Lowell Deeds

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

August 28, 2009

LowellDeeds Blog has moved

by @ 2:16 pm. Filed under Website

We’ve moved the LowellDeeds blog to a new location - www.lowelldeeds.blogspot.com - but will keep this site active for archival purposes. Please bookmark the new site and change your “Favorites” so you will continue to receive the most up to date news and information from the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds.

Again, the new address of our blog is www.lowelldeeds.blogspot.com

August 27, 2009

Is a housing rebound underway?

by @ 4:47 pm. Filed under Real Estate

Articles in yesterday’s Boston Globe and New York Times both suggest that the nation’s housing market is slowly starting to rebound. Both total sales and median price for sales in both June and July when compared to a year ago show a slight increase.

Locally, evidence of a market turnaround is more elusive. Looking at sales with prices above $75,000 and below $750,000, we find the following: For Lowell, in July 2009, the median sales price was $179,000 while in July 2008 it was only $173,500. That represents an increase of 3%. In the towns, the median price in July 2009 was $305,750, but in July 2008, the median was $316,450. That represents a 3% decrease.

Despite these figures, I believe the real estate market in the towns is bouncing back slightly, while Lowell remains troubled due primarily to the high inventory of foreclosed properties. Still, the situation is much better than it has been. For example, here’s what I wrote on August 14, based on mid-month recording statistics:

Besides the continuing trend of fewer foreclosures, the most important observation we can make is that homes in the towns seem to be holding their values pretty well. This conclusion is based on the significant increase in the number of suburban mortgages being recorded. In Lowell, on the other hand, the number of mortgages being recorded is down slightly, but it’s down nonetheless which suggests that any rebound in home prices has not yet reached the city of Lowell.

August 26, 2009

Ted Kennedy

by @ 12:55 pm. Filed under Current Events, History

So many many memories, so many many years ago…

August 25, 2009

Home Histories

by @ 2:42 pm. Filed under Real Estate, History

Homeowners often contact us asking us how they might determine the year in which their homes were constructed. Here’s an inquiry I received yesterday by email:

Hi. A fellow old-home owner in Lowell referred me to your website as a good source of historical info about our house. When I do a search on the address, I only see info going back to 1990. I’m looking for info back to 1890! Does the system contain old info? I’m trying to determine the actual year the house was built. I’ve seen conflicting dates on various documents, from 1860, to 1880, to 1905, to even 1917!

Here’s my reply:

All of the land ownership documents (deeds, mortgages, etc) going back to 1629 are available on our website (www.lowelldeeds.com) although they are in several places, depending on their age. The more recent ones are on masslandrecords.com while the older ones - before 1950 - are on www.lowelldeeds.com. Unfortunately, the name index used to find these documents only goes back to 1976 online. We have it all the way back to 1629 but that’s only available here at the registry. It is in electronic form, however, and if you bring in a 16 gigabyte flash drive (also known as a “thumb drive”) we will give you a copy at no charge. The files for the index are so large that we have not yet been able to get them on the internet.

More to your inquiry, records here at the registry of deeds are primarily concerned with who owns the land and not what is built upon the land, so nothing we have would tell you precisely when your home was built. The best you can do with our records is draw inferences from the various deeds and other documents. For instance, if someone bought the property for $1000 and a year later sold it for $5000, you could infer that something had been built upon it in the interim.

If you decide to come to the registry to conduct your research, we’re open from 8:30 am to 4:15 pm Monday thru Friday. On whatever day you do make it to the registry, please stop by our Customer Service desk and ask for me. If I’m available, I’ll show you how to use the computers; if I’m not, just ask anyone at the Customer Service desk to help you.

Sorry I can’t be more helpful than that, but if you have any more questions, please let me know.

