Charleston County office catches up with logjam of record real-estate transactions

Published: Jun. 4, 2022 at 4:45 AM EDT|Updated: Jun. 4, 2022 at 5:20 AM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Charleston County’s register of deeds says his office has made progress in managing a historic surge of documents over the last year-and-a-half.

Michael Miller says his office experienced the highest increase in real estate transactions Charleston County has ever witnessed.

“Financial homes went up exponentially during the height of COVID,” Miller said. “I mean, at one point the interest rate was at 2% and sometimes even lower than two percent. So imagine how many people across the county wanted to refinance their home during the height of COVID.”

The massive volume of recordings has been generated by an average of 50 home closings per day.

Miller says his office has finally gotten caught up with the backlog of documents.

A judge ordered Miller’s office to institute a 15-step plan back in February to get the backlog of documentation under control.

The order, filed by Judge Roger Young, approved a strategy recommended by a court-appointed real estate lawyer, Howard Yates, who was brought in to monitor operations at the office. The court order listed a strategy that includes accepting help from Dorchester County’s Register of Deeds and her staff members, increasing the hours of operation for Charleston County’s office to include Saturdays and Sundays and requiring that staff members stagger their lunch breaks so that the office can stay open even during lunch hours.

The court order stipulates the following steps the office will take to eliminate the backlog:

  1. Hire experienced Register of Deeds staff from neighboring counties to assist in preparing and recording documents.
  2. Hand-stamp documents delivered to the Charleston County Register of Deeds Office for recording with the date they were received, pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. § 30-5-90 (1976).
  3. Continue to accept assistance from Ms. Margaret T. Bailey, the Dorchester County Register of Deeds, and three of her staff, to prepare documents for recording each Saturday for eight hours and for four hours on Sunday until the backlog in document filing’ is eliminated.
  4. Cause the Imaging staff to work an additional two hours per day, and on Saturday and Sunday, until the filing backlog is eliminated.
  5. Cause specially modified computers to be made available to the Indexing staff from their homes for indexing after hours and during the weekend.
  6. Cause the Indexing staff to work an additional two hours per day, and on Saturday and Sunday, until the filing backlog is eliminated.
  7. Train the visiting Dorchester County Register of Deeds Office staff on Charleston County’s imaging system and utilize the trained Dorchester County Register of Deeds Office staff to index each Saturday for eight hours and for four hours on Sunday until the backlog in document filing is eliminated.
  8. Include the designation of “pp” for personal property, “esmt” for easement, or “etc” for additional property such as marsh, to indexed documents in addition to listing the lot, block, and subdivision.
  9. Extend the daily recording time from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
  10. Cause the Register of Deeds Office to remain open to the public for the regular transaction of business, including the recording of documents, from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm, including between 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Employees should take their breaks, including lunch breaks, on staggered shifts and if it is necessary to contact an employee who is on a break, then a cell phone should be used.
  11. Request the addition of memory to the County’s computer server, should it be necessary to accommodate the increased daily document load.
  12. Cause employees to be cross-trained in recording, imaging, and indexing documents.
  13. Shall record, regardless of the method of delivery, documents that are received in the order of the times at which they may be brought to the Register’s office.
  14. Continue to provide truthful and accurate updates in writing regarding the status of the backlog, the effectiveness of the measures adopted herein, and the availability of experienced staff to be employed pursuant to the terms of this Order to the Court on a bi-weekly basis, with such statuses to be sent to the Court and counsel for the parties via email by 5:00 p.m. every Friday, beginning Friday, February 19, 2022. These statuses shall contain the date through which mail has been opened and marked received, remaining number of document batches, and specific date(s) through which documents have been prepared, recorded, imaged, and indexed, respectively.
  15. Adopt such further recommendations as the Court may subsequently direct to address the delays and backlog in the recording of documents

The recommendations and agreement come after Miller was named in a lawsuit back in November alleging “willful failure and/or neglect” with respect to the length of time for his office to record real estate documents.

Young’s order stated that after Yates began his investigation, “it became apparent very quickly that the problem was more than just the immediate recording of newly filed and backlogged documents.”

“It also became apparent that there was no instant fix to the problem,” Young wrote. “There were numerous issues that need to be addressed in a systematic manner. Mr. Yates identified and addressed each. His report, which Mr. Miller has embraced, addresses short-term problems and solutions and will also hopefully result in long-term solutions as well.”

The order states Miller agreed to implement the recommendations suggested by Yates and that the court will continue to retain jurisdiction over the matter.

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