Lowell Deeds

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

January 30, 2009

Register vs Registrar

by @ 12:16 pm. Filed under History

Every so often someone informs me that I should properly be called “registrar of deeds” and not “register of deeds.” An email of this type arrived overnight. Here’s a redacted version of it along with my reply:

Dear Mr. Howe,

I’m somewhat of a word buff (I know it’s nerdy but I can’t help it). Anyway, I have noticed that most ROD sites, including yours, note that the Registrar of Deeds is a Register of Deeds. You, sir, are a Registrar, not a Register. Might want to fix that on your web site!


a book in which records of acts, events, names, etc., are kept.
a list or record of such acts, events, etc.


a person who keeps a record; an official recorder.

Here’s my reply:

Thank you for your email and your interest in the registry of deeds. Your concern about our use of the term “register of deeds” would be better addressed to the state legislature. If you consult Massachusetts General Laws chapter 36, titled “Registers of Deeds” you will see that none of that chapter’s forty sections contain the term “registrar of deeds” but uniformly refer to the office as “register of deeds.”

You are not the first person to bring this apparent error to my attention. I have intended to research the origin of the usage of “register” with relation to the office I hold; perhaps your email will provide the needed motivation.

In the meantime, I can only fall back on a quote from US Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes who, in disagreeing with a litigant who used the standard meaning of a word to promote his argument, said the decision of the court rested “on an interpretation of language by its traditional use . . . Upon this point a page of history is worth a volume of logic.” In other words, we’ve always done it this way and will continue to do so, even if it makes no sense.

January 29, 2009


by @ 4:16 pm. Filed under History

Robert Frost, New England’s famed poet died 45 years ago today. Frost was born in California but spent the majority of his life in New England. He graduated from Lawrence High School and taught there for a time. Frost won four Pulitzer Prizes during his career. In 1960 Frost wrote a poem for the inauguration of the newly elected president, John Kennedy. The glare of the sun prevented Frost from seeing the words on his paper that day. The poetic icon scrapped the commemorative poem and recited another from memory (The Gift Outright). Below is the poem Frost intended to read on that cold January day that began the “Camelot” years. The poem is called Dedication

Summoning artists to participate
In the August occasions of the state
Seems something artists ought to celebrate.
Today is for my cause a day of days.
And his be poetry’s old fashion praise
Who was the first to think of such a thing.
This verse that in acknowledgement I bring
Goes back to the beginning of the end
Of What had been for centuries the trend;
A turning point in modern History.
Colonial had been the thing to be
As long as the great issue was to see
What country’d be the one to dominate
By character, by tongue, by native trait,
The new world Christopher Columbus found.
The French, the Spanish, and the Dutch were downed
And counted out. Hero’s deeds were done.
Elizabeth the First and England won.
Now came on a new order of ages
That in Latin of our founding sages
(Is it not written on the dollar bill
We carry in our purse and pocket still?)
God nodded his approval of as good.
So much those heroes knew and understood,
I mean the great four, Washington,
John Adams, Jefferson and Madison
So much they saw as consecrated seers
They must have seen ahead what not appears,
They would bring empires down about our ears
And by example of our Declaration
Make everybody want to be a nation.

