The latest on real estate recordings and new technology from the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds in Lowell
We’re back on the trail of the Claypit Cemetery. For those of you who missed our earlier posts on this topic, the Claypit is an abandoned colonial era burial ground in Lowell’s Pawtucketville section. It’s right in the middle of a large land box bounded by Pawtucket Boulevard, Old Ferry Road, Varnum Ave and Townsend Ave. The city of Lowell apparently believes the cemetery is owned by the town of Dracut, but I’ve done enough research to shed considerable doubt on that conclusion. We still don’t know the true owner, but the search continues.
Did you miss it?…The new registry WiFi system has been up and running for the past two weeks…and it is strong. Last month we added two additional transmitters to strength the signal. It works great…Users can easily hit a hotspot from anywhere in the “registry”, especially the new research room on the first floor. As you can image, this is not an east task in a building with 18” concrete walls & floors. Our new WiFi system is password protected. We change the password every Monday but make the new one readily available to the public. Look for the signs in hallways…the registry user is “guest” and the password is listed under it (be sure to use all lower case when logging in). The system also operates using a content filter which prevents connection to unwanted sites.
A story in today’s Globe puts a human face on the tough economic times of today by interviewing a number of small business owners in Boston’s Roslindale Square neighborhood. Bakeries are closing because of the high cost of flour and natural gas, real estate agents are moving into cheaper quarters, pizza deliverymen can’t make a profit - just about everyone imaginable is feeling the effects of the greatly increased prices of fuel and food. The only one doing well is the butcher, because in tough times, people don’t eat out at restaurants but cook their food at home. I suspect that if you did a similar survey in any of Lowell’s neighborhoods, you’d get similar stories.
It’s a few days late, but I can’t let Patriot’s Day pass without acknowledging the accomplishments of some volunteer soldiers from Lowell in the opening days of the Civil War:
At the top of the stairs leading to the third floor rotunda of the Massachusetts State House in Boston is a colorful mural, ten feet high and fifteen feet wide that depicts the soldiers of the Sixth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment fighting a well-armed mob of angry civilians in Baltimore, Maryland, on April 19, 1861. The regiment had left Lowell, Massachusetts, on April 17, just two days after the surrender of Fort Sumter, in response to President Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteer troops to put down the rebellion. En route to Washington, DC, the troops were attacked by Southern sympathizers in Baltimore. Four soldiers were killed, making them the first men to die in the Civil War.
Two of the dead, Luther Ladd and Addison Whitney, were young mill workers from the city of Lowell. The city erected a monument in their honor in 1865. It was to be dedicated on the fourth anniversary of the Baltimore riot, but the ceremony was postponed until the fall of that year because of President Lincoln’s assassination. That monument, a twenty-five foot high granite obelisk, sits on a grass triangle in front of Lowell City Hall which is also the final resting place of Ladd, Whitney and a third soldier, Charles Taylor.
The riot in Baltimore gave the Sixth Massachusetts an early prominence that was eclipsed by the enormous scope of the war and that regiment’s limited participation in it. In the early stages of the war, however, Ladd, Whitney, Taylor and Sumner Needham of Lawrence, were known as the “first martyrs to the rebellion.”
Friends, Lowellians, countrymen lend me your ears;
I come to praise Shakespeare for tis his birthday.
It is not that I love Kerouac less
But that I love Shakespeare more.
William Shakespeare was born 444 years ago today (April 23) in Stratford on Avon. I love Shakespeare and have since the first time I read him in the 10th grade. The play was Julius Caesar and it staggered me…today it still remains my favorite. Here’s a little personal secret…for years I owned two Hollywood movie versions of the classic. One staring Charlton Heston as Mark Antony and Jason Robarts as Brutus. In the other Marlon Brando plays Antony and James Mason, Brutus. Each year on the Ides of March (March 15) I watched one of the two…I must admit by far my favorite was Heston’s…I can still hear him reciting the famous funeral oration:
Come I, to speak in Caesar’s funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just to me:
But Brutus says he was ambitious;
When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept:
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:
Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.