August 24, 2009

Great Job

by @ 1:45 pm. Filed under Registry Ops

Three Lowell High School Interns paid by the Lowell Career Center finished their employment at the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds last Wednesday. The assignment I gave them was straightforward and clear…”actuately scan as many of our old records books as possible”.
Here is a little context…Before July we had one volunteer employee scanning these books and one full time employee preparing them to be scanned. During a normal week these two working (without interruption) would scan 20-25 books.
Truthfully, the prep work for these old books is far worse than the scanning.
When the interns arrived our permanent employees we working on record book number 500, moving backwards. Scanning 20 books a week meant the project still had rough another six months before completion.
Today there are 250 books left to scan. In a short five weeks these student workers finished 50% of the project (250 books)…we couldn’t be happier.
It is difficult in the summer to make significant progress in long-term projects. This is mainly due to employee vacation schedules, so the accomplishment by these interns was a welcome development for us.
Thanks for a great job.

August 21, 2009

Do-it-yourself deeds

by @ 10:56 am. Filed under Archived, Real Estate

August is a popular month for vacations here at the registry, so I usually spend more time than usual working at our Customer Service Counter which gives me a valuable opportunity to assist customers who call or visit the registry of deeds. Those in the real estate related professions typically have straight forward questions, but members of the public often have more complex inquiries.

This summer, many of these calls are requests to “take a name off of a deed” or make some other change to the ownership of property. These calls make it clear that much of the public is under the impression that we here at the registry maintain some kind of master list of who owns what property and that we either cross out or write in names as ownership circumstances change. In response to these questions, we try to provide a simple explanation of the role played by deeds in land ownership. We then explain that to change ownership, a new deed must be created. That leads to the inevitable question, “can I do that myself?” That’s a tough question to answer. Technically, the answer is yes, but we emphasize that real estate law is complex and that one or two words in a deed could completely change the meaning of the document. Because the asset involved - a home, typically - is worth so much money, it’s reckless for anyone to put it at risk by trying their hand at deed drafting to save the cost of hiring a lawyer to do it. Some people see the wisdom of that approach and call an attorney. Others insist that they can’t afford an attorney and will have to do it themselves. At that point, all we can do is suggest they visit a law library for further assistance.

Happy Anniversary Hawaii

by @ 9:38 am. Filed under History

Happy Anniversary to Hawaii. Our fiftieth state joined the union fifty years ago today on August 21, 1959.

August 20, 2009

Electronic Recording Stats

by @ 10:19 am. Filed under E-Recording, Statistics

Now that the Middlesex South Registry of Deeds in Cambridge has been recording documents electronically for a couple of weeks, it’s an appropriate time to review some electronic recording statistics from Middlesex North were the system has been in use for several years. While processing electronically recorded documents has become a routine part of our operation here in Lowell, the percentage of documents being recorded by that means remains capped at about 12% of our total daily intake. My sense is that number is artificially low because many real estate practitioners have held off on adopting electronic recording until more registries of deeds allow that process. Now that Cambridge is open for business, perhaps our volume will rise.

For now, here are the stats for 2009 up to the end of July: In those seven months, we recorded 4889 documents electronically which accounted for 12% of our total of 41282 documents. The monthly volume of electronic recording rose steadily from a low of 344 in January to a high of 805 in July. On seventeen days, we recorded more than 50 documents electronically. The five highest volume days were April 13 (107 e-docs), Feb 24 (78 e-docs), Feb 23 (75 e-docs), July 21 (73 e-docs) and July 1 (68 e-docs). As for document types recorded electronically, 59% were discharges, 20% were mortgages, 3% were deeds and 18% were other types of documents.

And has been the case from the very beginning, electronic recording from the registry end has been a fast, efficient and trouble-free means of recording documents.

August 19, 2009

The Problem with Appraisals

by @ 3:15 pm. Filed under Real Estate

For months now attorneys have been telling me that as many as two-thirds of the sales or refinancings that come through their doors are scuttled when the appraisal comes back with a lower than expected value. Recent comments, and our own statistics, suggest that this phenomenon is more often true for properties in Lowell than for those in the towns in this registry district, but it remains a system-wide obstacle to the recovery of the real estate market.

While many of the properties being valued have certainly lost considerable value, there may be more going on here. Today’s New York Times carries a front-page story detailing how the appraiser’s profession was upended by a new “Code of Conduct” that went into effect in May. The main feature of this code is that the lender, and not the real estate broker or the mortgage broker, selects the appraiser.

