Access to property records is a hit

Sacramento County's Electronic Recorder Online System Index

By using Extensible Markup Language (XML) to integrate its legacy database of property records into a new Web-based application, Sacramento County's Clerk-Recorder division is providing a ROSI-er future for its customers.

Through e-ROSI (Recorders Online Systems Index), lenders, banks, title companies and others who are trying to confirm the recording of documents can do so via the Internet.

Usage of e-ROSI is accelerating. It was launched about a year ago and took about five months to receive its first 1 million hits, and then another three months to get the next 1 million, said Craig Kramer, assistant county clerk-recorder.

"What we have available on e-ROSI right now is the index for all recorded documents from 1965 to current — somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 million records," he said.

The division provides computerized access to the grantee/grantor index within its office, but employees frequently received calls from financial institutions and others trying to find information. It was particularly difficult when callers didn't know the exact name or document number for the information they needed.

"So our attempt was to be able to put that general index out on the Internet free of charge so they could do their research at their leisure in their office and try to cut down the number of phone calls we would receive in our office," he said. That was important, because from 2000 to 2003 the volume of recording deeds rose 240 percent.

He equated the service to a library locator record where users can search by the name of the grantor or grantee, given the year or decade, the type of document or a specific reference number.

The results have been successful. "[Companies] love it because they can verify their recordings," Kramer said. For instance, according to law, lenders have a limited time to file and confirm the recording of a deed of reconveyance — a document for a paid-in-full mortgage. They can mail it in and then, within a few days, check online to see if it was recorded. In the past it would have taken longer, he added.

The division has been making images of documents for records beginning July 1, 2001, but California law prohibits posting addresses and phone numbers of elected or appointed officials on the Internet, Kramer said. Therefore, the division does not make those imaged documents available on the Internet because it's not economically feasible to "mask out" the prohibited information.

The process of building e-ROSI took four to six months and cost about $30,000, including Web design and working out security issues. Security was vital, Kramer explained, because this was the first time the county allowed people to "come in and hit against a data file."

The county used XML technology developed by the Germany-based company Software AG Inc. XML eases information exchange by tagging data so disparate applications and systems can recognize it.

William Ruh, the company's senior vice president, said state and local governments are just beginning to tie their back-end systems with Web-enabling applications. "What [most organizations] did was essentially create a whole new front-end system and moved information into it," he said. "Only the most advanced went right into the back-end systems and only the most advanced can handle a very significant volume."

"When state and local governments go online, in most cases they are already dealing with millions of users right off the bat," he continued. "They have a scaling issue and that's what makes [Sacramento] an interesting example because they went from 0 to 60 in 5.2 seconds."

Kramer said the county finance department, which houses the Clerk-Recorder division, has subsequently unveiled a system to allow online access to property tax records. "By us going through the process it opened the door for them to be able to do it too," he said.

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