The latest on real estate recordings and new technology from the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds in Lowell
Over the weekend ACS and employees from the Secretary of State’s IT Department upgraded to our main computer server. The old server will turn six years old tomorrow (talk about time flying). This is actually very old for a sever as important as this one. The new sever has a much larger memory capacity and will meet our needs for a number for years. The data migration from the old server to the new started on Thursday afternoon and didn’t finish until Saturday afternoon. Yesterday, Register Howe and I meet the team of techies to test. Of course, our main focus was document recording, e-recording and public viewing and printing. Fortunately, things wented as we expected. This morning the two of us arrived early and again met the experts and continued testing. The main problem discovered dealt with the re-scan project scanners. An ACS employee easily fixed this. Currently, there are still a few departments having trouble printing internally…but we expected this. I believe this too will be corrected by noon today.
With just another hour to go today plus all day Monday, I thought we could take a glance at recording statistics for this month and compare them to the stats for June 2007. Remember, the official end of June 2008 numbers will be slightly higher than what is shown here. Still, this gives you an idea of current trends in the region. In June 2007, we recorded 671 deeds for the district including 183 from Lowell. This June (thus far), it’s been 463 and 146. In June 2007, there were 1504 mortgages for the district including 357 from Lowell. This June, it’s 941 and 260. In June 2007, there were 46 foreclosure deeds for the district including 32 from Lowell. This June, it’s 52 and 34. This last number has some significance since in May there were more than 50 foreclosures in Lowell, a record high for a single month. It’s good to see that number is back into the 30s which, although still high, is an easier number to absorb.
The Real Estate Bar Association of Massachusetts (REBA) is confident that substantive amendments to existing homestead law will be enacted by the end of this legislative session. There are two major objectives of the proposed amendments. The first would clear up many of the ambiguities that currently plague homestead law such as the unintended termination of a homestead by an inter-family deed or by a refinanced mortgage, the automatic termination of an existing homestead by the filing of a subsequent declaration, the treatment of homesteads among multiple owners of property, both married and unmarried, and whether property in a trust can be the subject of a homestead. The second major change would make a certain amount of protection - $125,000 - automatic for every home owner although home owners could obtain the existing level of protection - $500,000 - by affirmatively filing a declaration at the registry of deeds. The law, if enacted, would operate retroactively, so if you already have a homestead you would not have to record a new one. These changes to homestead law are desperately needed. There is too much ambiguity and misinformation about this important consumer protection. Hopefully the legislature sees fit to enact it soon.
Friday is a BIG day for Microsoft Chairman, Bill Gates. It is the last day on the job for the world’s second richest man. But hey, it is not going to be all fun and games for the high profiled executive. He plans on keeping the nose to the grindstone one day a week at his mega-company (poor baby). Gates intends to work exclusively on special projects. I may be over-stepping my bounds here…but, I think when Bill does work he should concentrate on these following special projects:
GoogleCide…This special project is designed to win the battle between Microsoft and its archrival Google. Gates and company have been trying to kill off the Internet giant for years.
YahooIn…Yahooin was conceived by Bill’s right hand man Steve Ballmer. This special project seeks to find just that “special number” that will bring the Internet portal Yahoo “in” to the Microsoft family.
FortuneOne- Seriously, this is an embarrassment….Bill really needs to concentrate on FortuneOne. The goal of this special project is to make Gates the richest man in the world, “again”.
FedEx- No, this is not the acquisition of a package delivery company. Bill and Steve (Ballmer) developed this special project to get the rid of the Federal Government’s anti-trust lawsuits once and for all.
And finally, MelindaMore- Yeah Bill, this one is probably the most important of all…it is time to spend more time with your wife Melinda and the family.
Earlier today I spent some time with other Massachusetts registers and representatives of ACS, Browntech, Ingeo, LandData and Simplifile discussing electronic recording in the Commonwealth. The good news is that two registries besides Middlesex North have commended e-recording. Register John Buckley of Plymouth County reported that they have already recorded more than 800 documents and have found the system to work “very well.” Because Plymouth has long operated two satellite recording offices, their users were already comfortable doing rundowns that involved documents they never saw, so they were mentally ready to accept e-recording. The folks from the Hamden County Registry of Deeds (in Springfield) had a similar report. They’ve only done about 50 documents but described the process as “flawless” and have rejected only four documents, all because they were registered land. Overall, the folks in attendance seemed optimisitc that the widespread rollout of electronic recording might very well become a reality in Massachusetts during 2008.
