By William P. O'Donnell, Norfolk County Register of Deeds
The mission of the Norfolk Registry of Deeds is probably the same today as when the first Register of Deeds, Eliphalet Pond, recorded the very first document back in 1793 when Norfolk County was established. Although we have gone from the days of scrivners with quill pens to an era of computers and the internet the objectives are to record land documents and maintain the security, accuracy and accessibility of our communities' land records.
Why should anyone care what takes place at the Norfolk Registry of Deeds? Well one compelling reason is that the biggest asset most of us have is our home and the Registry of Deeds plays a key role in authenticating the real estate title to your home. As the Eleventh (11th) Norfolk County Register of Deeds my commitment has always been to carry forward the traditions of the past and to modernize Registry operations, the facilities and the Registry services to meet the changing needs of the public.
The delivery of services in this technology centric world we live in today is so vastly different than the days when land records were delivered to the Registry of Deeds Building in Dedham by horseback. In order to understand the importance of keeping technology vibrant at the Norfolk Registry of Deeds let us examine some of the modernization initiatives that have taken place at the Norfolk Registry of Deeds. For the first time in Norfolk County's history there is internet on-line land records research at www.norfolkdeeds.org. You can go to the Norfolk Registry of Deeds website to search and view all the land records back to the founding of Norfolk County in 1793. This modernization initiative via advances and improvements in technology brought Registry records directly into your home or business. The records of the Norfolk Registry of Deeds in its internet library of over 10 million documents are a click away because of technology.
Clearly key segments of our local and national real estate economy rely on the job that gets done at the Norfolk Registry of Deeds every day. The staff at the Norfolk Registry of Deeds also takes great pride in the history and significance of the land records collected here. You can search and view land records from your computer that relate to four Presidents of the United States born here in Norfolk County.
There are individuals from all over the country doing genealogical and historical research. The Norfolk Registry of Deeds undertook a transcription project in order that its historical hand written records could come alive and be more easily read. Over 450,000 recorded land documents hand written between 1793 to 1900 were transcribed and are available for viewing over the internet. David McCullough an American historian and author wrote "I was fascinated and delighted to learn about the Norfolk County Registry of Deeds and the Xerox Corporation are transcribing the historical deeds into easy to read computer text, and I say this as one who has spent a great deal of my working life struggling to read original letters and diaries and other old documents – you are making an important contribution and I send my warmest congratulations."
Improved technology and management of record levels of document filings have been a major focus for the Norfolk Registry of Deeds. Did you know that the Norfolk Registry of Deeds was the second busiest registry out of 21 registries in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for each of the last three fiscal years? Technology and modernization initiatives have included the implementation of upgraded computer and document processing systems; the development of a Disaster Recovery and Business continuity plan to protect Registry land records, data and operations; the ability to record documents electronically which allows a real estate closing to take place in a lawyer's office and the land documents to be transmitted for recording to the Norfolk Registry of Deeds. The Norfolk Registry of Deeds was the first Registry in the state to make available electronic recording on the Land Court side as well as the Recorded Land side when recording documents. There is so much more that can be written but a recent letter from Krysta Hendrix of Reliable Research Solutions, LLC in Pembroke probably sums it up best "I have experience working in every Registry of Deeds in Massachusetts and can say without hesitation that Norfolk County is the gold standard, most certainly in the technology department. The implementations over the past 15 years with launching e-filing and the ease and rapidity of in-person filing is unmatched. There is also always an informed and knowledgeable human to pick up the phone and with immediacy fix any mis-scanned or mis-indexed or Land Court document issues, which is truly un-paralleled throughout Registries within Massachusetts."
