The latest on real estate recordings and new technology from the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds in Lowell
A Herald story from Wednesday reported that a Superior Court judge has issued a temporary injunction against Fremont Mortgage which prohibits the big sub-prime lender from pursuing foreclosure activity for 90 days. To paraphrase the ruling of Judge Ralph Gants, the mortgage companies were willing partners in getting us into this mess; they should continue to be partners in solving it. While this ruling certainly does not effect all mortgages, it might set a precedent for judicial intervention in other cases.
Another Herald article discussed how homeowners facing foreclosure are delaying the proceedings by forcing the foreclosing lender to produce proof that it actually holds the mortgage. Proof would typically be an assignment of mortgage recorded at the registry of deeds. In the hyper-active refinancing and sales boom of several years ago, those handling the paperwork for these transactions sunk to new levels of sloppiness to keep up with the volume. At one point at this registry, we were mailing back one out of every four documents we received by mail for one error or another. Now, this lax legal work may catch up with lenders, because as loans go into foreclosure, it’s inevitable that the supporting documentation is scrutinized very closely.
Last Friday’s post highlighted a story in the Globe’s Northwest Weekly section about an abandoned cemetery located behind the Brunswick Bowling Lanes in Lowell’s Pawtucketville section. The Globe story told how a history teacher from Dracut and her students are trying to track down who is responsible for maintaining the cemetery, since it does contain a number of graves (including those of some veterans) and it has fallen into serious disrepair after years of neglect.
Well, we were able to locate the most recent deed to the property and our research indicates that the town of Dracut owns the cemetery. The confusion is understandable, but here’s some background: The area where the cemetery is located had been part of Dracut for nearly two centuries, but on May 18, 1874, the Massachusetts state legislature “annexed” it and most of Pawtucketville to Lowell. So property in the annexed section ceased to be part of Dracut and became part of Lowell. But, in the case of the cemetery, the town of Dracut actually owned the land, so just like any other property owner, the town continued to own the property even after the property became part of Lowell.
Here’s the pertinent language of the deed which was recorded on July 12, 1866 in Book 50, Page 406:
Know all men by these Presents that we, Harriet A Edwards, widow, and Mary Howard, spinster, both of Chelmsford and Caroline Varnum and her husband Joseph B Varnum, all within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, in consideration of Twenty-five dollars to us paid by the Inhabitants of the town of Dracut in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts . . . do hereby grant, release and forever quitclaim unto the said inhabitants a certain parcel of land . . .
The property description repeatedly refers to “the old burying ground.”
Did you ever get a speeding ticket? The fine”s” hurt the wallet don’t they? Did you ever make a payment just a tad to late then get whacked for extra bucks? Drives ya nuts, uh? You just want to kick yourself, don’t you? Well, cheer up; you won’t think these fines are that bad once you hear this…Microsoft was just fined 899 million Euros. That’s $1.35 billion American dollars. Whaaaaaaat!? Who fined Bill Gate’s meglomonopolyousconglomerate company that much? The European Competition Commission blasted the whopping fine on Microsoft today. What the heck did poor Bill do to get a fine like that? Let me quote from Forbes.com “It relates to the unreasonable prices the Commission is claiming Microsoft charged…other software developers for access to documents that explained how they could create software that interfaced with Microsoft servers”. In other words…Microsoft was working hard, really hard to shut down other software companies other than its own. Bad Bill! This fight has been going on between the ECC and Microsoft since 2004. They’ll probably appeal it…no it looks like the trannosaurusgrandegiantic company is going to fork the money over…after all what’s $1.35 billion to a company with an annual revenue of $51.12 billion and an estimated total worth of over $300 billion.
An interesting article in the March edition of The Atlantic Monthly magazine raises the specter of today’s McMansions (large residences with cookie-cutter designs and similar architectural styles located in new subdivisions) becoming the slums of the 2020s. The article’s author, Christopher Leinberger, contends that changing finances, cultural trends and demographics will usher in major changes in the way Americans live in the next few decades. He cites studies predicting that by 2025, 40% of all current homes built on lots larger than one-sixth of an acre will be vacant. Leinberger says that ever-rising energy costs will continue to make the cost of heating large, single family homes and commuting from them to work, shopping and recreation financially unattractive. At the same time, all of those baby-boomers who moved to the suburbs in search of more bedrooms and big yards for growing families, are now becoming empty nesters who no longer find excitement or satisfaction in mowing half-acre yards or shoveling industrial sized driveways. Culturally, television programs like Seinfeld and Friends have portrayed urban living in a more positive light, associating life in the city with “excitement, freedom and diverse daily life.” While the situation is certainly not as bleak as Leinberger portrays, he does make some fascinating observations about how we live our lives in America a the beginning of the Twenty-First Century.