And this is no aristocratic joke
At the expense of negligible folk.
We see how seriously the races swarm
In their attempts at sovereignty and form.
They are for our wards we think to some extent
For the time being with their consent,
To teach them how Democracy is meant.
“New order of the ages” did they say?
If it looks none too orderly today,
“Tis a confusion it was ours to start
So in it have to take courageous part.
No one of honest feeling would approve
A ruler who pretended not to love
A turbulence he had better of.
Everyone knows the glory of the twin
Who gave America the aeroplane
To ride the whirlwind and the hurricane.
Some poor fool has been saying in his heart
Glory is out of date in life and art.
Our venture in revolution and outlawry
Has justified itself in freedom’s story
Right down to now in glory upon glory.
Come fresh from an election like the last,
The greatest vote a people ever cast,
So close yet sure to be abided by,
It is no miracle our mood is high.
Courage is in the air in bracing whiffs
Better than all the stalemate an’s and if’s.
There was the book of profile tales declaring
For the emboldened politicians daring
To break with followers when in the wrong,
A healthy independence of the throng,
A democratic form of right devine
To rule first answerable to high design.
There is a call to life a little sterner,
And braver for the earner, learner, yearner.
Less criticism of the field and court
And more preoccupation with the sport.
It makes the prophet in us all presage
The glory of a next Augustan age
Of a power leading from its strength and pride,
Of young ambition eager to be tried,
Firm in our free beliefs without dismay,
In any game the nations want to play.
A golden age of poetry and power
Of which this noonday’s the beginning hour.
By Robert Frost

January 28, 2009

Modifying Mortgages

by @ 8:18 am. Filed under Real Estate, Current Events

One of the major differences between this housing collapse and prior ones is that in previous times, lenders retained more authority over home mortgages and were able to either modify the terms in a way that allowed the homeowner to stay in the residence or to authorize “short sales” that allowed the homeowner to sell the house for less than was owed on the mortgage thus avoiding the added costs of foreclosure. The recent “commoditization” of real estate lending, where mortgages were not held by a single entity, but were pooled together with thousands of others and sliced up into bonds that were sold to investors, made it much more difficult if not impossible for lenders to modify individual loans. Attorney General Martha Coakley obviously recognizes this, because she has filed legislation that would require lenders to take “reasonable efforts to restructure loans” prior to resorting to foreclosure.

Bank of America also recognizes this situation and the public relations damage that is being caused because of it. Today, that institution has a full-page ad in the New York Times. Here’s a portion of the ad’s text:

“We’re working to help people stay in their homes, not just buy them. At Bank of America, we’re taking the lead to change how the lending industry works with borrowers. for customers in need, we’re offering to modify over $100 billion in mortgages to help keep up to 630,000 borrowers in their homes. And it’s working. In 2008, we’ve already helped over 230,000 customers through our loan modification programs.”

January 27, 2009

Old Indexes: Get your copy now

by @ 1:34 pm. Filed under Indexing, Registry Ops

Those of you who come to the registry and use our public search computers are familiar with our electronic version of the pre-1976 indexes. Everything back to 1629, both Grantor and Grantee, are available as “electronic books” in PDF format. For the past three years, we have tried repeatedly to make these indexes available on their website. Given their electronic size, that’s been a challenge. We were making real progress when the current budget crisis struck, forcing us to cut funds that had been allocated for the completion of that project and prompting us to alter our strategy.

Recently, registry employees began a massive back indexing project. We have began with documents recorded in 1975 and are indexing them directly into our computer system without regard to the manner in which they were previously indexed. This will ensure that the data in our searchable database is consistent and in compliance with the latest deed indexing standards. Despite our best efforts, this will be a lengthy project. In the meantime, we have decided to once again make the indexes in PDF format available to you in electronic form for your own use.

Formerly, we asked you to provide us with a set of CDs upon which we would copy the various indexes. This required more than a dozen CDs, making it very difficult for us to physically copy that many disks for the number of customers who wanted the data. But as is often the case, technology may have come to our rescue. The combined Grantor and Grantee indexes from 1629 to 1976 total 12.5 gigabytes of storage space. Today, you can purchase a “thumb drive” also known as a “flash drive” of 16 gigabyte capacity for about $40 (at Walmart, at least). So, if you wish to obtain a copy of our indexes, next time you come to the registry, bring a blank 16GB flash drive with you and we’ll make you a copy that you can then add to any and all of your computers.

