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Charleston County office catches hold of record real estate transactions

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CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) – The Charleston County Deeds Registry says its office has made progress in handling a historic flurry of documents over the past year and a half.

Michael Miller says his office has seen the biggest increase in real estate transactions ever in Charleston County.

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

The massive volume of registrations was generated by an average of 50 home closings per day.

Miller says his office was eventually overtaken by the backlog of documents.

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

The order, filed by Judge Roger Young, approved a strategy recommended by court-appointed real estate attorney Howard Yates, who was brought in to oversee operations at the office. The court order lists a strategy that includes accepting help from the Dorchester County Deeds Registry and its staff, expanding Charleston County office hours to include Saturdays and Sundays and the requirement that staff members stagger their lunch breaks so that the office can remain open even during lunch hours.

The court order states the following actions the office will take to clear the backlog:

  1. Hire experienced registry staff from neighboring counties to assist with the preparation and registration of documents.
  2. Hand stamp documents delivered to the Charleston County Deed Registry office for registration with the date they were received, in accordance with SC Code Ann. § 30-5-90 (1976).
  3. Continue to accept the assistance of Mrs. Margaret T. Bailey, of the Dorchester County Deeds Registry, and three of her staff, in preparing the papers for registration each Saturday for eight hours and for four hours on Sundays until that the backlog in the filing of documents be eliminated.
  4. Have imaging staff work an additional two hours a day, plus Saturdays and Sundays, until the filing backlog is cleared.
  5. Arrange for specially modified computers to be made available to indexing staff from home for after-hours and weekend indexing.
  6. Have indexing staff work two extra hours a day, plus Saturdays and Sundays, until the filing backlog is cleared.
  7. Train visiting Dorchester County Deed Registry Office staff on the Charleston County Imaging System and use trained Dorchester County Deed Registry Office staff to index each Saturday for eight hours and for four hours on Sunday until the backlog in filing documents is cleared.
  8. Include the designation “pp” for personal property, “esmt” for easement, or “etc” for additional property such as a swamp, 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. Ensure that the Deeds Registry Office remains open to the public for regular business transactions, including registration of documents, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., including between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Employees must take their breaks, including lunch breaks, on staggered shifts and if it is necessary to contact an employee who is on break, then a cell phone must be used.
  11. Request additional memory from the county’s computer server, should it become necessary to cope with the increased daily document load.
  12. Ensure that employees are trained in recording, imaging and indexing documents.
  13. Registers, whatever the mode of delivery, the documents received in the order of the times when they can be brought to the court office.
  14. Continue to provide truthful and accurate updates in writing regarding the status of the backlog, the effectiveness of the measures adopted here, and the availability of experienced staff to employ pursuant to the terms of this Order to the Court on a bi-weekly basis , with these articles to be sent to the Court and the parties’ attorneys by e-mail before 5:00 p.m. every Friday, beginning Friday, February 19, 2022. These articles must contain the date on which the mail was opened and marked received, the remaining number of document batches and specific date(s) up to which documents were prepared, registered, imaged and indexed, respectively.
  15. Adopt any other recommendations that the Court may subsequently order to address the delays and backlog in the registration of documents

The recommendations and agreement come after Miller was named in a lawsuit in November alleging “willful default and/or negligence” over how long his office records real estate documents.

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

“It also became apparent that there was no instant solution to the problem,” Young wrote. “There were many issues that needed to be addressed in a systematic way. Mr. Yates identified and addressed each. His report, which Mr. Miller adopted, addresses short-term problems and solutions and hopefully will lead to long-term solutions as well.

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

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