The latest on real estate recordings and new technology from the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds in Lowell
Believe it or not, the biggest problem we have experienced with our new “scan and return” procedure is giving the “right documents” back to the “right person” (oh yes, there are some funny and some not so funny stories related to this, but I think I’ll refrain from telling them). Over the past four months our return identification method has evolved several times. In the beginning we tried to simply match first names…nope, that didn’t work. As you can image there are many Joe’s, John’s and Mary’s here at Middlesex North. Next we tried matching name and property address…This worked very well, but there were still a few glitches. Understandably many people didn’t know the address of the document they were recording. Especially people recording multiple sets or multiple single documents (discharges). Today we began a procedure we think will work in all circumstances. Here’s how it works…As you record a document you will be asked your name and then be given a 2X2 card with a number on it (yes, like a deli). When you pick up your documents we will again ask your name and then match up your recording number…So far this is working great.
Here’s my list of the top ten events that effected the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds during 2007.
1. On August 20, 2007, we fully implemented our “scan and return” operation. From that day forward, all recorded documents were scanned at the time of recording and immediately returned to the customer.
2. The physical layout of the registry changed significantly, with all books and the traditional research tables removed from the Upper Record Hall, replaced by a joint Middlesex North – Middlesex South recording area and by tables available to the public for real estate closings. In addition, the Plan Room moved to an alcove off the Upper Record Hall and Customer Service moved into the former recording counter area.
3. All scanning efforts were devoted to improving the quality of our online documents. More than 1800 “new” books (the white plastic covered, 9 x 12 inch versions) have been rescanned. We also “borrowed” a book cutter from the Worcester Registry. We use this to cut the pages out of the old, large format record books to make rescanning them easier and more efficient.
4. The volume of documents being recorded continues to go down, except for foreclosures which continue to go up.
5. The Massachusetts Registers of Deeds Association finally adopts Document Formatting Standards which will take effect on January 1, 2008.
6. Work continued on our “Chain of Title” project in which we link together deeds that relate to the same parcel of land. We have completed Dracut and Chelmsford and are now working on Westford. When this is finished, you will (among other things) to trace back ownership of a property through time with just a click of the mouse.
7. The State Department authorized the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds to serve as an agent for the reception of US Passport applications.
8. Three new companies (Simplifile, Ingeo and LandData) joined eRX in electronic recording with this registry.
9. We have installed wireless internet service in the registry for public use (although we will not be turning it on until January 2008).
10. A company called National Deed Service aggressively markets it service of obtaining a homeowner a certified copy of the homeowner’s deed for $50, something the registry provides to the homeowner for free.
Last year at this time I listed five things that you would “probably see” at the registry during 2007. Twelve months later, let’s see how we did:
All record books will be removed from the upper record hall. This happened during the summer.
Electronic recording will become more widely used and, by December 2007, will account for 10% of all documents recorded. This prediction was a bit premature. Electronic recording now accounts for about 5% of the documents recorded at this registry which is significant but still not 10%. The Plymouth Registry recently began recording electronically and others should soon follow. When more registries utilize this method, it will become more attractive to customers and our volume will then increase.
Grantor and Grantee Indexes from 1855 to 1976 will be available on our website. Didn’t happen, but not for lack of effort. While all this information is in digital form, we just can’t seem to find the right method for delivering it to our online users. We do plan to make these index images available on our in-registry Public Workstations during January 2008.
We will begin scanning all Registered Land Certificate Books. This project was delayed because our scanners were diverted to rescanning many of our recorded land books once we made the decision to cut the pages of those books out of their binding (following the lead of the Worcester Registry).
All current deeds will be interactively linked to the overhead property photographs and parcel boundary overlays maintained by MassGIS. We’ve been working on an enhanced version of this project, but putting together all the data that’s necessary for this to work is very labor intensive and we’re not close to completion.
Overall, we’ve made significant progress towards achieving each of these goals although we’re still far from accomplishing most of them. That’s partly due to the goals being very aggressive, but also to the reality that changing circumstances require changing plans. Next week I’ll post my predictions for 2008.
