 2003 when the volume of refinancing and the resultant rise in home values departed reality like a rocket leaving the earth’s atmosphere, I started expressing my concerns about the consequences of the housing boom here on this blog. A number of people (many of whom were making a lot of money off of the boom) started referring to me as “the prophet of doom.” In the coming weeks, I plan to compile those older posts because I’m afraid they will prove I was more of a prophet of reality. Yesterday’s drastic decline in the stock market is the first tangible evidence we’ve seen that the current collapse of the housing boom will cause collateral damage to the rest of the economy. The situation is volatile and unpredictable in the short term. The market could bounce up and down like a yo-yo, or yesterday could just be a preview of more intense declines just over the horizon.
Yesterday was a time of intensive activity here at the registry. We constructed an all-new Customer Service office using modular furniture that we imported from the former location of the Worcester Registry of Deeds. We also slightly altered the location of equipment at the Recording Counter and substituted five round conference tables for the two large rectangular tables in the “real estate closing” section of the Record Hall. The effect of all this movement is to create a more spacious, orderly work environment consistent with the new paperless process we will fully implement in the near future. The only remaining piece of this project is moving our mail processing room into the former Customer Service office area. We expect that to occur sometime next week. Also next week our computer company (ACS) will be onsite to install three new combination recording terminals/scanners. Two of these will go to the recording counter and the third will go to the mailroom. Our planned cut over date is Monday, August 20. From that day forward, we will scan all documents immediately upon recording and hand the originals back to the person who presented them for recording. Documents that are left behind by customers will be disposed of after scanning. During this entire process, we also expect electronic recording to become widely available to local customers, so we expect more and more of our documents to be recorded electronically.
Sorry, but this will be a short post. Today we were extremely busy making more changes to the registry. We moved the Customer Service Department to the area that was the old Recording Counter. Using the furniture salvaged from the Worcester Registry of Deeds (thanks to Register Vigliotti and his helpful staff) we assembled a more efficient and spacious layout that will service the public better. Within the next week the Mail Room will be moved into the “old Customer Service Area. More details later because right now, I’m exhausted.
This morning I met with Paul Roth, the new Regional Sales Director for Simplifile, a Utah-based, national leader in the electronic recording field. Paul is a graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been an attorney for nearly 20 years, most recently with an office in Burlington where he concentrated on real estate. Previously, however, he was a long-time sales representative for West Publishing (they used to use attorneys for that job), so he knows his way around the courts and law offices of New England. We have been establishing and then testing our electronic connections with Simplifile for several months now and from our perspective, we’re ready to receive documents submitted by their customers. In the coming week or two, I’ll write several posts about electronic recording to bring everyone up to date. In the meantime, if you’re interested in learning more about Simplifile, give Paul a call at 781/552-1148 or send him an email.
One hundred and sixty one years ago today (July 23), Henry David Thoreau spent a night in the Concord town jail. I am a great admirer of the Walden loner and must admit his writings influenced me during my…shall we say, “more rebellious years in the sixties”. I have heard many people simplify Thoreau…”he was the first hippie” or degrade him “ when he lived at Walden Pond he would go to his buddy Emerson’s house for a hot meal”…but this is all unfair. Thoreau was a man of powerful action and words. He showed his disapproval of slavery by refusing to pay his poll tax. In 1846 during a leisurely walk in town, Thoreau met Concord Constable Samuel Staples. Staples knew Thoreau had not paid his poll tax for three years. The Constable informed the writer that he would face imprisonment if his taxes were not paid. Thoreau told the official he had no intention of paying the tax. Staples promptly arrested him and put him in jail. Thoreau was freed the next morning when an identified person paid the tax for him. The creative result of Thoreau’s incarceration was the powerful essay “Civil Disobedience”. “Civil Disobedience” influenced many of the world’s great thinkers and doers including Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. Not bad for a guy that lived in the woods for two years.
