Monday, March 31, 2014

Possible parking crunch starts tomorrow

The Gallagher Terminal on Thorndike Street, just across the South Common from the Superior Courthouse and the Registry of Deeds, begins a major construction project tomorrow with the demolition of its primary parking garage.  Once razed, a new structure will be built in its place.  While the project is underway, however, parking for commuters will be at a premium.  The Rourke Parking Garage, which is adjacent to the Terminal and has its entrance on Chelmsford Street at the intersection with Westford, will still be open.  Monthly pass holders and daily parkers will be allowed in there on a first come, first served basis.  Unfortunately, that garage does not have the capacity to handle all of the cars displaced from the older garage.  As a consequence of this, we suspect that many commuters will choose to park their vehicles on neighborhood streets like Highland and South and will walk across the South Common to the train station.  Hopefully the impact on parking for this building will be minimal.   

Friday, March 21, 2014

Using Data in Governing

Today's Globe has a story about how new Boston Mayor Marty Walsh has added a couple of big screen computer monitors to the mayor's office.  They display a steady stream of data from various sources around the city.  Seemingly unconnected items like school bus arrival times, code inspections accomplished, and traffic backups taken together paint a minute-by-minute picture of the life of the city and allow Walsh and his staff to identify and address problems faster than has previously been the case.  The story makes that point that while much of this data has previously been available, the software that blends in all together and presents it to the user in a comprehensible form is relatively new.  Big picture, data driven applications available today keep decision makers from drowning in facts and figures.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Mid month statistics for March

Recording stats for the first half of March show that mortgage activity is still extremely sluggish.  For the first two weeks of March in 2013, we recorded 619 mortgages for the entire registry district; for the same time this year we recorded just 242.  Deeds also dropped although not by as much: 262 deeds in the first half of March 2013 and only 190 for the same time in 2014.  At least foreclosure-related documents are still down: just 4 foreclosure deeds in 2013 but only 3 in 2014.  Orders of notice were down by an even greater amount: 25 in 2013 and just 10 in 2014.

This decline in mortgages has persisted since last September.  It's definitely a trend and it seems to be getting worse rather than better.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Happy Evacuation Day

March 17 is still recognized as a holiday in Suffolk County, I believe, and that holiday is Evacuation Day which has nothing (directly) to do with the Irish or St Patrick's Day.  The holiday commemorates the departure from Boston of the British Army during the Revolutionary War. 

There are three important dates during the New England phase of the Revolution.  First is April 19, 1775 which is the battle of Lexington and Concord.  Second is June 17, 1775 which is the battle of Bunker Hill.  And third is March 17, 1776 which is the day the British evacuated Boston after the Americans fortified the high ground in Dorchester with artillery dragged from Fort Ticonderoga to Boston by Henry Knox during the winter of 1775/1776,

While it's true that the British did leave Boston in mid-March 1776, the historic record is ambiguous about the exact date (more likely it was over several days).  But March 17 seemed like a good date, especially when American-Irish politicians gained some influence in the state legislature.  Those most likely to oppose a holiday celebrating the patron saint of Ireland would also be most likely to support a Revolutionary War holiday.  Hence, we have Evacuation Day on St Patrick's Day. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

January & February electronic recording statistics

The percentage of documents being recorded electronically is down from the same time last year.  I don't think the decline is related to electronic recording.  I think it's a consequence of the decline in refinancings.  That's because the document types most often recorded electronically are mortgages and discharges.  When the volume of those two goes down in proportion to all other document types - which has been the case for several months - the percentage of electronic recordings goes down similarly.

In January 2014, we recorded a total of 3,919 documents.  Of those, 1,373 were recorded electronically.  That's an average of 35%.  In January 2013, we recorded a total of 6,064 documents.  Of those, 2,499 were recorded electronically.  That's an average of 41%.

In February 2014, we recorded a total of 3,382 documents.  Of those, 1,126 were recorded electronically.  That's an average of 33%.  In February 2013, we recorded a total of 5,218 documents.  Of those, 2,084 were recorded electronically.  That's an average of 40%.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Key US Senators agree on Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac plan

The New York Times is reporting that the ranking members of the Senate Banking Committee, Tim Johnson, a Democrat from South Dakota, and Mike Crapo a Republican of Idaho,have agreed to a plan that will eliminate Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  The proposal would set up a new agency called the Federal Mortgage Insurance Corporation but would also ensure that most of the losses suffered from bad loans would be from private funds, not from the taxpayer.  Another part of the bill would require minimum down payments of 5% (or 3.5% for first time home buyers).  One analyst predicted that interest rates would rise approximately 0.5% as a result of these new standards.  The Times article reports there is much skepticism that a bill such as this would pass in the House of Representatives, but many are pleased at the apparent bipartisan support in the Senate.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Mortgage securities litigation in Massachusetts