Have you ever thought back and asked yourself… “remember when________?” Here’s an example for we old-timers…remember when there were no online music stores like iTunes and the only way to get that “one song” you loved was to buy the entire album…”remember?” Well, I think someday we’ll all be asking “remember when cell phones were unlocked”. Everyone knows cell phones only work with a particular cell phone carrier…If you bought a Motorola Razr from Cingular, it will not work on the Verizon network, even though Verizon also sells the Motorola Razr. I know, I know…it is the same phone, manufactured by the same company. Its crazy when you think about it. T-Mobile stores offer only certain models and styles of phones, the same is true of all the carriers. They only offer the one’s they want to. Probably the most notorious example of a locked phone is the Apple iPhone. It only works on the AT&T network. But all this may be coming to an end and shortly…Cell phone manufactures are beginning to sell “unlocked phones” on their own, cutting out the phone carrier. An “unlocked phone” can be used on multiple carrier networks. That right…what a novel idea, just image buying a cell phone, moving to another carrier and keeping the same phone. But this is not such a novel idea in other parts of the world. In Asia 80% of the phones sold are unlocked which means manufactures offer consumers more models and styles. In Europe its 70%…but here, in the US an unlocked phone is a novel idea. Hopefully, it won’t be long before we’re all saying “remember when cell phones only worked on one carrier? Do ya?”
Here’s a little holiday humor…I mean it, little. Enjoy:
What would you get if Santa went down the chimney with the fire lit?
What did Adam say the day before Christmas?
It Christmas Eve
Why did Rudolph want an umbrella for Christmas?
Because he was a rain-deer
What was the best thing about the neurotic doll the little girl received for Christmas?
It was wound up already.
Here’s a good holiday tip?
Never catch snowflakes with your tongue until all the birds have gone south for the winter.
Where do polar bears vote?
The North Poll
Did you hear that one of Santa’s reindeer now works for Proctor and Gamble?
Its true…Comet cleans sinks!
If Santa had a child what would he be?
A subordinate claus.
What do you get if you cross an apple with a Christmas tree?
What did the big candle say to the little candle?
Want to go out tonight?
Just a little notification…If you have an appointment here at the registry of deeds leave a little early. The snow has significantly reduced the number of available parking spaces around the Lowell Superior Courthouse. Of course, we are not the only ones with this problem. Massachusetts is experiencing the snowiest December since 1970. According to weather reports, so far this December has dumped 26.5” of snow on us…in December 1970 (the record year) Massachusetts withstood 27.0”. With the cold temperatures being forecasted it is unlikely that this situation is going to improve anytime soon. So drive safely, give yourself plenty of time and let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.
The state’s Architectural Access Board (AAB) is currently prosecuting a case against the Commonwealth based on lack of access to certain areas of the Superior Courthouse. The dilemma faced by the Division of Capital Asset Management (DCAM) is that with an entirely new courthouse scheduled to open in Lowell in the next few years, spending $1 mil or more to add an elevator to this building seems to make little fiscal sense. As the AAB sees it, however, the state has had dozens of years to address these problems effectively, and their past tardiness should not now serve as an excuse to avoid doing work that should have been done years ago. A more practical challenge for DCAM is the layout of this building which is actually to buildings butted up against each other. (Regular readers are undoubtedly familiar with how the rear building, originally constructed right along Gorham Street, was pushed 60 feet backward in 1894 to make room for the “new” building that now runs along the Gorham Street sidewalk). For some reason, the floors of the rear building are two feet higher than the corresponding floor of the front building. So rather than servicing just two floors, an elevator would have to reach four floors and would also have to have direct access from the ground around the building. Despite these challenges, it is my understanding that DCAM will be constructing an elevator for the building although the exact location of it has yet to be determined. While the elevator undoubtedly represents the most expensive part of the project, there are a number of other measures we will be taking to make our services more accessible to individuals who have mobility and other limitations. As these are implemented, we will use this blog to announce and explain what’s going on.
The Federal Reserve took steps this week to stop mortgage practices that have contributed to the recent increases in foreclosures. In simple terms the goal of the policies is to stop banks from giving loans to people who can’t afford them. It sounds logical doesn’t it? Of course, the new policies are mainly focused on high interest loans. The following three key provisions proposed by the Federal Reserve come directly from the Boston Globe:
Borrowers must document their income.
Lenders must allow refinancing without penalty before the interest rate increases.
Lenders must include property taxes and insurance in estimating the monthly loan cost.
None of this is rocket science…but unfortunately a predatory subprime lending mentality made it necessary for the Fed to take action.
Come on admit it…You’ve googled yourself haven’t you? Come on, you can tell me. I won’t tell anyone else. I promise. According to a survey conducted by the Pew Internet Project 47% of Internet users have googled themselves. That figure is up from 22% in 2002. OK, see you’re not alone…now will you admit it? Well, then let me ask you this…Have you ever googled someone else? Come on, come on…you did, didn’t you? Once again, according to Pew 53% of Internet users have googled someone else. In fact 36% say they have googled someone else to reconnect with a friend, 19% have googled a coworker, 11% a job applicant and 9% someone they are dating. Now, do you feel better…you’re not the only one checking up on someone else. You’re a google gawker like the rest of us.