Yesterday we replaced the recording counter for both Middlesex North and the Middlesex South satellite office with new tables we received from the old Worcester Registry of Deeds. They are solid wooden tables, stained a deep cherry color, and they provide a uniform appearance and a continuous counter that bisects the old record hall. We are still awaiting our second load of Worcester furniture that will include several 36 inch round conference tables which will be used for real estate closings and some modular office furniture which will go either in the expanded recording counter area or the new customer service area. This new space will give ample room for the many customers who visit our customer service area. The old space for that office will be taken over by our mail processing room. There we open and record all documents received by mail. We will add a dedicated scanner to that room so that documents recorded by mail that are accompanied by self addressed stamped envelopes may be mailed back immediately after recording. As for the recording counter, we have purchased three new recording terminals each with its own scanner. These will be installed in the coming weeks. We plan to set up a total of eight recording terminals and five scanners at the Middlesex North recording counter. This will give us more than enough recording/scanning capacity to handle even a three-fold increase in recording.
We know that to successfully change to a paperless registry of deeds we need to correct “all” of our record book image problems, especially those in the older books. Here’s where we are currently… for the past six months we have had three employees all working “part-time” finding and re-scanning bad images. This works…but it is taking too long. We need to dedicate more manpower to this project. The following relates to the image problem…trust me: Even though we no longer make paper record books available to the public, we still print them. We need to do this. We create archival microfilm using a Minolta DAR 2800. The DAR 2800 is basically a camera. We auto feed paper copies of the record books through this machine. It takes a picture of each page and creates microfilm. We know the process is out dated and have explored several ways to create microfilm directly from electronic images. We are committed to making this change in the early fall to coincide with the implementation of full “scan and return”. I know you’re still waiting…how does this relate to correcting bad images? Well, switching over to creating microfilm from electronic images will free up employees. These people will be re-assigned to work solely on correcting bad images. I expect that sometime after Labor Day we will triple our efforts on this project. Very simply put, a paperless registry of deeds “works”. If you don’t believe it, take a ride to Worcester.
Our “new” furniture from the former Worcester Registry of Deeds is expected to arrive late this afternoon. Perhaps the most visible items will be six tables, all waist-high and eight feet long by three feet wide. These will replace the assorted tables and countertops we are now using in the recording room. Rather than have the counter extend directly across the width of the room, it will be L-shaped with the Middlesex North Recording counter staying where it is, but with the Middlesex South Satellite Office counter pivoting 90 degrees so that it will be perpendicular to the North counter. The purpose of this reconfiguration is to gain more space for the North recording area. While the number of recording terminals and scanners we have in place now are sufficient for our current low volume of recordings, the inevitable upturn in business, whenever that occurs, will require more recording terminals and scanners. The added capacity will be even more important as we switch to a full “scan and return” operation, something we expect to do early this fall. Along with the recording tables, we also expect to receive several 36 inch round tables that we will place in the remaining portion of the recording room. These will be reserved for real estate closings. Finally, there is some modular office furniture which we expect to place in the new Customer Service area (the former recording counter).
The new Worcester Registry of Deeds is so impressive, it deserves a second post. Today, I’ll concentrate on the “queue number” system they have implemented for recording documents. If you’re recording documents, you pick up your number at the reception desk at the entrance to the registry. To do that, you simply use an onscreen keypad to enter the total number of documents you wish to record. That generates a slip with your “Queue Number.” Large, flatscreen monitors throughout the registry let you know where you are in line. You simply sit in a very comfortable waiting area and wait for your number to reach the top of the queue much like the system in use at the Registry of Motor Vehicles. When your number is reached, the screen changes, saying your documents are being processed and telling you which recording terminal to go to. At the recording terminal (there are at least 22 of them in an “island” configuration in the middle of the recording area), you remain while the registry clerk indexes and cashiers your document. Once that’s done, you resume your seat while the same registry clerk scans your documents. Once that task is accomplished and all images have been verified, your onscreen number changes to “awaiting pick up” which is your signal to retrieve your receipt and your original documents which now bear all recording information. Receiving back your documents is not optional – that’s the way it’s done. While this method might extend the time the customer doing a walk in recording spends at the registry, it’s only a minimal addition of time. But the overall increase in efficiency for both the registry and the customer greatly outweighs any momentary inconvenience. By the end of the summer, we hope to duplicate this process here in Lowell.