What a difference the new bookcases the Middlesex South Registry gave us are making. When I first learned we were getting them I was a “little” excited. At the time my attitude was, if nothing else we’ll be updating some of our storage furniture. But, I must admit I cannot believe the difference…because the units are thinner they hold more books in less space… and they are much, much stronger. Last week I watched with embarrassment as the workers removed the old shelves. Some were so dilapidated I had secure them to a wall using rope. Even the installers got a kick out of seeing one shelf which I had secured with a bungee cord to an old heating/cooling duct. I am guessing that using these new cases we’ll shrink the book storage area by 50% using these units. What a pleasant surprise.
When we ceased creating paper record books back in November 2001, that decision was made easier by the knowledge that we routinely photograph all recorded documents for output to microfilm that is stored in a secure, offsite location. So as reliable as computers have become and with all the backup mechanisms in place, our last line of defence is and will remain microfilm, a remarkably stable and proven storage medium. We’re about to change our process for creating microfilm, however. Back in 1999, we purchased what was at the time a very sophisticated camera that contained a fully automatic, duplex page feeder. Because we were still printing our own record books, we simply stuck an unbound book in the camera’s feedtray and pushed a button. The rest was automatic. Since this machine was a signficant investment, we continued using it even after we stopped printing record books. Unfortunately, we still had to print paper copies of our recorded documents so that we could make the microfilm This was and is a significant waste of paper since those paper prints cease to be of any use as soon as they’ve been fed into the microfilmer. Now that the microfilmer is nearing its tenth anniversary (a long time for any piece of electronic equipment) and because the annual maintenance cost has continuously risen, we have decided to invest in a new machine, one that creates microfilm directly from the scanne dimages. That machine should be delivered soon and will be in operation in early July. We will still make microfilm of every document, but we’ll conserve quite a bit of paper through the use of this new device.
Execution is an ominous word, certainly when it refers to the taking of a life, but also when it deals with the taking of property. Today’s tough economic times have brought a significant increase in the number of executions being recorded by the Sherriff’s Department. For the period of January 1, 2007 to May 31, 2007, there were 243 executions recorded here at Middlesex North (with 75 of them for property in Lowell). For the same five months of 2008, the overall number rose to 317, an increase of 30% (with 101 of them for Lowell properties). Here’s a town-by-town breakdown of the 2008 recordings:
As you know our former lower level record hall has been converted for exclusive registry use. This new space has opened up a number of opportunities for us. Currently, we are using the area as a mass production scanning center (a project which is working out great). The scanning project only takes about half of the available space. Record book shelves line the majority of the perimeter of the walls. There is a second lower level area (we call it the tunnel ). It also contains record books, on shelves…these shelves are in deplorable condition. In the days of yore when books reigned at the registry, space was a valuable commodity. The only way we could fit the increasing number of books we created was by moving into “the tunnel”. During this time we shelved books on anything we could get our hands on. The advent of the modern age brought the extinction of record books… but these shelves were never replaced. Through the generosity of the Middlesex South Registry of Deeds and Register Brune this is about to change. Currently, South is in the middle of a major renovation project. A new recording counter is being constructed in the area that was once Cambridge’s upper record hall. And Middlesex South intends to remove some of their record books from their shelves also…Get the picture? Shelves-plus books removed- equals- “Shelves not being used!”… Yes, a perfect scenario for registry cooperation. You guessed it…Register Brune has generously offered us these unused book shelves. Of course, we leaped at the chance to finally replace the “deplorable” shelves in the tunnel with the new. We expect the first group of these to arrive tomorrow and setup to begin immediately…Once again thanks to the Middlesex South Registry of Deeds
The Bristol North Registry of Deeds in Taunton recently switched to the ACS 20/20 computer system that has been operating in this office since July 1, 2002 (Lowell was the first registry in the Commonwealth to operate the ACS system). Of the 21 registries in Massachusetts, 13 use the ACS system, 5 use Browntech and 3 use something else. Here’s the breakdown by registry:
The Essex South registry in Salem and the Plymouth registry both still use home-grown systems but are in the process of replacing them. The Bristol South registry (New Bedford) continues to use an in-house system.