January 26, 2009

Investing in Twitter

by @ 2:59 pm. Filed under Technology

I have written about Twitter before. The techie industry calls it a “microblogging service”. It is referred to as microblogging because it limits the user to expressing himself/herself in 140 characters (yes that’s characters, not words). I’ll admit, I love it. And apparently I am not the only one that loves it. Recently, the world’s most popular social networking site, Facebook offered to buy Twitter for $500 million. But Twitter said “no way”, and now is out raising a huge sum of development and expansion money on its own. How about this, Twitter is looking for between $20-$30 million in expansion and development cash. And it looks like Twitter will have no problem raising the money. Rumor has it that a number of venture capitalist have already signed up to lend to the microblogging master. This ability to raise capital demonstrates the popularity of this infant company. What makes this even more amazing is that Twitter has no consistent revenue stream. Users are not charged a fee and there is no advertising on the site…so in less than 140 characters I’ll say this:

I- wish- I- thought- of- a- company- that- didn’t- make- money- that- was- worth- a- half- a- billion- dollars. — I’d- sell-it

I would have put an exclamation mark at the end, but I ran out of characters.

January 23, 2009

2009: Tough for Local Banks?

by @ 3:10 pm. Filed under Current Events

This New York Times article suggests that small, local banks that weathered the collapse of the housing market in fairly good shape, might face tough times in 2009. Retaining the lessons learned from the last real estate crisis (late 1980s/early 1990s and the collapse of the Savings and Loan industry), local banks largely avoided the irrational loans that put so many major national lenders at risk of failure. The looming problem for local banks is that despite their prudent investments, commercial developments and building projects that a year ago looked rock solid are now jeopardized by an economy that seems to be spiraling out of control. Like so many others, these local banks are innocent victims of the collapse of our economic system. (And please note that I have no information, good or bad, about any Greater Lowell banks. These comments are solely based on this article which was national in its scope).

January 22, 2009

Foreclosures in the News

by @ 8:25 pm. Filed under Statistics

Today’s Lowell Sun had two articles on foreclosures, both of which used data or information supplied by the registry. The first, reviewed which national lenders are buying the most foreclosed properties; the second reviewed the pace of foreclosures through 2008 and speculated about what might happen in 2009.

January 21, 2009

No More Antenna’s

by @ 2:27 pm. Filed under Current Events

Unless you live in a cave you know that on February 17, 2009 your analog TV will no longer work…In the morning while watching the news and drinking my first cup of fresh brewed coffee a scroll comes across my TV…on Feb 17, 2009 your analog TV will no longer work. I got it…At night while keeping up with my fab Hollywood celebs watching Entertainment Tonight there is inevitably a notice , on February 17 your analog TV will no longer work. Yeah, I heard you before…The Federal Government has used every means of communication imaginable to notify people. There have been… editorials, test your TV minutes, newspaper ads, comic books, tee shirts, cartoons, biplane skywriting, you name it…the Feds have done everything possible to make people aware that on February 17, 2009 your analog TV will no longer work. And now, now I hear that this date might be delayed! Delayed to June 12, 2009… Are you kidding! I can’t take listening to on February 17 I mean June 12, 2009 your analog TV will no longer work. for another four months. But there is something fitting about the new June 12 deadline date… June 12 is the anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s famous Berlin speech…maybe if the Federal Government changes the former presidents words jusssstttt a little, people will finally get the message…Mr. Gorbachev tear down those rabbit ears! because on February 17 your analog TV will no longer work.

January 20, 2009

“A New Era of Responsibility”

by @ 5:28 pm. Filed under Archived

We have a new President. His 19-minute long inaugural address touched upon the financial crisis that was triggered by the real estate boom and bust (a frequent topic here) and on the place of government in our society. Here are some lines that stood out for me:

“Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.”

“Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards properity and freedom.”

“Our capacity remains undiminished. But or time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed.”

“The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works . . . Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.”

“What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility.”

January 16, 2009

Reforming Medical Records

by @ 12:24 pm. Filed under Technology

Both Governor Patrick in last night’s State of the Commonwealth speech and President-elect Obama in an appearance on the George Stephanopoulos program last Sunday, alluded to the digitization of medical records as the type of effort they want to pursue with Federal stimulus funds. Converting medical records from paper to electronic would, in the short run, employ many to scan and digitally organize the records, and in the long-term, shifting to an all-electronic system would cut down on administrative costs and overhead, saving the system a lot of money.