The Worcester Registry of Deeds moved into new quarters at the end of June, so Tony Accardi and I traveled to Worcester today to view some surplus furniture left behind at the registry’s former location. We selected a variety of tables, chairs, bookcases and other furniture that will help us finish outfitting our new recording area and Customer Service office. Our new-old stuff should arrive by late next week, so there will be more changes here at this registry. Once our second-hand shopping was complete, we stopped by the new registry which is located in the former food court of the Worcester Common Outlets (originally known as the Worcester Galleria). Impressive does not begin to describe the new registry. Tony Vigliotti and his staff have succeed in blending the latest in technology (no books, scan and return original documents at the recording counter) with a newly outfitted facility that includes multiple closing rooms, a separate research area, a massive recording counter and many other useful amenities. One thing that became very clear is that almost everyone who works at the registry records documents which, with the scan and return system, is the primary task employees must perform. An official open house will be held sometime later this summer; we’ll make every effort to attend and will bring a digital camera.
Today is my first day back to the registry after a two-week trip to Germany. A quarter of a century ago, long before I had even heard of a registry of deeds, the U.S. Army sent me to the same destination for three years. This was my first trip back. I didn’t visit any land records offices there, but I can provide some other observations. When you’re cruising at 120 kilometers per hour on the autobahn, it really doesn’t seem like you’re driving 75 m.p.h. Perhaps this is because other cars zoom past you like you’re not moving. (Our cab to the airport reached 160 kph which is 99.4 mph). Folks drive this fast despite the cost of gasoline which is 1.35 Euros per liter. With the tank of my rental car near empty, I pumped 50 liters of Super – that’s 13.2 gallons. That cost me nearly 70 Euros, which at an exchange rate that mirrored the price of a liter of gas – 1 Euro to $1.35 – cost $94 or more than $7 per gallon. The $2.93 per gallon we pay around here doesn’t seem so bad any more. Of course, the metric system does work in your favor once in a while. In restaurants, a quarter liter bottle of water costs more than a half liter mug of some of the world’s best beer. Enough economics. It’s good to be back. Thanks to Tony for keeping up the blog in my absence.
Help is on the way…for delinquent borrowers of subprime mortgages. Massachusetts state officials have decided to invest $250 million dollars to help people in danger of losing their homes. MassHousing with the assistance from Fannie Mae will provide the financing. The program is designed to help mortgage borrowers who have fallen behind 6o days or less on their payments. These people will be given the opportunity to convert (through refinancing) their present loan into a 30 year fixed 7.75% rate. Part of the Patrick Administration’s strategy is to force subprime lenders to take less than what was originally borrowed during the refinance. But not all subprime borrowers are eligible for assistance. There are income and property value limits. Boston has looser requirements than the rest of the state. The borrower cannot earn more than 125% of the state’s median household income. In addition the property value cannot exceed $417,000 for a single family and 645,300 for a multi family. Secretary of State William Galvin has also introduced legislation that would require lenders to have court approval before foreclosing on a property.
Everyone wants to be popular and you know you’re popular when you have a lot of friends…but how do you know when a website is popular? In the old days, way back before the invention of the iPhone (called Bi before iPhone) , a website’s popularity was measured by the number of visits it had. But these are the new days, (Ai…After iPhone) and it looks like the “measure” of popularity for websites has changed. The new method is not how often a site is visited, but rather how long does the visitor stay. One expert compared it to channel surfing versus actually program watching. And like TV the company that tracks the website usage is Neilsen…Neilsen Netratings. The change will definitely help popular websites such as YouTube, Flickr and social networking sites where visitors stay for long periods. Why would anyone want to track or know the popularity of a website? Why money, of course. Neilsen provides advertisers information indicating users “loyalty” rather the number of visits…which in turn establishes advertising costs.
