Nancy Becker vs. the Mers Machine

County Recorders vs. the MERS Machine

Deed keepers say they’ve lost millions to the mortgage industry


Deed recorder Becker wants the mortgage industry to pay up Jessica Dimmock for Bloomberg Businessweek

This Week

November 7, 2011The Underground Solution

For Nancy J. Becker, recorder of deeds in Montgomery County, Pa., outside Philadelphia, property records are practically sacred. So much so that her office keeps digital copies of land records dating to 1784 on four separate databases, including one 1,700 miles away. If the county seat were leveled tomorrow, she says, “I could still record documents on my laptop on the street corner with a card table.” Becker may sound tech-savvy, but to some of her constituents’ dismay, she can’t always call up a property with a keystroke and see who holds its note. That’s because more than 200,000 of her records list the lien holder as MERS, the private company that acts as a proxy for banks that bundle and sell off mortgage securities. That can make it all but impossible for a recorder to determine who really holds the paper.

Homeowners have registered property at municipal land offices for more than 200 years. It used to be that every time a loan changed hands, the bank recorded the new deed holder with the local register for a small fee. In theory, this meant a property owner could walk into the land office and look up who held the note on his house. In reality, the registration process was often slow going, and files piled up partly because many offices stuck with pen and paper long after the rest of the world went digital.

Once the market for mortgage securities expanded, this system couldn’t keep up with Wall Street’s split-second transactions. So in 1995, Fannie Mae (FNMA), Freddie Mac (FMCC), and a group of lenders created MERS, a registry to track the loans banks were buying and selling. This allowed member banks to list MERS as the lien holder, sidestepping local recorders—and their fees—each time the debt on a property was transferred. Today the MERS registry includes 60 percent of U.S. mortgages. That, combined with the housing crash, has left municipal recorders with dwindling fees, and they’re facing budget crunches as a result. Becker says MERS has made a mess of the files she was elected to safeguard for Montgomery’s citizens, and that the corporation has deprived her community of much-needed revenue. As her county stares down a $42 million shortfall, Becker is fighting back. Montgomery County intends to sue MERS for $15.7 million in unpaid fees dating to 2004, when Becker was first elected to her office. She says state law requires all transactions to be filed with the local recorder. MERS maintains that it abides by the law.

Recorders generally don’t make headlines, but Becker’s public protests did. She says she was thrilled when she received a flood of “You go, girl!” e-mails cheering her on. The mini-movement’s main champions are John L. O’Brien, keeper of land records in Salem, Mass., and Jeff L. Thigpen, the register of deeds in Greensboro, N.C. In April they asked Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, who heads a group that’s negotiating with banks over wrongful foreclosures, to press for reform. When O’Brien’s and Thigpen’s letter to Miller made national news, the men began teaching other recorders how to get what they say they’re due.

Counties in Kentucky, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Texas have filed suit for back fees. In one of the largest cases, Dallas County sued MERS in October, saying the company owes it as much as $100 million. Bobby Brochin, a lawyer for MERS, says the company isn’t involved in the types of transactions that state laws require to be recorded locally. He says the lawsuits have “absolutely no merit.”

Whatever the courts decide, recorders acknowledge that the quaint era of paper records they clung to for so long is over. They may not like MERS’s tactics, but they have adopted some of its ease and convenience. When Becker started out, her office filed everything on paper and had a nine-month backlog of deeds waiting to be recorded. Today everything is digital, and it takes a day.

The bottom line: Land offices around the country are trying to recoup millions of dollars in fees they say they were shorted during the housing boom.

Weise is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek.



A Letter from Sandra Schultz Newman

Dear Friend,

As the first woman elected to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania I know the challenges facing professional women in the workplace. It is extremely important that we take the time to go to the polls on Tuesday, November 8th and support qualified women in public service. Nancy Becker has the qualifications, experience, drive and initiative necessary to earn your support.

That is why I am writing to you today, to urge you to vote for a woman who I know is uniquely accomplished and qualified and has done an outstanding job for the taxpayers: Nancy Becker, our Recorder of Deeds.

As Recorder of Deeds, Nancy Becker has saved the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars and contributed tens of millions of dollars to the County’s General Fund by cutting costs, increasing efficiency and finding new revenue sources. Nancy Becker has been recognized as having one of the most technologically advanced land records offices in the country.

Moreover, Nancy Becker has been called a “hero” for standing up to unscrupulous mortgage lenders in order to protect your property rights. She is a member of the FBI Land & Mortgage Fraud Task Force.

Nancy Becker’s dedication is further evidenced by the fact that she has vowed that she will continue to serve as your Recorder of Deeds on a full time basis.

Please take a few minutes out of your busy day on Tuesday, November 8th and join me in supporting Nancy Becker for Recorder of Deeds.

Warm wishes,

Justice Sandra Schultz Newman

Intelligencer: Way to Go Nancy

The Intelligencer

Although it is unlikely you will hear “Hail to the Chief” played each time county Recorder of Deeds Nancy J. Becker enters the room, a president is a president.
Becker, a Republican seeking re-election this year, recently was elected by her peers as president of the Pennsylvania Recorder of Deeds Association.
Pretty impressive achievement, particularly when many of the group’s members often think that Montgomery County, because of its size, is just a little too arrogant for their tastes.
Becker sure must be doing something right to get beyond their initial prejudices.

Proud to be running with a great team

Nancy J. Becker with the Republican Team

I am proud to be running with a great team to help guide Montgomery County in the right direction!

Welcome to my new website

Welcome to my new website. You can sign up to get updates on the campaign, contact us, learn about the office of Recorder of Deeds, or get involved in the campaign today. I am proud of my record in office and ask for your vote so I can continue serving the people of Montgomery County for another four years.