It kind of sounds like what we’ve done here at the registry of deeds with our records – everything is now digital. Since we have so much experience with scanning, perhaps if the real estate market remains as dormant as it is now, we can hire ourselves out to scan some medical records.

January 15, 2009

State of the Commonwealth

by @ 11:40 pm. Filed under Registry Ops, Current Events, History

I just watched Governor Patrick’s “State of the Commonwealth” speech, looking for hints of what’s in store for us in the coming months. While it was a good speech, it just presented very broad policy proposals and no real specifics. He did say that by the end of the month he will submit to the legislature his plan to close the current years’ $1.1 billion deficit AND his proposed FY2010 budget. Those are two documents we should all be anxious to see.

January 14, 2009

Back Indexing Project

by @ 1:38 pm. Filed under Registry Ops

The back indexing project is underway. Yesterday, we started the program, which will expand our present index from 1976 downward. We know this is going to be a long time consuming project…but the best thing is, as an entry is completed it is immediately available to the public. This means each day our Grantor/Grantee index will expand and become more usefulness to the public. The significant slow down in business here at the registry has enabled us to start this ambitious project. The slow down has freed up staff that would otherwise have been needed to record and expand documents. We have reassigned five people in total to work on the project…Three from the North Recording Counter, one from the South Recording Counter and one from our Verification Department. Employees work on the back indexing project on an alternating schedule. We have built in the ability to transfer staff back to these recording counters if/when they are busy.

January 13, 2009

Easing Credit and Slowing Foreclosures

by @ 5:16 pm. Filed under Real Estate, History

One of the many disputes now playing out in the search for an effective means of stimulating the economy out of its current black hole is whether to devote more money to easing the freeze in the credit markets by giving it directly to major financial institutions (as the first $350 billion allocated by Congress was employed) or to do more to assist homeowners who are either facing imminent foreclosure or who are one missed paycheck away from foreclosure because the balance of their existing mortgages exceed the current value of their homes. On the “George Stephanopoulos” show this past Sunday, President-elect Obama seemed to prefer an approach that aided homeowners. He talked about the need to use federal funds to get people into more affordable, more sustainable mortgages. In a speech today, however, chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke said that while such short term measures would be politically popular, they would not address the fundamental problems that are holding our economy back. Only by freeing up the credit markets can we hope to have a real recovery. He suggested that much more than the $700 billion already appropriated will be needed to accomplish that.

January 12, 2009

The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll

by @ 2:48 pm. Filed under Current Events, History

Willam Zantzinger is dead…

Bob Dylan & William Zantzinger

William Zantzinger found infamy as the subject of a Bob Dylan song written in 1963. The song chronicles the murder of a barmaid named Hattie Carroll by Zantzinger and the racial bias of the lenient sentence. It is titled “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll”. In 1963 the year of the murder Zantzinger was a rich, 24 year old tobacco farmer. On the night of Feb 8 he wore a top hat and carried a cane as he attended a ball at the Emerson Hotel in Baltimore.

William Zantzinger, who at twenty four years
Owns a tobacco farm of six hundred acres

As the party progressed Zantzinger became drunker and drunker. He approached the bar and ordered a drink from Hattie Carroll who was working that night. In the eyes of Zantzinger Carroll took much to long to serve him. The impatient drunk repeatedly hit her with his cane until she ran into the kitchen.

William Zantzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll
With a cane that he twirled around his diamond ring finger
At a Baltimore hotel society gath’rin’.

Immeditely after the beating Hattie Carroll told co-workers that she felt very sick. She was taken to the hospital by ambulance. Zantzinger was arrested for the beating but let out on $600 bail.

