The latest on real estate recordings and new technology from the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds in Lowell
We often receive questions about paper streets. As the term suggests, a paper street is a street or passageway that was established on paper (either in a document or a plan) but that never came into existence on the ground. Abutters often ask us how they can have a paper street abandoned or dissolved, usually so the abutter can build something upon the land encumbered by the paper street. Like many things in the law of real estate, it’s complicated. Tony Vigliotti, the Register of Deeds in Worcester hosted a seminar a short time ago that featured representatives of Chicago Title Insurance talking about paper streets. Three of the handouts used in that seminar are now available online at the Worcester Registry of Deeds website. They include an article explaining the law of paper streets, a frequently asked questions document on the topic, and a set of sketches in PDF format that illustrate the points made in the FAQ document. This information is so useful that we will be adding permanent links to it from our own website.
Yesterday’s Globe carried a front page story “Housing slowdown squeezes borrowers: Foreclousre cases hit 12-year high” that certainly got my attention. The key statistic used by the story is the number of Orders of Notice filed at the Land Court. Here’s an excerpt from our website that explains Orders of Notice in the context of the overall foreclosure process:
In Massachusetts, a lender seeking to foreclose a mortgage
must first obtain permission from the court. As part of this
process, the court issues an ORDER OF NOTICE that must
be recorded at the Registry of Deeds. The ORDER OF NOTICE
names the parties, the property address, and the Book and Page
where the mortgage is located. Once the court gives permission
to proceed, the lender may schedule the foreclosure sale at
any time. The next document that gets recorded at the Registry
of Deeds, the Foreclosure Deed, is not recorded until after the
sale has occurred.
Here in Middlesex North, the statistics tell a different story: The number of Orders of Notice recorded in 2005 (340) was down slightly from the number recorded the previous year (346), however, the numbers recorded in both years were higher than at any time since 1997 when 483 were recorded. The highest annual amount in the past 15 years? That would be 1992 when 975 were recorded. Of course, with today being the last day of the month, we can look at our first indicators for 2006 and they don’t paint a particularly bleak picture: in January we’ve only recorded 23 Orders of Notice which, if projected out over a full year, would only come to 276, far fewer than last year’s total.
Someone asked me this question:
How quickly is a document received by the registry of deeds “recorded” and how soon after the document is recorded does it appear on the registry’s website?
Documents brought to us by a human being are recorded as the person is standing there. When the customer walks away from the recording counter, the document is already on recorded and as soon as a document is on recorde (i.e., in our computer system), the recording information about that document is immediately available on the website. Documents that are sent to us by mail (about 40% of our total recording volume) are almost always recorded the same day that they are received. All documents are usually scanned the day after they are recorded, so the images of newly recorded documents are typically available within 24 hours of recording. But again, data about newly recorded documents (the parties involved, property address, type of document, etc) is available immediately.
A website visitor sent this question by email:
Is the Lowell Sun the newspaper of record for Middlesex North? Is it always
the Saturday edition? Are legal notices (foreclosure, lis pendens) available
online? It seems they can be found at www.masslandrecords.com after the
fact. Is there some kind of syndication service (RSS) or mailing list for
Here’s my reply:
Legal notices are published pursuant to a court order in each particular case. I’m not sure how the courts determine which newspaper is to carry the publication. Certainly the Lowell Sun carries many of them, but certainly not all. And legal notices appear in the Sun every day.
I know of no RSS or similar technology to feed that type of info to interested parties.
The “foreclosure reports” we put on www.lowelldeeds.com each month have a limited use. If you read the explanatory information at this location - http://www.lowelldeeds.com/2004fc.htm - it might help you follow the process.
You can go into the “search land records” portion of our database, set a particular date range (the smaller the better, usually) and then select a document type from the drop down menu and click search. That will yield all instances of that type of document being recorded within the indicated date range. Using that method, you can only search for one document type at a time, but if you’re interested and willing to put some time into it, you can get the information in a very timely manner.
I recent visitor to our website sent along this question:
I would like to get the history on my home. how would I do it. or could you help
Here’s my response:
Our records will tell you about the ownership history of your home and the land it sits upon. If you spent enough time on it, you could trace it all the way back to the 1600s. Our records are about the land, however, so there won’t be much about the history of the house such as when it was build and by whom.
To learn more about the ownership history of the house (commonly referred to as its “title”), you can use the records available on the “search land records” portion of our website (www.lowelldeeds.com) to go back to 1976 and perhaps as far back as 1950. Records older than that are not yet available online (although they should be by mid-2006), so you’d have to come here to the registry to look at our books.
The easiest way to start tracking the ownership history of your home is to look at the most recent deed for the property (which is probably the deed that made you the owner). Towards the end of the property description and right above the place where the seller signed the deed, is a paragraph commonly referred to as the “title reference.” That usually says something like “For Seller’s title, see deed of John Jones to Seller dated March 1, 1994 and recorded in the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds Book 12500, Page 120.” All documents at the registry are copied into numbered books. That book number, and the page within that book where the document is located, become the identifiers of the document. So in our example, you’d go to book 12500, open it to page 120 and find the deed that’s mentioned. If you find the “title reference” paragraph in that document, you will learn the book and page number of the previous deed of the property. You just repeat the process until you’ve reached the end point of your search.
Unfortunately, it’s not always quite so simple. Sometimes there’s no title reference in a deed, so you have to go to the Index and search for the property owner’s name. That will usually give you a book and page reference to follow. If ownership of property passes by will, however, there may not be any record of the ownership change at the registry of deeds. That would be at the registry of probate which is located in Cambridge.
Sorry to go on for so long, but the answer to your question is complicated. If you do decide to come to the registry, please visit our Customer Service office. The folks there will get you started on the right track.
Researching the history of a home - yours, a family member’s or just an interesting property - can be quite rewarding. As we add more of our older records to the website in the coming year, you will be able to perform this type of research over the Internet quite easily. But for now, a visit to the registry is a big part of this process.
Here’s an email I recieved earlier today from our website link:
“Can Land Court Certificates be viewed online? I have been encountering an message indicate the image is not available and to check back later. Also, how do I go about obtaining copies of certain Land Court Certificates and what is the associated cost?”
Unfortunately, Land Court Certificates are not online right now. Certificates from 36001 onward are available for viewing on our public access computers here at the registry. As for obtaining copies of a certificate by mail, our Registered Land Section charges $1 per page. The best thing to do is to call 978/322-9000 and ask for the Registered Land Section and get specific instructions for the certificate you want copies.
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