We are about to begin the installation of Wireless Internet (WiFi) at the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds. We spent many hours exploring different systems with an eye toward efficiency, security and cost. Eventually, we decided on a system supplied by LanTel Inc. It is similar to the one just installed in the new Worcester Registry of Deeds. The system is equipped with a content filter and logon security. WiFi will be available in the basement research room, the upper level recording hall and the entire hallway that leads to and beyond the front door. The Middlesex Superior Courthouse is an old building with thick walls and floors (at some points the floors are approximately 24” thick). This solid composition requires us to use several signal transmitters.
Business has slowed down dramatically following the Fourth of July holiday. Yesterday we recorded only 129 documents… this included ten e-recordings. Incredibly, our Registered Land Department recorded only three documents, all mail. My theory (my wife says I have a theory on everything) is today will be even slower, if that’s possible. Yesterday, by 4:00PM no one was in the Registry of Deeds except employees. In my opinion (yes, my wife says I have one of those on everything also) things will pick-up next week when many people return from vacation. Although, it is beginning to look like recordings will be down significantly this month…but what do I know (you guessed it, my wife tells me that too).
Here is an interesting comparison of recordings… June 2006 to June 2007 at the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds. These figures represent Recorded Land only.
Foreclosure Deeds: 16
Order of Notices: 41
Total Documents Recorded: 7,287
Foreclosure Deeds: 46
Order of Notices: 69
Total Documents Recorded: 5,406
Deed recordings decreased 10%; Mortgage recordings decreased 26%; Foreclosure Deed recordings increased almost three fold; and Order of Notices increased about 168%. Overall, we recorded 26% less documents in June 2007 than in June 2006.
Here is an eazzzzyyyy 4th of July quiz for you…check your knowledge.
1. The Declaration of Independence establishes the rights of Life, Liberty and ______________?
2. What day of the year is Flag Day? Bonus…Evacuation Day?
3. Name the two signers of the Declaration of Independence that died on the Fourth of July.
4. Who was the first person to sign the Declaration of Independence?
5. Who wrote the Star Spangled Banner? Bonus…Name the fort under attack at the time.
6. Where was the first National Capital located?
7. Where was the earliest recognized settlement in America?
8. Name the three branches of government.
9. Name the American lawyer who defended the British soldiers that took part in the Boston Massacre.
10. Which president made the Louisiana Purchase? Bonus…Who explored this region for that president?
Check “comments” for answers
This morning’s news is reporting that “some” new owners of the Apple iPhone are having activation problems. According to Apple spokesperson Natalie Kerris, “There are a small percentage of iPhone customers who have had a less-than-perfect activation experience. Less-than-perfect?… What you really mean is “it didn’t work”. Apple and AT&T had a plan they thought would eliminate the need to wait in a cellphone store for activation. The plan?, people would activate their own phones at home using iTunes. Great idea…it’s just that it didn’t work for everyone. The news is reporting that AT&T wasn’t prepared for the high volume. WHAT? Are they kidding? They have been hyping this thing for six months. Heck, I even want one and no one calls me. Here is the way it was supposed to work…you hook your new phone up to iTunes…the system walks you through setting up a rate plan… and then you pay by credit card. Simple. When you’re done…you get an email activating your phone. Well, it seems some people (the ones that had a less-than-perfect experience) never got the email. They picked the plan and paid the bill, but never got the email, soooooo….their iPhone never got activated, hence they had a less-than-perfect activation experience. Most of the people affected were existing AT&T customers…still I must admit, I want one.
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