The intent of this rule was to insure the independence of the appraiser by eliminating any incentive he had to shade his valuation upward for the benefit of the broker or mortgage originator who both get paid only if the deal goes through. But with the lender making the decision, many local appraisers have been forsaken by major lenders who have turned to larger, centralized appraisal firms to do the work. The concern now is that the appraisers working for these firms are inexperienced and not locally based and are therefore less likely to accurately value the property. At least those are the concern raised by the article. Still, based on the comments of local attorneys, there is some validity to these concerns.

August 18, 2009

Tax Lien Foreclosures

by @ 1:34 pm. Filed under Real Estate

The New York Times reports today that foreclosures are rising in some parts of the country, not because of homeowners falling behind on their mortgages, but because they have failed to pay their real estate taxes. This situation is somewhat foreign to us here in Massachusetts where the philosophy and the practice by municipalities is to encumber the property with a lien and then to wait until the present owner sells or refinances and brings the taxes current. In other parts of the country, however, governmental entities (usually towns or counties) routinely sell tax liens to private investors who charge interest of up to 18% and aggressively foreclose on homeowners who are in arrears. These investors are quite sophisticated (“you don’t get 18% return on a CD!”) and have their own organization - the National Tax Lien Association - complete with a sophisticated website.

The governmental entities find the practice of selling tax liens attractive because it results in a rapid infusion of cash into the treasury. But this practice also results in more foreclosed and vacant homes which causes further deterioration of the neighborhood. It would seem that a better approach would be to work with the homeowners to find ways to make the taxes current.

August 17, 2009

Trends in Lowell Home Sales

by @ 12:29 pm. Filed under Real Estate

We’re in the midst of a study of home sales in Lowell during the month of June that we hope will provide a sense of what is going on in the real estate market. Looking at the prior sales history of the 146 properties sold in Lowell during June confirms that real estate values remain considerably lower than when they reached their peak during the 2003-2006 bubble. On the other hand, the current value of properties that last sold in 2000 remains higher than the earlier purchase price.

Here are some examples of bubble property sales:

In 2005, 119-121 Livingston St sold for $415,000. In 2009, it sold for $180,000.
In 2005, a condo at 16 Merrimack St sold for $142,100. IN 2009, it sold for $75,000.
In 2005, 52 Kinsman St sold for $240,000. In 2009 it sold for $135,000.
In 2005, 590 Pine St sold for $305,000. In 2009, it sold for $228,000.
In 2002, a condo at 18 Hampton Ave sold for $210,000. In 2009 it sold for $168,000.

Here are some examples of pre-bubble sales:

In 1998, 809 Chelmsford St sold for $128,000. In 2009, it sold for $199,000.
In 1999, 73 Magnolia St sold for $138,000. In 2009, it sold for $223,000.
In 2000, 25 Putnam Ave sold for $165,000. In 2009, it sold for $214,900.
In 2000, 250 Butman Rd sold for $230,000. In 2009, it sold for the same price.
In 1999, 16 Wetherbee Ave sold for $194,000. In 2009 it sold for $334,900.

These are just a few examples that illustrate the variability of prices during the past decade. If you bought ten years ago (and refrained from refinancing to extract increase equity during the boom), your house is probably worth considerably more than you paid for it. If, on the other hand, you bought five years ago, your house is worth less than you paid for it.

August 14, 2009

Mid-August Statistics

by @ 2:33 pm. Filed under Statistics

As we reach the half way point of this month, it’s time to look at the number and type of documents being recorded to help us spot any trends. Today, I’ve compiled stats from Lowell as one group and then stats for the other nine towns in the district as a second group. This differs from our previous practice in which we looked at Lowell in isolation but also looked at the entire district including Lowell. Because current trends in the towns differ significantly from those seen in the city, separating the two groups will provide a more accurate picture.

When recordings for the first two weeks of August 2009 are compared to the same two weeks from August 2008 for the nine towns, we find that the number of deeds recorded is up 13% and the number of mortgages recorded is up 27%. Foreclosure deeds declined by 38%. The picture in Lowell is different. While foreclosure deeds are down an impressive 63%, the number of deeds and mortgage recorded are also down (2% for deeds and 14% for mortgages).