With rich wealthy parents who provide and protect him
And high office relations in the politics of Maryland,
Reacted to his deed with a shrug of his shoulders
And swear words and sneering, and his tongue it was snarling
In a matter of minutes on bail was out walking.

The next morning, Feb 9, 1963 the 51 year old Hattie Carroll died of stroke. And authorities changed the charge against Zantzinger to murder.

Hattie Carroll was a maid in the kitchen.
She was fifty-one years old and gave birth to ten children

Got killed by a blow, lay slain by a cane
That sailed through the air and came down through the room,
Doomed and determined to destroy all the gentle.
And she never done nothing to William Zantzinger.

Zantzinger’s defense was simple…the stroke that killed Hattie could not have been caused by the blow of a cane alone. There must have been some other underlining medical condition that contributed to her death. This argument resonated with the judge and the charges against Zanzinger were reduced to manslaughter. Within a few months Zantzinger was convicted and sentenced to six months in jail.

In the courtroom of honor, the judge pounded his gavel
To show all’s equal and the courts are on the level

And he spoke through his cloak, most deep and distinguished,
And handed out strongly, for penalty and repentance,
William Zantzinger with a six month sentence.

I wonder how Bob Dylan reacted when he saw Willam Zantzingers obituary?

January 9, 2009

2008 Sales Reports Now Online

by @ 4:33 pm. Filed under Archived, Statistics

We just posted our December 2008 and our cummulative 2008 sales reports on this section of the lowelldeeds.com website. At the end of each month, we generate two sales reports for each of the ten towns in the Middlesex North District. One report is for the month just completed, the other is for the entire year to date including that month. If you’re interested in sales in the town of Billerica, for instance, just follow the above link, go to the “Billerica” line and select “Last Month” from the drop down menu and a PDF file containing the address, price, date and book and page number of each sale of property in Billerica during December 2008 will display. If you instead select “2008″ in the Billerica slot, the page that appears will list all sales for all of 2008 for the town of Billerica.

We also present a list of Orders of Notice (aka “foreclosure filings”) that have been recorded. Because there are far fewer of them than there are deeds, we lump all of the Orders of Notice into the same file and sort them by town. These are also presented for “last month” and year-to-date.

January 8, 2009

Launch of Indexing Project Approaches

by @ 4:54 pm. Filed under Indexing, Registry Ops

Today we introduced our new indexing project to a group of registry employees. Commencing next week, we will begin indexing documents recorded prior to 1976 in reverse chronological order. While most of today’s discussion dealt with technical matters related to our computers and software, some substantive items were discussed. Here are four of them:

Index names and addresses in accordance with the current Deed Indexing Standards

“Thirty years ago, documents looked a lot different than they do now. For example, many mortgages look just like deeds. Look for either “quitclaim covenants” (makes it a deed) or “mortgage covenants” (makes it a mortgage).”

“Try to avoid indexing things as MULTIPLES even though you will see quite a few of them. Try to decide which is the dominant document and use that for the document type. For instance, a Deed might also contain a Vote – call it a Deed – or a Mortgage might also contain an Assignment – call that a Mortgage but be sure to add to the index the name of the party to whom it is being assigned to the index.”

“If the property address on a deed is not clearly identified (and in older deeds it usually isn’t), just leave that field blank. Do not use a street name from the description in the STREET field. ”

Watch for additional blog entries on this topic as the project progresses.

