Since March 10th when Governor Baker declared a state of emergency to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, most of us have experienced some sort of personal or economic upheaval. We do live in extraordinary times. Despite all this upheaval and uncertainty, Register of Deeds William P. O’Donnell today reports one area of our economy has remained viable, the Norfolk County real estate market.
Register O’Donnell stated, “The COVID-19 state of emergency ordered by Governor Baker recently passed the six-month timeframe. Since the beginning of the pandemic, I am proud to report the Norfolk County Registry of Deeds has remained open for the recording of land documents. While the Registry of Deeds building remains closed to the general public, Registry personnel have been able to continue recording land documents. At the beginning of the pandemic, we utilized social distancing, split work shifts, remote access, and use of our disaster recovery site to record documents. With the lifting of some restrictions by Governor Baker, continued practice of social distancing and taking all other necessary steps to ensure the safety of our employees, more of our personnel are now working out of our main building in Dedham. Throughout the pandemic, we have also utilized electronic recording for our institutional users such as banks, law firms and title companies. In addition to electronic recording, users have also had the option to submit documents via regular mail, Federal Express or placing documents in our drop-off box located just outside our main entrance at 649 High Street, Dedham, MA.”
Since March 10th when the state of emergency was declared through September 10th, the Norfolk County Registry of Deeds recorded 87,379 land documents, a 14% increase compared to the same timeframe in 2019. Most of this increase can be attributed to a spike in mortgage recordings. Specifically, 23,607 mortgages were recorded, a significant 57% increase. The total mortgage indebtedness dollar amount of these mortgages was $10 billion. From March 10th through September 10th, 8,910 properties, residential and commercial, were sold in the county, a 9% decrease year over year. However, the average sales price actually increased 4% to $833,279. Total sales volume, again both residential and commercial, for the six-month period was $4.7 billion.
“These sales figures,” noted the Register, “are actually encouraging considering the economic upheaval in general and specifically the high unemployment rate seen in Massachusetts during the pandemic. Many real estate observers are reporting buyers, particularly millennials, leaving the city for the suburbs. Low interest rates are also a factor in many considering buying single family homes. Additionally, many are now working remotely from home and as a result can live farther away from their place of business. A factor in the increased average sales price has been the reduced amount of available housing inventory resulting in this being a seller’s market with prospective buyers competing for limited housing stock. Real estate brokers and agents have reported in some cases this intense competition has actually driven real estate sales prices over the original asking price.”
“The increase seen in mortgage recordings has been a direct result of historically low interest rates. Many of these mortgages are refinancing existing mortgages to reduce term, lessen monthly payments or pay for a home improvement or higher education expense,” stated the Register.
During the March 10th through September 10th period, the number of foreclosure deeds recorded fell 30%. Notice to Foreclose Mortgages, the first step in the foreclosure process, have been curtailed due to a moratorium placed on foreclosures and evictions while the COVID-19 pandemic state of emergency has been ongoing. The Norfolk Registry of Deeds has been working with Attorney General Maura Healey’s office in monitoring protections afforded to homeowners affected by the COVID-19 state of emergency through Chapter 65 of the Acts of 2020, Act Providing for a Moratorium on Evictions and Foreclosures During the COVID-19 Emergency as well as protections put in place by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, Pub L. 116-136, (the “CARES Act”).
“One area that needs special attention once the COVID-19 state of emergency has been lifted,” noted Register O’Donnell, “is foreclosure activity not only in Norfolk County but throughout Massachusetts. As a result of the economic upheaval seen during the pandemic, many of our neighbors have lost their jobs impacting their ability to pay their monthly mortgage payments.”
“As Register of Deeds, I have been proud to partner with Quincy Community Action Programs, 617-479-8181 x376, and NeighborWorks Housing Solutions, 508-587-0950. These non-profit agencies can help anyone facing challenges with the paying of their mortgage. In addition, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Consumer Advocacy and Response Division (CARD), 617-727-8400 can also help. All of these programs are staffed by knowledgeable professionals who provide assistance to those struggling to pay their mortgages.”
Homestead recordings fell 9% during the March 10th through September 10th timeframe. “A Homestead,” noted O’Donnell, “provides limited protection against the forced sale of a homeowner’s primary residence to satisfy unsecured debt up to $500,000. I urge all Norfolk County homeowners to avail themselves of this important consumer protection tool.”
Concluding his remarks, Register O’Donnell stated, “The last six months have been difficult for individuals, families, employers and employees alike. Despite all the hardship, I am proud of my office’s efforts to keep the Norfolk County Registry of Deeds open for business. The results of these efforts have been a viable Norfolk County real estate market benefitting sellers and buyers of real estate, lending institutions, the real estate legal community and all others with a vested interest in the local real estate economy. By keeping the Norfolk County Registry of Deeds open, recording fees collected have been forwarded to the state and county helping to pay for important public initiatives including education, health care, and police and fire expenses. We are so thankful to our partners in the real estate community and most importantly the citizens of Norfolk County. Their patience with us has been critical to the Registry of Deeds being able to continue its core mission of recording land documents in a safe and secure environment.”
“Unfortunately, we are not done with this pandemic. Please continue to practice social distancing, wear a mask, and take all necessary steps to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Together, we will get through this. Be healthy. Be safe.”
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The Norfolk County Registry of Deeds is located at 649 High Street in Dedham. The Registry is a resource for homeowners, title examiners, mortgage lenders, municipalities and others with a need for secure, accurate, accessible land record information. All land record research information can be found on the Registry’s website www.norfolkdeeds.org. Residents in need of assistance can contact the Registry of Deeds Customer Service Center via telephone at (781) 461-6101, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.