Through this the well-beloved Brutus stabbed;
And, as he plucked his cursed steel away,
Mark how the blood of Caesar followed it.
As rushing out of doors, to be resolved.
If Brutus so unkindly knocked or no;
For Brutus, as you know was Caesar’s angel:
Judge, O you gods, how dearly Caesar loved him!
This was the most unkindest cut of all.
Unfortunately, “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortunate” have taken these videos from me…but every Ides of March and April 23rd I can’t help but think of them and the joy this play has given me.
Happy Birthday Bill!
Are tax stamps due on a conveyance made by a Sheriff’s Deed? Yes, according to the Department of Revenue. This question arose recently when a customer who had purchase property at a Sheriff’s Sale came in to record the deed from the sheriff. When we asked for the payment of the deeds excise tax, the customer balked, claiming that he records such deeds at “many other registries” and that he has never been charged the excise tax. We persisted and he paid it – it was less than $100 – but continued to pursue the matter. When I finally spoke with the customer, I urged him to file a Form CA-6 (Request for Abatement) with DOR since even if we had erroneously collected the tax, an abatement was the only way to get his money back. In the meantime, we decided to confirm our practice and queried DOR. The response – on a sheriff’s deed, “deeds excise tax is due on the amount of the bid plus any costs paid by the purchaser.”
I knew it, I knew it, I knew it!…Remember on Monday I blogged about the new OpenMac, the “cheap” Apple Macintosh clone? The one being made by a small, small company in Florida named Psystar? Do ya? Remember I said the real question was how long would it be before Apple shut Psystar down? Well, what if I told you the “shut down” came about 24 hours after the clones went on the market. Bam, you’re done!… By cheap I mean Psystar was selling this clone for one fifth the Apple price, $400 as compared to Apple’s price of around $2,000. Apple is well knew for it highly proprietary product. The high powered computer giant is swarming little Psystar with lawyers…but it is not the hardware that Apple is chasing…rather it is the fact that these OpenMac’s run “unmodified OS X Leopard kernels” (whatever that means…). Little Psystar is not taking this lying down. When you purchase a Mac your agree to install the OS X operating system on “one Apple brand computer”…Psystar claims this agreement is in violation of the US antitrust laws. Good luck Psystar…you’re going to need it, taking on this propietary loving giant.
This past Monday night Assistant Register Tony Accardi and I traveled to Wilmington to speak at the Board of Selectmen’s meeting about the Registry of Deeds. Because the meeting was televised on local cable, many of the town’s residents had an opportunity to hear about the registry and registry-related matters. Besides giving the latest foreclosure statistics for the town, we spoke about the availability of our records online and also about the declaration of homestead. Both topics elicited follow-up questions from audience members and from selectmen and town officials. Real estate is a topic of great interest to many people, but few understand even the basics of the relatively complicated body of property law. In the coming weeks, we hope to add more features to our website that should assist the average lay person in better understanding real estate law.
This morning brought a phone call from a friend in county government with a reaction to yesterday’s post about the imminent demise of that form of government in Massachusetts. He paraphrased Mark Twain, saying “The reports of [the death of county government] are greatly exaggerated. While some of the county sheriffs support the bill that would move their offices to the state Department of Corrections, that sentiment is not unanimous, even among the sheriffs. And certainly everyone else affiliated with county government would have to oppose this bill because even though the legislation makes no mention of dismantling county government once the sheriffs are gone, that would be inevitable. For now, however, the sheriff’s bill is far from a done deal.