The New York Times reports today in its business section about litigation brought in a Massachusetts state court by an investment firm against a number of major mortgage companies which it says misrepresented the quality of the mortgages used to back up bonds sold to the investment firm.  Most of the lenders have settled but Credit Suisse denies liability.  Today's story reports on discovery materials that have been made public including internal emails between Credit Suisse executives in which they complain about the poor quality of the mortgages their sales people were originating.  The emails certainly seem incriminating although as with any litigation, it's important to get the whole story before drawing conclusions.  Still, the release of these emails that were written in 2006 and 2007 only now begs the question of why weren't they discovered by and acted upon by government regulators in the interim.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Decline in number of mortgages being recorded

The number of mortgages recorded each month, which had averaged nearly 1,300 from January 2012 through August 2013, suddenly dropped in the fall of 2013 to 964 in September, 809 in October, 725 in November, and 787 in December.  The first two months of 2014 have been even worse with only 570 mortgages recorded in January and 493 in February.  I'm not sure of the cause of this drop but it has to be affecting the housing market and the broader economy.

For historical context, here are some statistics for deeds, mortgages and total documents recorded at the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds from 2002 through 2013:

Total Docs

Thursday, March 06, 2014

How Electronic Recording Affects the Pre-Recording Run Down

 The following question was posted as a comment to a recent blog post:

How does running the daily index work with electronic recordings? If I were standing in line waiting to record, how would I know if something had come on record affecting my property since the last time I had checked the index?

Here is my answer:

When you do a walk in recording, you first do a rundown at a public access computer and then get in line. While you're in line, if something containing the name of your grantor suddenly goes on record from any source (mail, another walk in, or electronic recording), a warning pops up on the recording screen when the clerk enters that same name from your document.  The clerk tells you about it and you either proceed or pull back the recording.  That system is not foolproof but that's the design and it seems to work pretty well.

When doing electronic recording, you do much the same thing, using our website (which is instantly updated with new recordings) to do your rundown and then pressing the “send” button on your electronic recording application.  That transmits the electronic recording to the registry where it is processed as quickly as possible.  A major difference between electronic and walk in recording is that with electronic recording, we currently don’t have the ability to communicate in real time with the person presenting the documents for recording.  While that “same name just entered” alert does function with electronic recording, since you’re not here for me to ask about it, our policy is to just proceed with the recording.  We considered automatically aborting any electronic recording any time the “same name” warning appeared but the reality is that 95% of the time that warning appears it’s something innocuous like a municipal lien certificate (the tax collector’s name triggers the alert) so automatically rejecting the transaction wouldn’t work.  Neither is us trying to decide on a case-by-case basis whether the “same name” thing should or should not cause the recording to be rejected.

In the beginning, this “rundown gap” was a major concern to us and to prospective users.  As we all gained experience with the system, we realized the initial concerns were overblown.  It’s still a risk but the harm is minimized by the customer doing a post-recording rundown before disbursing any funds (which is the recommended practice for any type of recording).  This is also an area in which technology may be of assistance.  Video conferencing is now widely available and inexpensive.  I have proposed establishing a video chat capability between the registry clerk handling the incoming electronic recording and the customer who submitted it.  Such a communications link would duplicate the walk in recording experience.  If we had questions about a recording, we could ask them of the customer in real time.  Similarly, if the customer had any special instructions, they could be shared with the clerk during the recording process.  Establishing this technology does not require replacement or our entire system or even an expensive upgrade.  All we would need is an iPad or similar device and a wireless connection to the internet (which we already have).

We began using electronic recording at Middlesex North in 2005 and have used it ever since with no difficulties worth mentioning.  Our volume has risen from 1,057 documents recorded electronically in 2005 to 25,251 recorded electronically in 2013 which accounted for 38% of all recordings that year.  It is a proven technology that works well and is a huge efficiency for the registry of deeds and for the users. 

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Electronic Recording Roll-Out

We've used electronic recording here with great success since 2005.  Last summer we hit a high point of our volume when more than 38% of our recordings arrived electronically.  There was a slight decline in that percentage towards the end of the year that coincided with the drop in refinancings.  The most popular documents to be recorded electronically are mortgages and discharges so when the overall volume of those two documents declined, so did the percentage of electronic recordings.

The lull is probably good because in the next few months, all of the registries of deeds in Massachusetts that do not yet use electronic recording will be installing it. The goal is to have all active by the end of June 2014.  Once all registries make the service available, I suspect the number of customers using the technology will rise. 

Monday, March 03, 2014

February recording statistics

Sorry for the brief absence from blogging.  I'll try to be more consistent in the coming days.

February is always a slow month for recording activity, but this February was worse than usual.  The total number of documents recorded was down 38% from last February (5473 in 2013 vs 3382 in 2014).  Mortgages showed the biggest drop, plunging 60% from 1231 in 2013 to 493 in 2014.  Deeds slid too but not as much.  They dropped just 14%, from 451 in 2013 to 390 in 2014.  Foreclosure deeds were up slightly but not enough to be concerned (15 in Feb 2013 vs 17 in Feb 2014) but orders of notice were down 22% (32 in 2013 to 25 in 2014).

The slowdown in mortgages began back in September and has persisted into the new year.  Unfortunately, there are no signs that this trend will turn around soon.