It is not an exaggeration to say we live in extraordinary times. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a personal and economic impact to all citizens in our country including Norfolk County. However, Register of Deeds William P. O’Donnell reports during the ongoing pandemic, one aspect of the Norfolk County economy has remained viable, the real estate market.
Register O’Donnell stated, “Since Governor Baker declared a state of emergency on March 10th, the Norfolk County Registry of Deeds has remained open for the recording of land documents. While the Registry building itself has been closed to the general public, Registry staff have been able to record land documents. This has been done by Registry staff utilizing social distancing, split work shifts, remote access, and using our disaster recovery office as an additional location to record land documents. We have also utilized electronic recording for our institutional users. In addition to electronic recording, users have also had the option to submit land documents via regular mail and Federal Express. Another option available has been users dropping off land documents at our drop-off box located outside the main entrance to the Registry of Deeds building located at 649 High Street, Dedham, MA.”
For the period of March 10th when the state of emergency was declared through June 12th, the Norfolk County Registry of Deeds recorded 40,007 land documents, a 13% increase from the same time period in 2019. 3,854 of these land documents were real estate sales transactions compared to 4,527 sales transactions recorded during the same time period in 2019. Interestingly, the average real estate sales transaction, both residential and commercial sales, actually increased 12% to $819,725. While the number of real estate sales dropped 15%, the number of mortgages recorded increased a significant 69%. A total of 11,145 mortgages were recorded between March 10th and June 12th compared to 6,605 during the same time frame in 2019.
“The decrease in the number of real estate sales,” noted the Register, “is not surprising considering the ongoing pandemic and its economic impact. Also, real estate brokers and agents have been unable to hold open houses. The spike in mortgage activity is explained by consumers taking advantage of low interest rates to refinance existing mortgages. Based on the words of Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, interest rates will not be rising anytime soon.”
A total of 29 foreclosure deeds were recorded from March 10th through June 12th. Notice to Foreclose Mortgages, the first step in the foreclosure process, have been curtailed due to a moratorium placed on foreclosures and evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Register O’Donnell stated, “The Norfolk County Registry of Deeds continues to partner with two non-profit organizations that counsel and assist those struggling with foreclosure. The groups are Quincy Community Action Programs, 617-479-8181 x376, and NeighborWorks Housing Solutions, 508-587-0950. These organizations are available to help anyone who has received a Notice to Foreclose Mortgage from a lender or is struggling to make mortgage payments. Another option is to contact the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Consumer Advocacy and Response Division (CARD) at 617-727-8400. Each of these programs are staffed by knowledgeable professionals. Anyone who is facing a foreclosure issue is urged to avail themselves of these excellent programs.”
Homestead activity fell 16% during the March 10th through June 12th timeframe. 2,579 Homesteads were recorded versus 3,067 in 2019. “A Homestead provides limited protection against the forced sale of a homeowner’s primary residence to satisfy unsecured debt up to $500,000. I urge Norfolk County homeowners to consider this important consumer protection tool,” noted O’Donnell.
In conclusion, Register O’Donnell stated, “During the COVID-19 pandemic, I am proud of our efforts to remain open for the recording of land documents. We could not have done this without the cooperation and patience of the general public and our users in the real estate and lending communities. Our state of the art computer system has allowed us to remain operationally viable. The utilization of electronic recording has been critical to our ability to serve institutional users.
“Looking forward, we are hopeful the phased reopening of our local economy in Massachusetts will result in an uptick in real estate sales activity. We anticipate consumers will continue to take advantage of low interest rates to not only buy property but refinance existing mortgages. One important point to make is the Norfolk County real estate market remaining viable during the pandemic has benefited not only those individuals, families and businesses directly impacted, but all citizens of the county and Massachusetts as a whole. Recording fees and deeds excise tax monies collected during the COVID-19 pandemic have been utilized by state, county, and local governments to pay for critical services including education, social services needed by many of our neighbors and those less fortunate, and police & fire. We are truly appreciative of all Norfolk County residents for their patience and understanding during this pandemic. Be healthy. Be safe.”
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The Norfolk County Registry of Deeds is located at 649 High Street, 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 email@example.com.