For a long time we’ve been talking about scanning our Registered Land Certificates. It finally looks like this will become a reality. Many of the present certificate books are stuffed and can barely fit additional pages. Interestingly enough, over the years these books were constructed using various binding styles…there are some bound with posts, some glued and stitched and some held together with a slide latch. Registered Land Certificates are wider and longer than a normal page. They measure about 10″x15″…they can’t be scanner on an “everyday” scanner. A wide-mouth scanner is needed to capture the entire image. “Ah, there’s the rub”(no, not opposing “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”) …rather, capturing the entire certificate image. Our MIS Director has been working on this problem for the past week. Yes, we have a wide-mouth scanner….but, the software isn’t set right , yet. The problem is the software was designed for smaller paper. And capturing 99% of the page is not good enough. We need to get it all. We have made excellent progress in this area and think we’ll be scanning 100% by the end of the week.
Yesterday’s Globe had an interesting story about the efforts of a history teacher in Dracut to publicize the plight of the Claypit Cemetery, an abandoned burial ground that lies in Lowell’s Pawtucketville section just behind the Brunswick Lanes on the Pawtucket Blvd. The handful of graves in the cemetery date to the Revolutionary War, but when that part of what was once Dracut was annexed to Lowell by the state legislature, responsibility for the upkeep of the cemetery slipped through the cracks. Dracut maintains Lowell is responsible and Lowell maintains Dracut is responsible. At least that’s how the Globe story portrays the situation. Life is usually more complex than that, however, so I assume there’s more to this story. Nevertheless, because we here at the Registry of Deeds are the custodians of the ownership records of all this property, we have joined the search and will keep you aprised of our findings.
Today’s Globe has a great story about the International Digital Children’s Library, a nonprofit whose self-stated mission is to “to excite and inspire the world’s children to become members of the global community – children who understand the value of tolerance and respect for diverse cultures, languages and ideas — by making the best in children’s literature available online.” Kids can select thousands of books by subject, age-appropriateness, languge (there are dozens to choose from), and even by the color of the book’s cover (”I’m looking for the blue book about family pets”).
The Boston Public Library is participating in this effort, by scanning its oldest and rarest children’s literature and adding it to the IDCL. As the BPL’s digital services director states in the Globe story, “It’s our goal as a library to put our collections in the hands of all our users, and one of the most effective ways we can do that is to digitize them and put them online, where there are no restrictions of time or space.”
Well said. That’s exactly how I feel about Land Records.
We are in the process of creating a “new and improved” public workstation. Since the work and design is still in development I’ll refrain from details for now. Our hope is that the station will create a “one stop shop” for registry information. Currently, computer experts from the Secretary of States Office are working on the technical aspects of the station. Like any other computer improvement this project is taking time to develop and of course, there will be time needed to test. For a number of years we have wanted to find a way to provide public access to millions of currently unaccessible digital images…hopefully this will be it.
Tomorrow night, beginning around 9:00 PM ET the Earth will begin to eclipse the Moon. By 10:00 PM there will be a total lunar eclipses. Get a good nights sleep so you don’t miss it because there won’t be another until December of 2010. Scientists expect the lunar event to last for about 3.5 hours. For close to fifty minutes the Earth will completely shadow the Moon. Throughout the centuries there have been various myths and legends surrounding an eclipse of both the Sun and Moon.
One tribe in the Amazon believes an eclipse is the result of a fight between the Sun and Moon (why can’t they just get along?)
The Vikings believed that two wolves wanted to eat the Sun and Moon. When one of the wolves caught either there was an eclipse. To bring back the missing orb humans needed to scare the wolves off by making loud noise (or singing “please release me let me go”).
In China the Moon was represented by a mirror. It was believed that during an eclipse a dragoon swallowed the Moon. By beating on mirrors the Dragon would cough the Moon up (they must have been pretty strong mirrors they beat on).
In many cultures it is still believed that lunar eclipses emit harmful radiation, or cause sickness (of course this may not be covered under your health care plan).