As Register of Deeds I have strived to have a financially sounds customer service-oriented operation. The tremendous work that makes the Norfolk Registry of Deeds one of the best registries in Massachusetts gets accomplished with technology but also with the efforts of a dedicated work staff. Government should be about serving the needs of the people. To that end a Customer Service Center at the Norfolk Registry of Deeds was created where you can walk in, call or email with your real estate questions. Here is what was written by Nicholas S. Renzulli, CPA "I recently recorded a Homestead at the Registry of Deeds. As a non-lawyer who knew nothing about the procedure I entered the building with dread. I thought that it would be difficult. Boy, was I wrong. The employees in Customer Service could not have been more helpful and friendly. After taking care of the business there, they showed me where to go to get the actual recording. Once again the gentleman at the recording desk was great. I was in and out in about 10 very painless minutes. Thanks for running such a fine example of a government agency."
Recognizing the dynamic world in which we live and expanding upon its commitment to public service the Norfolk Registry of Deeds implemented the first in the state Consumer Notification Service. Consumer Notification allows residents of any of the County's 28 towns to "opt in" and participate in a free service whereby they can be alerted when any document, fraudulent or otherwise, is recorded against there name at the Norfolk Registry of Deeds. This program recognizes that in this era of cybersecurity breaches and ransomware there are frauds going on that involve stealing the legal title to homes and property by cybersecurity predators and criminals. The Norfolk Registry of Deeds also initiated a Community Outreach Program. Because of technology this program allows the Registry of Deeds records to be brought out to the town halls, senior centers and various community groups around Norfolk County in addition to valuable consumer protection information such as the Homestead Act.
The Norfolk Registry of Deeds works with its partners and colleagues in government. The Massachusetts Department of Revenue as well as Norfolk County gets sent a significant portion of the over 81 million dollars in revenue collected during Fiscal Year 2021 by the Registry staff using Registry technology. The monies that get sent to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are used for local aid, public safety, education and social services programs. The Norfolk Registry of Deeds has been involved with the collection of Community Preservation Act monies which contribute to the funding of Community Preservation Act projects in our local communities. Did you know the Norfolk Registry of Deeds works with your community's Board of Assessors and Assessor Departments to transmit critical records and data? Donald Clarke Chief Assessor of the Town of Norfolk recently wrote a letter to the Norfolk County Commissioners which stated in part "I have recently become aware that the Abrahams study recommended the complete elimination of onsite IT at the Norfolk County Registry of Deeds which is even more worrisome. The coordination between NCRD IT and our IT personnel has been outstanding in regards to the safe and secure e-delivery of deeds and plans has which allowed this office to stay current in its ownership data and therefore in compliance with DOR regulations. The timeliness of receiving the monthly recorded deeds and plans is essential to the operation of the Assessor's office. Also, as the Town's IT department is regularly updating servers and other IT equipment they have dealt directly with the Registry CIO and staff numerous times in order to keep the flow of information from NCRD to the Town of Norfolk current." The Norfolk Registry of Deeds over the years has also worked with the various historical commissions and societies as well as the local Treasurers always striving to be a resource and service to all.
The Norfolk Registry of Deeds is facing challenges that will affect its ability to deliver services to the residents, users and businesses that rely on Registry operations. It is my hope that the Norfolk Registry of Deeds does not get negatively impacted with unsound public policy decisions. A user of Registry services, Attorney Thomas J. Flaherty of Bacon Flaherty in Randolph said it best when he wrote the following:
"As I am sure you are aware, for the past 20 years, the Norfolk County Registry of Deeds has been at the forefront of modernization efforts for Registries of Deeds across the Commonwealth. As a practicing real estate attorney, I frequently work with all of these registries and in my opinion, the Norfolk County Registry of Deeds consistently outperforms others in regards to its modernization and IT support; from advances in research to electronic recording and technology support, the Norfolk Registry has outpaced their peers in virtually all aspects of operation. This has been especially true since the onset of COVID when all of us had to utilize on line e-recordings.
In my opinion and the opinion of many of my colleagues practicing real estate in Norfolk County, the Commissioners' decision to eliminate the on-site CIO and IT staff is a shortsighted one. As you are aware, technology is constantly advancing, thus modernization efforts must continue. A decision to eliminate these crucial services would make these continued efforts impossible. Businesses and citizens of Norfolk County have come to rely on the Norfolk Registry staff for their service and professionalism."