Lowell Deeds

The latest on real estate recordings and new technology from the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds in Lowell

December 31, 2008

New Year’s Resolutions… 2009

by @ 1:22 pm. Filed under Current Events

Here are my New Year’s Resolutions for 2009…

Find an alarm clock that does not sound annoying at 4:45 AM

Lose weight

Finally figure out the meaning of the lyrics to Bob Dylan’s song Subterranean Homesick Blues.

Break my treadmill… without my wife knowing.

Lower my blood pressure… without the use of a treadmill.

Lose a little more weight

Find an infomercial that advertises something I would actually buy or even better, use.

Download a Rap song that’s not adult rated.

Lose even more weight

Watch a catch by Randy Moss that is not over-rated by the TV announcers.

Grow my hair long and braid it…without my wife knowing.

Maintain my huge weight lose.

Happy New Year…

December 30, 2008

Top Ten of 2008

by @ 5:08 pm. Filed under Registry Ops, History

At the end of each year, we search back through the previous twelve months and try to identify the ten most important events at the registry. Here’s what I came up with:

1. The Paperless Registry – On April 1, 2008, we closed off the Lower Record Hall to public access and thereby made all record books and indexes available only on our computer system.

2. Recession – The staggering economy continued to drag down home values while the number of foreclosure deeds filed in 2008 exceeded those filed in 2007 by 37%.

3. Budget Cuts – Lower than anticipated tax revenue resulted in mid-fiscal year cuts to the registry budget, greatly restricting our ability to add enhancements to our computer system.

4. Registry Scanning Center – The closing of the Lower Record Hall to public access allowed us to transform that area into a scanning center that locates our scanning equipment adjacent to the older record books that need to be cut apart and scanned to replace the existing electronic images that were derived from microfilm.

5. Expansion of Electronic Recording – The registries of deeds in Plymouth and Springfield commenced electronic recording, bringing to three the number of registries utilizing e-recording technology.

6. Middlesex North Satellite Office – With the completion of its renovated recording area, the Middlesex South Registry of Deeds activated its Middlesex North Satellite Office, allowing customers to record documents for Lowell in Cambridge.

7. Equipment Upgrades – At the end of the past fiscal year, we were able to purchase a replacement for our nine year old computer server and a new Kodak Archive Writer which allows us to produce archival microfilm directly from scanned document images.

8. Multiple Documents – After an Appeals Court decision invalidated the registry practice of charging multiple fees for documents that performed multiple functions, the state legislature amended M.G.L. c. 262, s. 38 to specifically allow the calculation of fees in that manner.

9. Judicial Center – The city of Lowell and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts reached an agreement by which the Commonwealth paid the city $3.8 million for a parcel of land in the Hamilton Canal redevelopment district that will be the site of the soon to be constructed Lowell Judicial Center.

10. MERS Project – When MERS – Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems Inc., came into existence in 1998, we decided to index documents from MERS only under that name and omit the name of the underlying lender. That helped our efficiency in processing the tens of thousands of mortgages that were recorded in the interim, but left us unsure as to the identity of the lenders who made the most problematic loans. This year we’ve gone back into all mortgages from MERS and added the name of the actual lender.

December 29, 2008

The Rise of the Internet

by @ 1:14 pm. Filed under Current Events, Technology

A recent study by PEW (the Research Center for the People & the Press) has proven what many of us have suspected for a long time. The Internet is now more popular than newspapers as a source of news. This is especially true with 19-29 year olds. PEW surveyed 1500 participants from December 3, 2008 to December 7, 2008. Those surveyed were asked to list their main source or sources of news. The results showed 40% of the participants said they got most of their news from the Internet. This is an increase of 16% from a similar survey conducted only one year ago, when 24% said they primarily used the Internet for information. Conversely, only 35% of the survey participants cited newspapers as their main news source. Surprising, to me anyway, television tops all other media outlets achieving a 70% rating. Some experts speculate that the rise of the Internet at the expense of the newspaper was predictable. As newspapers lose advertising revenue they are cutting staff. This means they can no longer cover many specialized areas such as science or law. This lack of coverage has driven news hounds with special interests to the Internet for information.