As Andy Rooney would say…”Did you ever wonder”, why doesn’t Christmas come in June? It would be so much easier…no hauling presents through the snow, or singing Christmas carols in the freezing cold. I’ll tell you, I am ready for Christmas in June…In the past week I have seen three items I would put on my wish list:
The new Apple iPhone: I know, the new iPhone won’t be released until late July, but I’d take an Apple Store gift certificate. It has built in GPS, 3G Internet connectivity (this blazes) and it is half the thickness of the old iPhone. If only Christmas came in June…
A Tablet Notebook Computer: Have you seen these things yet? Open it up and it is a regular laptop computer…but, when you twist the display monitor 180 degrees and close it, it becomes an electronic notebook. Using a stylus you can make handwritten notes that the software converts to typed text then saves it in a word processing program. If only Christmas came in June…
A Light Weight Camcorder: These are relatively new to the market… they are small camcorders weighing less than one pound and can fit in your pocket. They have enough memory to store about 60 minutes of video and cost about $150. If only Christmas came in June…
Yes, if only Christmas came in June, but it doesn’t…? but come to think of it, I do have a birthday in August!!
Next Tuesday, June 17, is Bunker Hill Day. There registry will be open for business as usual, but the day remains a holiday in Boston and many customers call and ask us if we will be open. Unlike Evacuation Day, the other county holiday that isn’t a holiday anymore, the general historical background of Bunker Hill Day is self-evident. (Evacuation Day - March 17 - commemorates the British evacuation of Boston in March 1776, not St Patrick’s Day). The Battle of Bunker Hill took place just eight weeks after the opening fights of the Revolutionary War at Lexington and Concord (April 19, 1775 and June 17, 1775). When the British returned to Boston after their expedition to Concord, the thousands of colonial troops and militia that operation had attracted followed and stayed in Cambridge. On the evening of June 16, several thousand colonials advanced to and entrenched on Bunker and Breed’s Hills to the northeast of Boston, a move that threatened the city and the British forces located there. The British, led by General William Howe (no relation) landed on the Charlestown peninsula on the morning of the 17th, took half the day to get organized, and attacked the dug-in Americans three times, being continuosly repulsed with heavy casualties until the colonists ran out of ammunition and were overrun. The victory was costly for the British who suffered more than 1000 casualties (228 killed and 800 wounded). The real impact of Bunker Hill occurred months later when the news of the heavy casualties reached England. Many who saw Lexington and Concord as an unfortunate misunderstanding and who were working for reconcilliation, abandoned all hope of a peaceful and fast resolution of the conflict and resolved themselves to a long and costly fight.
The lead story in yesterday’s Lowell Sun examined the ever increasing number of foreclosures in Lowell and the surrounding towns. Besides statistics from this registry, the story also contained interviews with a family who narrowly missed having their house foreclosed and a number of people in local government and non-profits who are trying to curtail foreclosures and to minimize the adverse effects on neighborhoods of properties that have been foreclosed.
This week’s Banker & Tradesman has an article about the sudden plunge in the number of foreclosure petitions being filed in the Land Court. After averaging nearly 3000 new filings per month for the first four months of 2008, the number filed in May dropped to just 390. The article suggests this reduction is due to the Commonwealth’s new “right to cure” statute which gives borrowers 90 days to resolve a default before the lender can proceed with foreclosure. The law is unclear as to what exactly “proceed with foreclosure” means, so it’s likely that lenders are holding off on filing new petitions to foreclose until 90 days have passed from the notice of default or until the law is interpreted by appellate decisions.
As the temperature hit 95 for the third straight day and the idea for this blog post came to me, I Googled the phrase “funny ways to beat the heat”. Ironically, the majority of my search results were “serious ways to beat the heat”…that were funny. So, I guess the real humor here (if there is any) is that some people really do these things and recommend that other people do them also. The italics are mine as you probably guessed.