Boston’s Mayor Tom Menino recently led a task force of city employees into one of that city’s neighborhoods that has been hardest hit by foreclosures. Boston’s plan is to gain ownership of abandoned properties by any legal means and to get them in the hands of new owners as quickly as possible. This intensive approach recognizes the disastrous effects that one or two abandoned homes can have on a neighborhood. In the report on Lowell foreclosures that I prepared a short time ago, I suggested that municipalities work with community nonprofits to create pools of potential home buyers who are ready, willing and pre-qualified for new loans. Then, when a foreclosure auction is first advertised, the administrators of this foreclosure task force would have some time to identify a possible buyer for the property from the pool of pre-qualified borrowers. These potential owners would not bid at the auction, but would standby, waiting for the original lender to buy the property back at the foreclosure auction. Once that happens, that institutional lender immediately puts the property on the market. If a buyer is already sitting there waiting, the property might be put in the new owner’s hands in record time. The city could further assist by offering low interest loans to help renovate the property (i.e., to replace the plumbing and electrical hardware that might have been removed by vagrants) and to streamline the permitting process for the new owners. One thing’s for sure - this is a situation that cries out for imaginative approaches by all involved.
A customer sent an email asking how to discharge an old mortgage that’s past it’s maturity date and where the lender is a corporation that was long ago dissolved. Oh, and it’s registered land. If there’s no stated maturity date, then the mortgage expires in 35 years. If there is a stated maturity date, then the mortgage expires 5 years after that. For example, if a mortgage executed and recorded in 1980 stated it was due and payable in 20 years, that mortgage, that mortgage would have been deemed discharged in 2005. Of course, if there’s a valid extenion, acknowledgement or affidavit that the mortgage has not been satisfied, then it is not discharged. Absent that, if you have a mortgage that falls into this category, you should submit a written request that a “discharge notation” be made on the certificate. Your request should specify the document number of the mortgage and the date of registration, the original mortgagor and mortgagee and any assignee. Sign the request and include a check for $75 and, if all is in order, we will make the notation on the certificate.
One of the goals we want to achieve before the end of the fiscal year is to change the way we create our microfilm. As you are probably aware registries in Massachusetts are still required by law to create microfilm copies of all documents for archival purposes. The method of creation varies from registry to registry. As an example the Worcester Registry of Deeds uses a device that copies digital images directly to microfilm. Worcester is a larger registry than we are so it is a cost effective method for them. But since we record about half the number of documents as they do, it does not make sense (excuse the pun) for us to purchase a similar archive writer. For this reason we are exploring the possibility of contracting digital to microfilm conversion to an outside firm. Of course, there are many things to consider before making this decision. Price, quality and reliability are a few of the things we need to take into consideration. Fortunately, there are a number of companies that do this work. In fact one company we contacted last year actually decrease its price since last year. Who said everything is going up?
Yesterday’s Business section of the Globe had an interesting article about “high-tech tinkerers.” Most of you are probably familiar with the “open source software” movement in which software writers place their basic code out in the open, granting the whole world to modify or change it. The pessimist would say, “that’s crazy” while the optimist would say “what a brilliant concept.” I’m more of an optimist. This approach taps into our collective intelligence, with many people who’ve never met working collaboratively to improve some software for the benefit of all. This practice of tinkering with computer code seems to be spreading to the physical world. More and more individuals are prying the covers off of electronic consumer gadgets, pulling out parts, and mixing and matching them with components of other devices. Parts manufacturers are getting into the act, producing inexpensive, generic components that plug together like a bunch of Lego blocks. I wonder if I can get my cell phone to replace the TV remote or turn on the house lights.
2007 might have been a good year for the New England Patriots, but it was a bad year for the Massachusetts real estate market. 2007 ended with approximately 5,000 few sales than in 2006. This represents an 8.4% decrease…2007-50,435 sales; 2006-55,054 sales. These figures appeared in yesterday’s Boston Globe and were compiled by The Warren Group. December 2007 was the year’s worst month posting a 23.3% decline in sales. Median home prices also fell sharply in 2007, from $325,000 in 06 to $310,000 in 07. “The large drop in sales and median prices in December signal more woes ahead, and it remains to be seen when Massachusetts will pull out of this slump,” (Boston Globe) said Tim Warren of the Warren Group. At the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds our numbers indicate it might be awhile before things get better…In January 2007 we recorded 5,539 documents and January 2008 4,297…that’s a 28% decrease.
What do the people responsible for the subprime mortgage crisis do after they’ve wrecked the economy? They go to Las Vegas for a convention. The fifth annual conference of the American Securitization Forum met this week and while the mood was more somber than in the boom years of the recent past, it sounds like no one, especially consciences, were hurting too badly. Check out the story in today’s New York Times.