December 26, 2008

Piggyback mortgages

by @ 11:10 am. Filed under Archived, Real Estate

The Globe today writes about “piggyback loans”, those instances where borrowers obtained two mortgages to finance the purchase of a house. As home prices rose towards the stratosphere during the recently ended real estate boom, the two-mortgage approach occurred more often than not. Splitting the purchase price between two mortgages did a number of things: it allowed many to borrow 100% of the purchase price; by keeping the amount of the first mortgage down as a percentage of the total sales price, it eliminated the requirement that the buyer purchase Private Mortgage Insurance; and for the lenders, it produced that many more mortgages that could be farmed out to investors. The problem now is that as many of these homeowners find themselves in fiscally untenable positions, their ability to work out a modification of their mortgage payments is much more complicated because there are now two lenders involved, and what’s in the best interest of lender 1 is often damaging to lender 2 and vice versa.

Our own research has long disclosed the prevalence of this style of lending. In our study of foreclosures conducted in Lowell during 2007, we found that 72% of the foreclosed mortgages that were used to purchase the property involved second mortgages and that the majority of those constituted the entire balance of the purchase price meaning that the borrower put no money down on the transaction. We also found that of the foreclosed mortgages that were used to refinance the property - meaning the borrower already owned the property but obtained a new mortgage that was used to payoff the balance of the first mortgage and provide extra cash for the household - also involved an additional mortgages. A full 36% of the refinanced mortgage foreclosures also had an additional mortgage - popularly called a “line of credit” or “home equity loan” encumbering the property.

December 24, 2008

Christmas Movie Quotes

by @ 1:34 pm. Filed under Current Events

Here is my Top Ten List of famous quotes from classic Christmas movies…

Number 10: From A Christmas Story…”You’ll shoot your eye out!”

Number 9: From Miracle on 34th Street…”Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to. Don’t you see? Its not just Kris that’s on trial, its everything he stands for. Its kindness and joy and love and all the other intangibles”.

Number 8: From A Christmas Story…”Football? Football? What’s a football? With unconscious will my voice squaked out football”.

Number 7: From A Christmas Carole…”Its Christmas Day! I haven’t missed it. The spirits have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like. Of course they can. Of course they can”.

Number 6: From Home Alone…”This is extremely important. Will you please tell Santa that instead of presents this year I want my family back. No toys, nothing but Peter, Kate, Buzz, Megan, Linnie and Jeff. And my aunt and my cousin. And if he has time, Uncle Frank”.

Number 5: From It’s a Wonderful Life…”To my big brother George, the richest man in town!”

Number 4: From Scrooged…”Its Christmas Eve. Its-it’s the one night of the year when we all act a little nicer, we-we-we smile a little easier, we-w-w-we-we cheer a little more. For a couple of hours out of the whole year we are the people that we always hoped we would be”.

Number 3: From Seinfeld…”Its another Festivus miracle!”

Number 2: From A Charlie Brown Christmas…”No, no. I mean Jingle Bells. You know deck them halls and all that stuff. No, no, no. You don’t get it at all. I mean Jingle Bells. You know, Santa Claus and ho-ho-ho and mistletoe…and presents for pretty girls”.

And my Number One favorite Christmas quote…
From How the Grinch Stole Christmas…”It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags”.
That quote says it all, doesn’t it?

Happy Holidays

December 23, 2008

Hyper-Local News

by @ 11:58 am. Filed under Current Events, Technology

A story in the business section of today’s Globe reports that GateHouse Publishing, the publisher of a host of small town newspapers in Greater Boston, has sued the Globe for copyright infringement. The dispute arises from the Globe’s (relatively) new section on www.boston.com called “Your Town.” The goal of this section is to have a separate page for each of teh 151 communities in the Greater Boston area. Rather than containing content solely generated by Globe reporters, each community’s “Your Town” page would be populated with content created locally by bloggers and interested residents, supplemented by the professional staff of the Globe. The section also “scrapes” headlines and stories about the town from other websites and presents them on the boston.com page. This is GateHouse’s complaint - that the Globe is improperly taking its content without its permission. Here’s a link to the “Your Town” section. Thus far, sections for Newton, Waltham and Needham have been activated.