Ways To Beat the Heat: (Please don’t try these without the supervision of an adult)
1. Take frozen bags of vegetables and apply them to your eyelids, face, neck, arms, back etc. (When the vegetable have thawed saute’ them in garlic and butter and serve with dinner).
2. Stick your bed sheets and pillowcases in the freezer for 15 minutes before going to bed…(no comment)
3. Plant more trees and get some shade…(don’t trees take a while to grow?)
4. Replace your morning hot coffee with caffeinated popsicles…(but how does a caffeinated popsicle taste with a donut?)
5. Stick your feet out of your blanket…(and why would you be sleeping under a blanket in a heat wave?)
6.Drink a lot!…(don’t get excited. I think they mean water).
If you like Disney, you’ll love twisney.com. Scott Mitchel, a software engineer developed Twisney. Mitchell conceived the fun site while planning a trip to Disney World with his family. Basically twisney.com creates a live profile of the theme park using photos, emails and text messages sent by visitors. As families travel around the park they upload cell phone pictures and text messages to the Twisney website. This information is then “mashed up” with the Google Earth view of the Disney World. Simply move your mouse over an amusement ride and the info uploaded by visitors appears. Live reports are also available through a forum which tips visitors off to the length of lines and the condition of rides. I am not a Disney person, but this website is cool.
With yesterday’s news that the city of Lowell and the Commonwealth have agreed to transfer city-owned land within the Hamilton Canal district to the state to be used as the site for the new judicial center, it looks like the pace of that project will quicken. As the judicial center project gains more attention, I’m frequently asked what will become of the registry of deeds? My answer - I have no idea. It’s pretty certain that the registry won’t follow the Superior Court to the judicial center. We’re a part of the Secretary of State’s office, not the Trial Court, and the Trial Court will be responsible for the maintenance, security and upkeep of the judicial center. Understandably, the Trial Court plans to fill that building with its assets, not those of another state office. The registry might stay where we are in the Superior Court building, but I suspect the state (and the city) hopes the Superior Court is transferred to a private owner so that it can begin paying real estate taxes. More likely, we’ll move to the existing District Court on Hurd Street when the current occupants displace to the judicial center. Of course, that’s just a guess on my part and things tend to change several times.
The Lowell Sun is reporting today that the city and the state’s Division of Capital Asset Management (DCAM) have reached an agreement by which the city will transfer a 4 acre city-owned parcel at the end of Jackson Street to the Commonwealth for $3.8 million to provide a home for the new judicial center. The city had acquired this and other parcels totalling 15 acres as part of the Hamilton Canal District development project. The Judicial Center will be one of the anchor tenants of what many consider to be Lowell’s most important development project in decades. The overall cost of the judicial center is expected to by $175 million and it is too early to talk about a construction timetable. In tomorrow’s post, I’ll discuss the impact that the judicial center will have on the registry of deeds.
Our new paperless registry is working well at this point, but there are still a few small loose ends to tie up. One of the biggest deals with our Registered Land Condo plans. Yesterday a customer asked to see a Condo plan and I realized these had never been scanned. So I had to show it to him the old fashion way…on paaaapppppeeeeer. This is not a big deal since the plans are infrequently requested…still the plans need to be scanned. There are only about 35 plans containing about 140 sheets. Scanning these is a small job. I’m guessing the work will take about one week. Our County Lay Out plans present a second loose end. They too have never been scanned. My goal is to scan these before the end of the summer. We have a head start on this project though. Last month we created a Microsoft Access based index for these plans and scanned two of our ten towns. The County Lay Out project is more involved than the Registered Land Condo project. I would estimate it will take about one month to finish.
The first issue of the Merrimack Valley Housing Report was launched yesterday at Congresswoman Niki Tsongas’s Regional Housing Summit. A monthly electronic newsletter that is a joint venture of UMass Lowell and the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds, the Merrimack Valley Housing Report will provide statistics, analysis and news items related to housing in the Merrimack Valley. While the rising volume of foreclosures and related property sales statistics are the dominant topics now, the Report will also cover broader areas such as transportation, energy and the environment as they all relate to housing in this region of New England. While the monthly newsletter will be the primary delivery system of this information, a companion website will provide additional material. To subscribe to the newsletter, please send an email to co-editor David Turcotte.
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