The second major comparison we’ll make is for year-to-date recordings for the same groups. When the number of documents recorded from January 1 to August 14, 2009 is compared to the number of documents recorded from January 1 to August 14, 2008, we find that in the towns, the number of deeds recorded is down 4%, mortgages are up 34%, and foreclosure deeds are down 44%. In Lowell, deeds are down 12%, mortgages are down 4%, and foreclosure deeds are down 40%.

Besides the continuing trend of fewer foreclosures, the most important observation we can make is that homes in the towns seem to be holding their values pretty well. This conclusion is based on the significant increase in the number of suburban mortgages being recorded. In Lowell, on the other hand, the number of mortgages being recorded is down slightly, but it’s down nonetheless which suggests that any rebound in home prices has not yet reached the city of Lowell.

August 13, 2009

Update on new Masslandrecords site

by @ 11:28 am. Filed under Website

Yesterday I travelled to Worcester for a meeting with representatives from other registries of deeds, from the Secretary of State’s office and from ACS, the company that provides computer services to many of the registries. Our purpose was to review feedback that’s been received about the new masslandrecords site. Not surprisingly, the feedback has been mostly negative – that’s usually the case when you propose something new – and much of it was of the “new site is horrible” variety. But other comments were specific and we focused our attention on those. Rather than compile all comments and then try to make one big fix, fine tuning the new site will be an evolutionary process with gradual change implement in small doses over time. Two upgrades that will be implemented fairly soon will be to convert them format of document images viewable on the site from TIFF to PNG which should improve the speed of performance considerably without sacrificing image quality (and printed or downloaded images will continue to be of a very high quality that will yield a clear print). The other change will be to make a popup image viewer the default setting. A number of people found that having the image appear in the right half of the viewing window (the data retrieved in the query was in the left half of the screen) made it difficult to navigate around the image. The pop up viewer can be easily repositioned to allow the user to see as much of the document as the user’s screen will permit. Another change that should be implemented fairly soon is to add the ability to print multiple pages of a document rather than just the first page or the entire document. Other possible changes remain under consideration.

August 12, 2009

Hollywood Arrives: The Fighter

by @ 1:13 pm. Filed under Current Events

August 11, 2009

Paid Information

by @ 11:44 am. Filed under Current Events, Technology

Is the age of free newspaper information over?
If you believe the media baron Rupert Murdoch it is…
“Quality journalism is not cheap and an industry that gives away its content is simply cannibalizing its ability to produce good reporting. The digital revolution has opened many new and inexpensive distribution channels but it has not made content free. We intend to charge for all our news Web sites”.
Some may say “them there’s fightin words”.
But will a public used to free access to newspapers now pay to read them?
That is the question all financially strapped newspapers are pondering?
This will be difficult for Murdoch to accomplish, billionaire or not. Paying for newspaper content has been tried before in some form or another and it has failed.
In this technology age information gushes out all around us. You literally can’t stop it.
As Internet search becomes better and better it becomes easier and easier to find out about whatever interests you, using the Internet. And it is not just newspapers providing the result of these searches…its bloggers, twitters, vloggers, forum participants etc.
These free sources of information make it difficult for Murdoch’s payment concept to become areality…but we’ll see.

August 10, 2009

The Fighter

by @ 12:30 pm. Filed under Current Events

Hollywood arrives at the Lowell Superior Courthouse…
Lights, cameras, actors, actresses, trucks, wires…it is all here. I’ll do more on the making of the movie The Fighter later in the week.