December 22, 2008

Holiday Schedule

by @ 1:03 pm. Filed under Registry Ops

Its that time of the year again…
We are receiving many inquires about our upcoming holiday hours, so here you go…

Wednesday, December 24: Normal business hours
Friday, December 26: Normal buiness hours
Wednesday, December 31: Yes, Normal business hours
Friday, January 2: And yes again, Normal business hours

Pretty easy to remember, right…bascially we are open 8:30Am-4:30PM (we stop recording at 4:15) every business day.

December 19, 2008

Snow Emergency Today

by @ 3:40 pm. Filed under Registry Ops

Shortly before noon today, the Trial Court notified me that the Superior Courthouse here in Lowell, the building in which the Registry of Deeds is a tenant, would close at 1 p.m. because of the impending snowstorm. There was a flurry of activity as people with transactions scheduled for about that time raced to complete their paperwork and get documents recorded before our shutdown. Based on the forecast, I had expected to release most of the registry’s employees at 1 p.m. anyway, but retain a handful of workers until the conditions created by the storm posed a safety hazard. But with the building closed, the registry had to close also - legitimate court-related security considerations don’t allow us to let or keep people in the building after it has officially shut down. So we put a notice on the website and the front door. I’ve stayed behind to answer the phones, but there’s only been one call inquiring of our status in the past 45 minutes. After the devastating storm of last December 13, which struck at midday and paralyzed the region because schools and businesses all waited too long to dismiss - a storm in which some registry employees who normally have 20 minute commutes spent more than 4 hours on the road before arriving home - decision makers now understand that safety considerations sometimes require closures in advance of on-the-scene conditions reaching the crisis point. This realization was probably reinforced by last Friday’s ice storm which knocked out power for much of this region (some of which has yet to have electricity restored). We certainly regret any problems that resulted from the court’s decision to close the building but it was a prudent course of action given all the circumstances.

December 18, 2008

A Rational Policy Towards Tenants

by @ 11:47 am. Filed under Real Estate

One of the most frustrating things about the spike in foreclosures has been the industry-wide practice of lending institutions that foreclose and come into possession of properties (something that happens in almost every foreclosure) immediately evicting all tenants, whether they are current in their rent or not. There are several reasons why lenders-in-possession do this: a vacant building is more marketable; banks don’t want to be in the landlord business; and not having tenants cuts down on the exposure to liability. From a community perspective, however, this policy is extremely damaging. Vacant homes become crime magnets that drag down the value of neighboring properties. Displaced families often have difficulty finding comparable (or any) replacement quarters thereby contributing to homelessness. Children of tenants are often uprooted from school and forced to transfer to another school or school system, disrupting a community’s education system. (Many educators in Lowell will say privately that if you could pull out the MCAS scores of the children who remain in the same schools throughout their careers, the test scores would match many of the surrounding suburbs). Now, Fannie Mae has announced that it will cease this automatic eviction practice. Hopefully other lenders will follow its lead.

December 17, 2008

masslandrecords problems persist

by @ 4:31 pm. Filed under Registry Ops

No solution to the performance problems on the masslandrecords site - in fact, no one is even sure of what’s causing the problem. While it’s certainly no consolation, this is not the first time something like this has happened. Here are some blog entries from February 2004 written in the midst of a similar problem:

Monday, February 02, 2004 - More problems with the website. . . It turns out there was some kind of power surge or region-wide telephone outage in Boston that effected the state office building at One Ashburton Place (just across from the back of the State House). Everything seemed to bounce back very quickly, everything that is, except for the registry of deeds Internet server.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004 - The information I wrote last night about the registry website was wrong - it’s still down.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004 - Here’s the latest information we have on the website: When the state office building suffered an electrical power surge on Monday, it caused the battery backup on the server to kick in. The battery isn’t designed to sustain operations. It’s purpose is to provide enough power for the server to shut itself down in a controlled manner when there’s a power problem. That way, when the power’s restored, the server can be restarted. That is what happened. Unfortunately, the disks that store all the data and images are separate from the server. Somehow, when the server was restarted, something caused everything on the disks to be wiped out. Supposedly, the technicians have restored the connection between the disks and the server. Now the data and images must be loaded from the backup tapes.