January 7, 2009

4Chan Strikes Again

by @ 3:52 pm. Filed under Current Events, Technology

If you’ve seen pictures of Apple Founder, CEO, and overall Genius, Steve Jobs you know he is not looking very well lately. This coupled with the fact that Jobs did not give this year’s Keynote address at the MacWorld Expo has ignited rumors about his health. Several months ago I blogged about Steve Jobs being a Pancreatic Cancer survivor. Unfortunately, since that time Jobs has kept getting thinner and thinner. The Apple genius is cognizant of the fact that his well-being has a major effect on the value of Apple stock. Monday, with this in mind, Jobs went public. He explained to the world that blood tests have shown he has a rare hormone imbalance. The condition has caused his recent and severe weight loss. But yesterday at MacWorld a group of irreverent hackers flipped the Apple world upside down. Traditionally, Apple micro-blogs the MacWorld Keynote speech. Yesterday as “macrumorslive.com” provided live feeds to Apple lovers a renegade post popped up saying… “Steve Jobs just died”.
After three minutes Apple Techs caught on to the hack and posted… “Retraction on Steve Jobs Comment…we don’t know how that got in our feed. Steve Jobs did not die”.
But the malicious hackers were good or bad that is. They quickly came back…”Oh wait, sorry, Steve did die. Our condolences”.

Of course, Steve Job has not died. A group of hackers affiliated with 4Chan have been blamed for the Apple attack. You may remember that last October during the presidential election, a member of the 4Chan website hacked into VP nominee Sarah Palin’s yahoo account and posted copies of her emails on 4Chan…

I must admit…the world never ceases to amaze me.

January 6, 2009

The Global Crisis Explained

by @ 4:13 pm. Filed under Current Events, History

Michael Lewis, author of such notable works of nonfiction as Moneyball and Liars Poker, co-authored a lengthy oped piece in the New York Times this weekend. Lewis is masterful in explaining complex subjects in a way that makes them easy to understand, but even his attempt to help us comprehend the causes of the present financial crisis require several readings before things begin to sink in. One notable suggestion Lewis makes is that instead of paying $700 billion to banks that will probably use the money in ways that will not benefit the great majority of our citizens. Instead, Lewis advocates using the money to help average homeowners refinance into mortgages that more closely resemble the current value of their homes. Right now, far too many homeowners owe more on their existing mortgages than their houses are worth, depriving them of the ability to sell or refinance. Mitigating this problem is almost a precondition to any recovery. Here’s the Lewis story.

January 5, 2009

2009 Projects

by @ 12:55 pm. Filed under Registry Ops

This is a list of the supplemental projects we will be working on in 2009.

The MERS Project: Employees doing the MERS Project are searching our index for mortgages listing MERS as the Grantor. When the employee finds an entry they add the name of the affiliated bank to the index as a second Grantor.

The Back Scanning Project: All of the record books at Middlesex North are available as electronic images. The problem is, some of these images were taken from microfilm and need to be improved. In 2008 The Back Scanning Project re-scanned 1.1 million of these images. Throughout the year the number of employees working on this project has varied, right now there are two. One prepares the books and the second does the actual scanning.

The Back Indexing Project (this is a new one): We will begin this project next week. If you are familiar with the Middlesex North Register of Deeds you know our searchable indexes go back to 1976. Yes, we do have PDF images of ALL index books back to 1629…but you cannot search an individual name on them. Employees working on the Back Indexing Project will view electronic images of pre-1976 documents and enter the indexing information directly into our database expanding our searchable index.

The Back Title Reference Project: For many years we believed creating a chain of ownership for a particular piece of property would be very useful for the public. We began this project over a year ago. Here is how it works….Employees find a property’s most current deed and enter the “back title reference” in an independent database. They continue this process until they trace back and enter deed ownership information to 1950 or earlier. The project is being done by towns…currently, we have finished the towns of Chelmsford, Dracut and most of Westford. This project will take a back seat in 2009 to the Back Indexing Project.

January 2, 2009

End-of-the-year statistics

by @ 3:03 pm. Filed under Statistics

Here’s a comparison of the number of some of the major document types recorded in 2007 and 2008:

Total Documents: 2007 - 66393; 2008 - 56125; a decrease of 15%
Deeds: 2007 - 6542; 2008 - 5454; a decrease of 17%
Mortgages: 2007 - 15633; 2008 - 11209; a decrease of 28%
Foreclosure Deeds: 2007 - 434; 2008 - 601; an increase of 38%
Order of Notice: 2007 - 935; 2008 - 807; a decrease of 14%

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