August 7, 2009

Fire Near Courthouse

by @ 12:43 pm. Filed under Current Events

Yesterday around 4:00PM fire trucks came roaring up Gorham Street. Some took a quick left turn onto a narrow street named Auburn while others remained parked by the Xtra Mart Gas Station across from the Lowell Superior Courthouse. Within minutes smoke became visible bellowing from a house one street over from our location. I never do this, but yesterday I had parked my car in the lot diagonally across from the courthouse. I did this to free up the back end of the employee lot to prepare for filming of the movie “The Fighter”. Where I parked was within two hundred feet of the house engulfed in fire. As police cruisers and fire trucks kept arriving on the scene, I went out to move my vehicle back to the employee parking lot away from the congested area. The speed at which the “scene” materialized amazed me. When I arrived at the parking lot to move my car I was shocked. The smoke turned from gray to a deep black color and streamed out of the roof of the building. More and more fire trucks, ambulances and police cars sped to the scene as I returned to the courthouse. By the time the registry of deeds closed all of Elm Street was blocked to traffic. I exited the courthouse into a fog of heavy smoke. I saw one person ushered to an ambulance on a stretcher. The main exit/entrance to the employee parking lot was blocked by a huge fire truck. Fortunately, I managed to maneuver my way through a second exit around a police car and out onto Gorham Street. In all I counted six fire trucks, two ambulances and numerous police cruisers. The Lowell Sun is reporting this morning that no one was seriously injured by the fire.

August 6, 2009

Foreclosure Document Intervals

by @ 11:43 am. Filed under Real Estate

Back in January we noticed that many of the foreclosure deeds being recorded had been signed many months before they were brought to the Registry of Deeds. We never could figure out the cause of the delay. Recently, we examined all foreclosure deeds for Lowell recorded between January 1, 2009 and June 30, 2009 to measure the date intervals between the various events in the foreclosure process. There were 121 foreclosures in this group. Because a handful seemed to have extremely long time intervals, I chose to calculate the median (the middle number of the group with half the numbers greater and half less) rather than the average. Here is what we found:

From the recording of the order of notice to the foreclosure auction: 54 days.
From the foreclosure auction to the signing of the foreclosure deed: 23 days.
From the foreclosure auction to the recording of the foreclosure deed: 66 days.
From the recording of the order of notice to the recording of the foreclosure deed: 148 days.

These numbers should provide some context when our readers look at the foreclosure statistics we publish from time to time.

August 5, 2009

Adams Tweets

by @ 11:14 am. Filed under Current Events, Technology, History

President John Quincy Adams has joined the ranks of Ashton Kutcher, Shaquille O’Neal and John Mc Cain. He was/is a Twitterer…or something close to one. No, unlike the modern day communcators the sixth President of the United States did not have a Blackberry or iPhone, but he did write short daily summaries of “happenings” in his diary. Adams wrote these one line diary entries for over thirty years giving accounts of trips, visits and routine occurrences. And they are so short they fit within the 140 character restriction of Twitter. The Massachusetts Historical Society has come up with great idea that will bring these summaries/tweets to the public. The society created a JQAdams_MHS Twitter account and each day beginning August 5 they will publish one of these short diary entries as a tweet. This morning I signed up to follow the president. You can do the same here.

August 4, 2009

Update on new Masslandrecords.com

by @ 9:59 am. Filed under Website

The new version of masslandrecords.com continues to be available for testing by customers. When you go to that web address, the old (a/k/a “classic”) version displays and is fully operational. There is also prominent language inviting customers to “click here” to try the new site. Unfortunately, many customers are interpretting that as a command and not an invitation and are clicking through to the new site and becoming discouraged by what they find.

My sense is that the criticism falls into three general categories: The first is that the new site is more difficult to use which is true, at least for the first few times you use it. Once you become familiar with it, however, the added functionality of the new site should be readily apparent. Every time we’ve deployed new technology at this registry, it has resulted in a negative reaction from users, but that negativity only lasts for as long as it takes for them to get acquainted with the new system. Ironically, when “classic” masslandrecords first came out, the reaction to it was quite negative. Now that folks have grown comfortable with it, the reaction is much more positive.

The second area of criticism is the speed (or lack thereof) of the new site. I have to agree with this. For someone pulling up a random document, it might not be too bad, but when you have to do a title search and retrieve dozens of documents, it’s aggravatingly slow.

The third area of criticism is the layout of the front page. The page is dominated by instructions and other non-functional items with the search boxes and links to advanced search funcitons tucked away in the upper 20% of the page. The functions available on this new site are an improvement over the “classic” version. I’m just concerned that no one is going to get to them to discover this on their own.

Sometime next week there is a meeting of all the registers of deeds who utilize the masslandrecords site. More information about whether it will be fully deployed or sent back for a re-configuration will be available then. I’ll keep everyone posted.

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