Thursday, February 05, 2004 - Despite promises that our website would be back in operation by 4 p.m. today - 6 p.m. at the very latest - here it is 10:15 p.m. and still no service. The wait is agonizing.

Friday, February 06, 2004 - The “search records” feature of the website was back in operation at 8:30 this morning. The last document that appears is Instrument Number 7636 which was recorded on Tuesday, February 3. More recently recorded documents will be added to the site over this coming weekend and all should be restored to normal operation by Monday morning.

Saturday, February 07, 2004 - The website seems to be working OK although we haven’t confirmed that records created since February 3 are available. We will continue to monitor the site’s operation through the weekend. Monday morning, we’ll extensively test the system to ensure everything is available. As for what caused this problem in the first place, it seems that it was a series of problems which, if taken separately, would not have had a major impact. When taken together, however, they caused a major disruption to the system. Well, we can only apologize so much. Our users are undoubtedly more interested in hearing what we’ve done to ensure that this (or some similar failure) does not happen again.

Monday, February 09, 2004 - The website is back in operation although it seems heavily sedated. It’s working so slowly that a number of users have reported that it takes so long to retrieve data or images that they are forced to exit the program and start again.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004 - The piecemeal approach to restoring the website just isn’t working.

Friday, February 13, 2004 - Even though it’s Friday the 13th, we received good news today. The search records portion of the website seems to be functioning very well with search results and document images popping up quickly.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004 - The website seems to be working just fine. Tomorrow night we should have some details about what happened to cause our recent outage

Wednesday, February 18, 2004 - We had a meeting with our computer company (ACS) to review the events that resulted in the two week long disruption of our Internet records search capability. If this were the investigation of an airplane crash, the cause would be human error not mechanical failure. The design of the system is actually very good and there is much redundancy to guard against foreseeable and unforeseeable problems that could disrupt service. But the best system in the world will fail if the human beings responsible for it don’t follow the correct procedures and that’s pretty much what happened here.

December 16, 2008

The Shortyawards

by @ 9:50 am. Filed under Technology

You might remember a number of months ago the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds experimented with Twitter. At the time Twitter was in its infancy. Twitter is an online communication program which allows posted “updates” using up to 140 characters (yes, no more than 140 characters) These updates are called a tweets”. The technology has taken off and Twitter’s popularity is soaring. Now, an Internet company named Sawhorse has decided to “kick it up a notch” for Twitter. In January 2009 Sawhorse will be giving out Twitter awards to the best “tweets” of 2008. They called them “Shortyawards”. Shortyawards will be disturbed by category…humor, food, news, sports etc. According to Sawhorse’s CEO, Gregory Galant “there is a long history of one-line content dating back to the Ten Commandments…By forcing you to make it short, omit words, it makes us all into better writers and occasionally forces a more profound statement than one with no word limit”. I couldn’t agree more…and Tweeting is fun. It sounds like the Shortawards will be an annual event. For now, Sawhorse is still taking nominations which can be submitted online.

December 15, 2008

Recovering from the Storm

by @ 12:55 pm. Filed under Current Events

The effects of the Thursday night/Friday morning ice storm are still being felt. The registry never lost power, but many of our employees did at their homes. A customer from Westford just told us of the devastation visited on that community by the storm and suggested that it will be several more days at least until power is fully restored. If anyone suffered storm damage and needs a copy of the deed to their home to help make an insurance claim, just call us at 978/322-9000 and we’ll mail it right out.

