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Friday, December 8, 2017

How Technology Has Changed Recording Practices

By Richard P. Howe Jr.

The first decade of the twenty-first century was a time of rapid technological change at the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds. The registry successfully navigated Y2K at the start of 2000, stopped printing record books in 2001, installed the ACS computer system in 2002, implemented full
Middlesex North Registry of Deeds
electronic recording in 2005, made all documents and images from 1629 to the present freely available online in 2006, and implemented while-you-wait scanning for walk-in customers in 2007.
History tells us that new technology does not immediately change human behavior. It takes people time to figure out how to use new things. That was the case with the printing press, the telephone and the computer. It was certainly the case with these technical innovations at the registry of deeds, especially electronic recording.
Now, a dozen years after electronic recording’s implementation, its effect on registry operations can be fairly assessed. Electronic recording has drastically reduced the number of people who come to the registry to record documents. Prior to electronic recording, documents came to the registry in two ways: they were carried by customers or delivered by the post office. The best way to illustrate how much things have changed is to compare how documents were recorded in 2009, when electronic recording was still novel, with recording practices in 2017, when electronic recording has reached maturity.
In 2009 (January through November)

·         60,756 documents were recorded

·         7,484 were e-filed (12%)

·         15,582 were mailed (26%)

·         37,690 were walk-ins (62%)

In 2017 (January through November)

·         54,243 documents were recorded

·         29,771 were e-filed (55%)

·         8,441 were mailed (16%)

·         16,031 were walk-ins (29%)
Because registry customers tend to record groups of related documents at the same time, the reduction in foot traffic is best measured by comparing the number of “sets” recorded on particular days. Here are the statistics for the last day of June, which is historically the busiest day of the year at the registry:
On June 30, 2009
·         484 documents were recorded

·         47 were e-filed (10%)

·         66 were mailed (14%)

·         371 were walk-ins (77%)

·         The walk-ins came in 131 sets, with 2.8 documents per set
On June 30, 2017
·         541 documents were recorded

·         315 were e-filed (58%)

·         41 were mailed (8%)

·         185 were walk-ins (34%)

·         The walk-ins came in 60 sets, with 3.1 documents per set

This ongoing shift from walk-in to electronic recording has affected the registry in many ways. As the number of walk-in customers has decreased, the need for countertop recording terminals, scanners, and public access computers has been reduced proportionally. Because it takes the registry less time to process electronically recorded documents than walk-in ones, recording wait times have also been reduced.
The growth of electronic recording ratifies its utility and reliability, but there are still some additional features that could improve the system. For example, today when a customer clicks “send to the registry” on an electronic recording, the digital document package is launched into cyberspace, beyond the control of the submitter. The registry sometimes gets frantic calls from customers asking that a package they just transmitted be rejected due to a late-discovered error. A new system might include an electronic “string” attached to a submitted package so that a customer could pull it back right up until the instant it was recorded.
The value of this pull-back feature would be enhanced by a virtual queue that would allow customers to see documents that came before them in the queue. While concern over the pre-recording run down gap has not suppressed the growth of electronic recording, providing customers with more precise information about what is in front of them in the recording queue would help ease lingering concerns.
A third capability that would improve electronic recording would be a real-time communications link, either video or text, between the submitter and the registry clerk. With walk-in recordings, the exchange of information between the customer and the clerk can be an important part of the recording process. Technology could bring that same capability to electronic recording.
While these and other features should be part of the next generation registry of deeds computer system, the pace of future change is largely in the hands of registry users. As more and more lenders, attorneys and homeowners migrate to fully electronic closings – which the registry is even now ready to accept for recording - the volume of electronic recordings will continue to rise, and the amount of mail and walk-in documents will decline even more.
Still, not everyone who owns real estate has a smart phone, or is comfortable using one for complex financial transactions. Consequently, walk-in recordings, and walk-in customer service, will always be an important part of the mission of the registry of deeds.
Dick Howe’s column, “From the Recording Desk...,” is a regular feature of REBA News.  Dick has served as register of deeds in the Middlesex North Registry since 1995.  He is a frequent commentator on land records issues and real estate news.  Dick can be contacted by email at

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