Google, Google, Google…what are we going to do with it?…Wow, that company is always shaking things up. Yeah, Google is at it again…This time the Internet giant is flipping the Wiki world upside down. Especially, the Wikipedia world. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia created by a collaborative of authors. Anyone can write or edit a Wikipedia article. Since an article is the brain-child of many authors, no one author is given credit for its creation. Google has developed a similar forum called Knol. Here’s how Knol is “similar” to a wiki…Independent authors write articles related to their area of specialty… and the content is linked to other articles. But Knol is not a Wiki. Here’s how it is “different”…Each article stands on its own like a webpage. Unlike Wikipedia, each article has one author and he/she is given credit for his/her work. Also unlike Wikipedia other authors are NOT given the right to edit the content written by the original author. They can submit “suggested edits” to the original author, but changes are only made with his/her approval. Knol is not a collaboration of knowledge… but the biggest difference between Knol and Wikipedia is this…since each article has a one specific author, Google is “allowing authors to monetize their pages as they see fit”. That means make money anyway they can…money? did someone say money?? Google believes Knol is more like Blogger than a wiki…it is a platform for authors to present their works.
The Courthouse was filled with judicial and legislative dignitaries this morning. The Chief Justices of all the Commonwealth’s court departments apparently meet on a regular basis and often take their meetings on the road. Today’s meeting was held here in Lowell. Hosted by Chief Justice for Administration and Management Robert Mulligan, judicial attendees included Chief Justices Barbara Rouse (Superior Court), Karyn Scheier (Land Court), Steven Pierce (Housing Court), Lynda Connolly (District Court), Charles Johnson (Boston Municipal Court) and Martha Grace (Juvenile Court). Elected officials who attended included State Senator Steven Panagiotakos, State Representatives Kevin Murphy, Dave Nangle and Cory Atkins, and Clerk of Courts Michael Sullivan and Register of Probate John Buonomo. Lowell Mayor Bill Martin was here to extend the city’s greetings. Judge Mulligan spoke about the new judicial center for Lowell, saying it’s not a question of if but of when. While he certainly didn’t seem pessimistic, his attitude towards the Lowell project might best be described as realistic given the challenging fiscal period the state is entering. While this is the 17th meeting the “chiefs” have held outside of Boston, it’s the first in Middlesex County, making it an even more impressive event for Lowell.
The snow started falling at about 12:30 pm today and began piling up quickly. The city of Lowell has already declared a snow emergency which means no off-street parking. Although the building remains open (it’s now 3 pm), we’ve sent the bulk of the staff home and would recommend that anyone with documents to record wait until tomorrow before coming to the courthouse. If the conditions deteriorate, the building could be closed by the Trial Court with very little notice. Given the forecast, we fully intend to be open tomorrow for our normal hours of operation. Our neighbor, McDonough Funeral Home, has a webcam positioned up high that is pointed in the general direction of the courthouse. Here’s a view of the current conditions outside the courthouse.
Update The building has been closed (3:30 pm) so we’re leaving. Drive carefully
Him: All rise!…Ladies and Gentlemen I want to present “wOOt”…
Us: W00t? What is w00t?
Him: Ladies and Gentlemen wOOt is Merriam Webster’s word of the year.
Us: Don’t you mean woot with the letter “o” not OO (zeros).
Him: Ladies and Gentlemen again the word of the year is wOOt and it is spelled wOOt, not woot.
Us: What the heck is, are, was, or were a wOOt?
Him: A wOOt is an expression of happiness.
Us: I’ve never heard of it.
Him: wOOt has been around for a long time and comes from the gaming world.
Us: Gambling huh…We figured something like that.
Him: No, not that gaming world… the technology gaming world, as in video games.
Him: Ladies and Gentlemen wOOt is like saying “yay”
Us: Then why not just say… “yay”? And what’s up with the OO (zeros) instead of the “o”?
Him: In the words of John Morse, President of Merriam-Webster “Gamers commonly substitute numbers and symbols for the letters they resemble creating what they call l33t speak”.
Us: l33t? What in heaven’s name is l33t speak?
Him: l33t speak is gamer talk for leet?
Us: leet? Isn’t that a vegetable?
Him: No, leet is gamer for elite?
Us: You are wearing us out.
Him: I tried tOO.
Shortly before 11 a.m. today, electrical service in the entire neighborhood of the courthouse failed and everything came to an immediate stop here at the registry. Even though it was a sunny day, some areas of the building have little natural light so courthouse security ordered all non-employees out of the building for their own protection. Because this website (www.lowelldeeds.com) is hosted on a computer here, the website shut itself down when the power went off, so we were pretty much cut off from the outside world. It was tough to get additional information because the local radio station, WCAP 980 AM, which is just down the street, we also knocked off the air for the duration. Power came back on suddenly at about 12:30 p.m. and no data was lost. All of our equipment was quickly brought back online without further difficulty.