An oped piece in this Sunday’s Globe by the sheriffs of Norfolk and Plymouth County signalled that the end of county government in Massachusetts is near. If you’re confused, don’t worry because you should be. Back in 1997, Middlesex County was abolished by act of the legislature in a type of fiscal mercy killing. Six other counties were also abolished. Here’s the first confusing part: They were abolished as governmental entities but remain as geographic boundaries, hence we still have the Middlesex County Registry of Probate, for example. (Middlesex is divided into two registry of deeds districts). The law that abolished these counties specified that others could remain in existence so long as they remained solvent. Because county government was and is funded primarily through the deeds excise tax, today’s poor real estate market is nudging the remaining counties towards the brink of insolvency it would appear. In a pre-emptive move, the sheriffs of the remaining counties hope the state takes them over and, like their counterparts already working for the Commonwealth, they remain as independently elected officials but receive their funding through the Department of Corrections. If the sheriffs go, that more or less eliminates the need for independent counties and offices such as the registries of deeds would be rolled into the Secretary of State’s Office with the rest of us. Because this effort involves the FY09 state budget, the outcome of this drama should be known fairly soon.
Apple makes a great computer…no doubt about it and most Apple enthusiast will use nothing but a Mac…but, there is no denying Apple computers are expensive… which of course means there is a huge market for a low priced Apple… but, chances of the Mac-Maker selling anything “inexpensive” is remote. But Apple isn’t the only computer maker around. At this very moment in Miami, Florida a small computer company named Psytar is manufacturing Mac clones (yes, its alive!) and with the use of an emulator it is running Leopard, pre-installed. The cost ?… how about $399. The clone is being referred to as the OpenMac…the OpenMac claims to work with Apple compatible hardware as well. Now the big question…how long will it be before Apple tries to kill the clone?
As users and employees identify problem pages with the pre-1976 indexes - those now available as PDF files within the registry - we are updating the files while keeping a copy of the original file and a log of when the file was changed and how. For example, in the 1941-1950 Grantor Index for the letter “M”, what appears in the PDF as page 4 is a copy of page 5. To fix this issue, we rescanned page 4 to obtain the correct image and then replaced the duplicate of page 5 with the true image of page 4. In another case - 1966-1975 Grantor letter “L” - page 1187 appeared in its regular spot and also in place of page 1167. Following the same procedure, we rescanned page 1167 and then inserted it in the PDF in place of the incorrect version of page 1167. Changes of this nature will be made on a continuous basis as issues are identified, and all steps taken in the correction process are fully document.
With Congress poised to enact some type of legislation related to the foreclosure crisis – the Senate wants to assist investment banks and big home builders while the House seems for focused on borrowers on the verge of foreclosure – the question “why help any of them” is inevitable. An objective explanation of how some borrowers got into home loans that they could not afford is offered in the “Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law on [Commonwealth’s] Motion for a Preliminary Injunction” in the case of Commonwealth of Massachusetts vs Fremont Investment and Loan. Fremont was quite active as a subprime lender during the height of the real estate boom, leaving it with many properties to be foreclosed after the collapse of the market. Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office brought suit seeking to prevent the foreclosure of loans that the AG contended were the result of unfair and deceptive practices by Fremont. Suffolk Superior Court Judge Ralph Gants agreed an issued the injunction against further foreclosures by Fremont, setting out a four part test that if passed, would create a presumption that a loan was “structurally unfair” meaning such a loan would be presumed to be an unfair business practice under the state’s Consumer Protection law. The four elements were: (1) that the loan was an adjustable rate mortgage with an introductory period of three years or less; (2) the loan had an introductory or ‘teaser’ rate for the initial period that was at least 3 percent lower than the fully indexed rate; (3) the borrower had a debt-to-income ratio that would have exceeded 50 percent if the lender’s underwriters had measured the debt, not by the debt due under the teaser rate, but by the debt due under the fully indexed rate; and (4) the loan-to-value ratio is 100 percent or the loan carries a substantial prepayment penalty or a prepayment penalty that extends beyond the introductory period. Gants’s ruling was only issued on February 25, 2008, so the case probably has a way to go before it’s ready for trial, but the ruling is significant in that it finds a presumption of unfairness even thought the borrower was or should have been fully aware of the terms of the loan but entered into it anyway.