Today I participated in a press conference at Lowell City Hall that launched a new effort by the Lowell Foreclosure Prevention Task Force to assist those who are at risk of losing their homes to foreclosure. City Manager Lynch, Mayor Caulfield, Representatives Tom Golden and Kevin Murphy and Brian Martin from Congresswoman Tsongas’s office all participated as did Frank Carvalho from the Task Force, Hilary Marcus from Neighborworks America, Peter Milewski from Masshousing and Jim Cook of the Lowell Development and Financial Corp. The primary purpose of the press conference was to publicize the Homeowner’s Hope hotline, 1-888-995-HOPE. Anyone who is facing foreclosure should call that number and they will be connected with a local agency that will assist the homeowner in finding opportunities to refinance or, if they are already too far behind, to find ways to get out from under their debt burden and to find new living quarters. This foreclosure crisis is very complicated so simple solutions will not work. The city of Lowell seems to be responding to this crisis with an appropriate level of urgency and effort.
Google and Microsoft?…they’re at it again. It seems I’ll never run out of blog material as long as these two Internet giants (sorry for using the “g” word) are around. OK, so here’s the latest clash…Microsoft and Google are fiercely competing for Internet advertising dollars. There are three main types of Internet Ads: Search Ads, Display Ads and Multi-media Ads. Forty percent of online promotions come from “search ads”, that’s almost double the amount from display ads. It is a $40 billion industry. Who is number one in this area…why Google, of course. Up to this point Microsoft has had little success breaking into the “search Ad” market, so it has turned its attention to “display and multimedia” ads. Who is number one in this area? Wrong…not Google, rather it is Yahoo. So what’s the best way for Microsoft to become an instant player in the display ad world and gain control of it before Google? Why, buy Yahoo of course. Microsoft has offered to purchase Yahoo for the staggering sum of $44.6 billion. If the acquisition goes through, Microsoft would control “more than a quarter of the market for animated ads and colorful display banners at the top of Web Pages”. And best of all… it would chalk uo a victory over Google.
On January 25, 2008, Governor Patrick signed legislation eliminating the final paragraph of G.L. c. 183A, s. 9 which required that the first deed out for any condominium unit have attached to it a copy of the floor plan of that unit and the adjacent units. The floor plan attachment is no longer required, although this statutory amendment does not take effect until April 24, 2008. As a practical matter, this should not have a major impact at the registry of deeds. Although we have been aware of the former requirement, we chose not to research every condo deed being recorded in an attempt to determine whether it was the “first one out.” Nevertheless, the absence of such a unit plan would raise questions about the validity of the deed, or at least its compliance with the law, so this is welcome legislation.
You can explain it anyway you want, but I am going to explain it this way…the Patriots stunk last night. The Giants didn’t beat them. No way, Eli Manning and these Giants couldn’t beat the New England Patriots on their best day… Rather, the Patriots beat themselves. Usually, when you say this about a sporting team you mean it made a lot of mistakes…but that is not what I mean… The New England Patriots just didn’t come to play. Sure, the Giants had an awesome pass rush, but wasn’t this the same pass rush the Pats scored 38 points against in the final regular season game? Truthfully, the Giants didn’t look that good to me, but the Pats looked that bad. It comes down to this…The Giants played exactly the way we expected. Remember, they scored only 3 points in the first three quarters of the game! but, our Patriots did not play as expected. Tom Brady and company did nothing for most of the game. Even if the New England offense played to half our expectations, they would have been up by a least 14 at half time. Heck, the Pats only scored 7 points up until 2:42 of the 4th quarter. Can you believe it? They were held to 7 points for 90% of the game! I know, I know…the Giant’s pass rush killed them…Still, was this the first time the Pats were blitzed hard all season? NO. Admit it…after the Tom Petty break everyone expected the brilliant Belichick to come out with a plan that would slow down the pass rush. He always did in the past, and he probably did last night. I love the Pats too, but let’s face it, for some reason these players didn’t execute. I’m not a sports junkie or football expert…so I’ll say it again in layman’s terms…the Pats stunk last night. There’s no other way to explain it.
A comparison of some recording statistics for January 2008 compared to January 2007 demonstrates that the real estate market is still slipping.
In Jan 08, we recorded 344 deeds, in Jan 07, there were 466
In Jan 08, we recorded 862 mortgages, in Jan 07, there were 1385
In Jan 08, we recorded 68 orders of notice, in Jan 07 we recorded 56
In Jan 08, we recorded 39 foreclosure deeds, in Jan 07 we recorded 18.
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