As I have mentioned before we are in the process of correcting and improving our image database. Unfortunately, we discovered that the program we are using has a major weakness. The images for a group of our record books do not display because they are not attached to an index. We have isolated a number of these books. Now here’s the scan program’s weakness…when these books (without indexes) are re-scanned they “still” do not appear in the database. In the beginning it was puzzling. But with a little investigation we figured out that books without indexes are not viewable even after being rescanned. To clarify, we do have these new images…Last week I had the corrected images of these books moved to the Customer Service computers. Right now they are unavailable to the public. If you need an image from a book and are unable to display it, check with Customer Service, they can most likely help you.
There’s been much discussion in the mainstream media about the President’s recently announced plan to help borrowers with sub-prime loans who are facing foreclosure. One thing seems clear: every constituency involved is critical of the plan which calls for a voluntary five year freeze on upward adjustments of interest rates on borrowers who are in distress. The plan does not apply to those who have maintained good credit and are current on their loans, nor does it apply to those who are so far in arrears that they will not be able to keep the property even if the current rate is locked in. Some commentators assert that the White House plan just duplicates what lenders will do anyway which is to modify some loans to stave off foreclosure since the lender stands to lose much more money auctioning off the property than negotiating some workout with the borrower or a third-party buyer.
As for this registry district, the pace of foreclosures continue to rise. Here are the number of foreclosure deeds recorded here during each of the past three years (with 2007 only up to today) plus the same stats from ten years ago. Here they are: 2007 = 416, 2006 = 166, 2005 = 47, 1997 = 322, 1996 = 399, 1995 = 401. Unfortunately, we have to go back to 1994 (624 foreclosure deeds) to surpass the volume recorded thus far this year.
Here’s a comparison of November 2007’s recording stats with those of November 2006:
Total documents: Nov 07 - 4794 v Nov 06 - 6258
Deeds: Nov 07 - 488 v Nov 06 - 581
Foreclosure Deeds: Nov 07 - 39 v Nov 06 - 24
Orders of Notice: Nov 07 - 72 v Nov 06 - 72
We have removed close to fifty “big record books” from the Basement Record Hall. These books have been identified by the public over the past few years as having imaging problems. The problems vary from book to book, but most are easy to fix. These are bound books and must be disassemble to repair. Disassembling requires the cover to be removed and the glue along the spine to be cut off. We fix about eight books a day. Our goal is to complete the project before the end of the year. If a record book you need is not on the shelf or “available on the imaging system” check with Customer Service…they will locate the book you need.
“Young chimps apparently have an extraordinary ability to remember numerals, and recall them even better than human adults do.” At least that’s what Tetsuro Matsuzawa Director of the Primate Research Institute of Kyoto University in Japan believes. Come on, Tetsuro…that’s baloney and I am willing to prove it. I’ll put myself up against any chimpanzee around mano e mano…I mean mano e monkey. Let me tell you something, there is nothing wrong with my memory (regardless of what my wife says). I challenge you, Tetsuro…name a chimp that can remember his social security number, like I do… his cell phone number, like I do…home phone number, New York Time’s user ID and Password, like I do…his registry network logon and password, registry search logon and password…do I need to keep going? Those are just a few of the numbers I keep stored in my Homosapien brain. And, And! I understand your chimps were rewarded with fruits and berries when they remembered correctly…Well, Tetsuro you may motivate a monkey with raisins…but if you want to motivate a Cro-Magnon man like me, give him an apple, iPod that is…Tetsuro, please don’t be insulted. Hey, just take Donnie Brasco’s advice…”forget about it”.
One Laptop Per Child believes that every child in the world should own a computer. In its quest to achieve that goal OLPC has developed the world’s cheapest laptop. It weighs 3.2 pounds is “spill proof, rainproof, dustproof and drop proof”(NYT) and best of all it costs only $200. OLPC’s unique device is powered by a long lasting battery. The battery is recharged either by rapidly pulling on a string or by turning a crank arm. One minute of cranking will recharge the battery for 10 minutes of use. The main function of the OLPC program is to bring the Internet to underprivileged children. So, of course, the laptop comes with WiFi and software that creates a OLPC network. The bright green and white exterior is very child friendly. But let’s not kid ourselves this $200 machine is no Apple G5 nor was it meant to be. According to those that have used it…the OLPC laptop boots slowly and has a limited number of applications…whatever. If successful this technology will bring the Internet to the doorstep of the poor and could change the world.
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