Here is the process we use to fix poor images…First, the public or a registry staff member fills out a sheet indicating a problem book, page or index page. Someone in the registry’s Customer Service Department checks the problem reported by the public. This is done because there are actually a number of reasons why an image may be missing…once we have examined the problem we take measures to correct it. We have decided to correct all problems by re-scanning the entire book. Believe it or not this actually takes less time than scanning a specific group of pages… and we capture the marginal references at the same time. Once the book is re-scanned it is saved in a folder appropriately named “Book Re-Scans”. From this folder the corrected images are either moved into the ACS database or into our new image viewing program which is accessed in-house through Internet Explorer.
The ACS User Group - the collection of Massachusetts registries of deeds that use the ACS computer system - met this morning in Worcester. From my perspective, the biggest news to emerge from the meeting was that the new MassLandRecords website will be delivered to the Secretary of State’s office for testing within the next two weeks. MassLandRecords is the central website that houses the online data and images of the registries that use the ACS system. It has recently been plagued with complaints of slow performance but this new version should fix that and many other issues. The existing site was designed in the late 1990s using the best available technology and while it still works, it was never intended to handle the huge volume of traffic that the site now sees. This new version, in addition to resempling the in-registry public search system, is also built using the latest and most reliable internet applications and should provide greatly improved performance. Assuming that there are no glitches, the new version should be fully rolled out to the public late this summer.
I always knew there was a lot of dough in pizza (excuse the pun). But I never knew how much….Chris Clark, former owner of the website domain name pizza.com, just found out what “pizza” can do for a man. Yes, I said former owner. Recently Clark decided to auction off the sought after website domain. Much to his surprise pizza.com was hot…it brought him a $2.6 mil. Clark bought pizza.com fourteen years ago for the bargain basement price of $20.00 Wow, why didn’t I think of buying that?)
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I attended an event in Boston on April 1 that reviewed the state of the foreclosure crisis in Massachusetts. Sponsored by Banker and Tradesman, “Foreclosure Aftershock: Lawsuits, Liability and Litigation” featured a keynote address by Attorney General Martha Coakley, but also included several other very interesting speakers. Tim Warren, Chairman of The Warren Group (which publishes Banker and Tradesman) gave a statistical analysis of the current crisis and compared it to the one we experienced in the early 1990s. He said the early slump saw a decline in sales that lasted only two years, while he predicted that this decline will span at least four years. In the 1990s, despite only a two year decline, it took six years for the median home price to exceed the pre-slump median price. There are a number of reasons why the current decline in prices may be continuing for so long. Three of these factors, according to Warren, are (1) tightening lending standards; (2) the flood of foreclosures; and (3) declining consumer confidence. Asking rhetorically “what could make this worse?”, Warren pointed to unemployment statistics. He urged everyone to watch future unemployment figures very closely. If they start creeping up, it will be a very bad sign for the housing market.
Here at the registry of deeds it became very obvious to me in 2003 that our “volume” is driven by mortgages, especially refinances. Obviously, today mortgage volume is down, way down. Down how much? Well, according to Mortgage Bankers Association first time mortgage applications were down 28.7% last week. And the news isn’t any better for refinances either. During the same period refinances fell 38.1%. According to the Boston Globe…”the average interest rate on 30 year fixed mortgages increased to 5.75 percent from 5.74 percent the previous. This is not enough of an increase to effect the market in either direction.
This morning I attended a seminar sponsored by the Warren Group on the current foreclosure crisis. Attorney General Martha Coakley was the featured speaker and she certainly is pessimistic about the foreclosure crisis which, as she put it, “is a big mess that will get messier before it gets better.” Coakley did an excellent job describing how we reached this point and laid significant blame at the feet of the federal government which used its powers of pre-emption to keep the states from regulating lenders but then did nothing to curtail even the most egregious practices by the mortgage industry. She said great care must be taken in crafting an appropriate response. It is not enough to protect against the problems that caused our current situation, because the financial industry is “nimble and agile” and constantly inventing new techniques to lend and make money, so any regulations must have the flexibility to adapt to changing practices that haven’t even been considered yet.
[powered by WordPress.]
|« Mar||May »|
21 queries. 0.597 seconds