December 12, 2008

Quite A Morning

by @ 1:28 pm. Filed under Registry Ops

At 5:00 AM this morning while walking on my treadmill (doctor’s orders) the power went out in my Tewksbury home. The outage silenced the Beatles pounding in my ears and left one of my legs stretched forward and the other backward on the stopped treadmill. Blinded by the dark I felt my way along walls to the nearest exterior door. I stuck my head outside and observed that an ice storm had blanketed the Merrimack Valley. I thought, if Tewksbury’s power is out the registry might be out also. I made a horrible cup of coffee by boiling grounds in water (hey, if it was good enough for Buffalo Bill, it is good enough for me). I then took a lukewarm shower and headed to work. On my drive in the number of broken tree branches littering the roads astounded me. Ice covered power lines hung nearly low enough to touch the roof of my Jeep. Home after home sat in darkness. The effects of the storm amazed me. As I turned onto Gorham Street my eyes met a pleasant sight. The electricity in the registry of deeds was on. The registry lights burning brightly made the courthouse look like the subject of a Thomas Kinkade painting. I still had one concern…if an outage occurred in the courthouse through the night our temporary power backups might have exhausted themselves bringing the computer servers down. With this in mind my first destination when I entered the registry was the computer room. To my delight all looked well.

As I sit writing this the registry is fully operational. In the end I’d say we were pretty lucky considering over 300,000 homes and business in Massachusetts are still without power.

We’re Open

by @ 11:58 am. Filed under Registry Ops

Friday, December 12…The registry of deeds is open.

December 11, 2008

Maintaining Foreclosed Properties

by @ 12:29 pm. Filed under Real Estate, Current Events

The city of Lowell has a “Vacant and Foreclosing Property” Ordinance that requires the owner of a vacant or recently foreclosed property to register with the city’s Building Inspector. The city now has a registration form that must be submitted to the Inspectional Services Department at City Hall along with a $100 filing fee. The form asks for the address and description of the property , contact information (i.e., a 24-hour cell phone or pager) for the local property manager, and c0ntact information for the owner. The form also contains a certification that the property, if vacant has been boarded up and secured and that a notice containing the name and phone number of the local property manager will be posted in a prominent place on the building itself. We now have a supply of these forms at the registry and will be distributing them to everyone who records a foreclosure deed for property in Lowell.

December 10, 2008

Reworking Mortgages

by @ 12:06 pm. Filed under Real Estate

Since pumping $700 billion dollars into our financial institutions seems not to have altered the downward spiral of our economy, many are now turning to the concept of “mortgage modification” as the antitote for our fiscal ills. The theorgy is rational - it’s better to have a current homeowner stay in the home and pay less each month on the mortgage than it would be to have the lender foreclose and end up with a vacant house which, if it was sold at all, would be for a sharply reduced rate, thereby contributing to further declines in the real estate market. The problem is, modifying mortgages is not an easy thing to do. A just released study reported in yesterday’s Boston Globe reveals that more than half of the homeowners in the study group who had their mortgages reworked still faced the loss of their homes after just six months. The article asks whether that’s because the modifications were insufficient to make a difference or whether the homeowners were just not cut out to own homes. It’s probably a little bit of both.

December 9, 2008

Dumbing Me Down

by @ 4:56 pm. Filed under Technology

I use Google as my homepage…but not your typical google homepage. I’ve suped it up like a 1950’s hotrod with a four barrel carb…My homepage has ”Quote of the Day”, Today’s Weather (in Maine and Mass of course), the latest Sports Scores and my personal favorite The Word of the Day. I like google so much I even agreed to Google Tracking. Google Tracking follows my website visits. It uses this information to “suggest” other websites and areas I might also be interested in. I know, it is Big Brotherish, but truthfully, it hadn’t bothered me until about two weeks ago. Let me explain…As I said earlier, dictionary.com sends me a Word of the Day…its the standard thing. Every day I get a new word along with its meaning intended to increase my vocabulary. Hey, I’ll admit it. I love this stuff. But I have noticed in the past week or so, dictionary.com is sending me words that are well, at a lower and lower vocabulary level. This week the level decreased significantly. Truthfully, I am beginning to worry. A year ago I’d be all excited because my Word of the Day was salicaceous. Today dictionary.com sent me “elocution”. Heck, everyone knows what elocution means. I’ve reached a conclusion. Google Tracking is directing dictionary.com to “dumb it down” for me. I’ve been trying to figure out why. Maybe I dumbed myself down with my recent searches. After all I did google “Turkey Quiz” for the Thanksgiving blog and “Bart Simpson” for the blog I wrote on “meh”. Anyway it doesn’t matter. I’ve got a solution…tonight, when I go home, I am going to put my professor’s cap on and do some serious googling…”What is the Pythagorean Theory”? What are Sir Isaac Newton’s Universal Laws of Gravitation? In what year did Henry Thoreau publish Walden? You see, I’ll fool Google Tracking into thinking I am an intellectual and my Word of the Day will reflect it. Pretty clever, ain’t (I mean isn’t) it? I’ll bet by the end of the week I’ll be using “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious in a sentence, thanks to dictionary.com.

December 8, 2008

Copiers and the Registry of Deeds

by @ 3:39 pm. Filed under Registry Ops

Copying machines have been a mainstay at the registry of deeds since they became commonly available years ago. While the quality and dependability of these machines has increased greatly, their role at the registry is rapidly coming to an end. The process of scanning all incoming records and digitizing previously recorded records made the images of those records available on the registry’s computer system and gradually cut into the need for copiers: if something can be printed from the computer, why would you need to copy it from a book? When we decided to cease printing record books back in November 2001, it blow to copiers. Without books, there was nothing to copy, something that became abundantly clear this past April when all record books were taken out of service. Since then, usage of our coin operated public access copiers has plummeted. Soon those machines will be taken out of service entirely. Although nothing is certain, we expect that we will create a “copy desk” where the customer will present the material to be copied to a registry employee who will make the copies and charge the customer accordingly. This process is nothing new; in fact, it’s the way many other registries operated in the recent past. In a related matter, I suppose that any customers who possess “vending cards” for our current copiers should begin spending down the amounts on those cards and refrain from refilling them – there’s no telling how much longer they will be of use here.

December 5, 2008

The Coming Real Estate Boom

by @ 4:07 pm. Filed under Real Estate

Today’s paper brings news that the federal government now contemplates extending billions of dollars of assistance to homeowners in the form of subsidized mortgages. Right now, the deal (if it comes about) would only be available to those buying homes, not to those interested in refinancing. Specifically, the plan would make mortgage loans and the unbelievably low rate of 4.5%. The thinking is that this would result in a boost in home sales which would clean up the inventory of unsold homes, thereby stabilizing (i.e., preventing the continued slide of) home prices. Of course, those who are already in homes with burdensome mortgages would not be aided directly and many would like the program to be extended to those who wish to refinance. From a registry operations perspective, this would be great news for it would create a boom in recording activity.

December 4, 2008

Understanding Wall Street

by @ 5:51 pm. Filed under Real Estate, Current Events

Hedge fund, short sale, CDO, synthetic CDO and tranches are all terms that float through the air when anyone tries to explain the current collapse of our economy. But they’re all terms that almost defy an easy, logical explanation. When commentators say that one of the problems was that even the heads of the biggest investment banks didn’t really understand what their employees were doing, that observation has a ring of truth to it. Now Michael Lewis, one of my favorite writers and the author of bestsellers such as Liar’s Poker, Moneyball and The Blind Side has taken a shot at explaining the mess on Wall Street. Lewis is particularly suited to the task, having worked as a bond trader at Salomon Brothers in the 1980s, but it seems that even he has a hard time explaining what happen. He’s made a gallant effort in a piece called “The End” which was just published in Conde Nast Portfolio. I’ve read the article twice now, with the same diligence I used reading cases during my first year in law school and I still only understand about 80% of it. But we have to start somewhere because we’re in the midst of a mess of historic proportions and it certainly would be nice to know what happened and why, if for no other reason than to try to prevent it from happening again in another decade or two.

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