At the start of the year, the Charleston County Register of Deeds office had a backlog of indexing and imaging documents that went back to Sept. 28, 2022 — a backlog that had not changed in 13 days. That meant county real estate paperwork needed by Realtors, banks and more were more than three months behind.
Shortly after the office’s newly elected leader, Karen Hollings, took over on Jan. 3, the backlog had moved forward to late October. As of Feb. 16, the office was current through Dec. 21.
“It was inexcusable and unacceptable,” Hollings said. “I’m moving the needle one day at a time with the hopes of restoring the integrity of the Charleston County Register of Deeds office.”
Her office is responsible for recording property sales, liens, mortgages, powers of attorney and other legal documents. But for the last couple of years, many weren’t sure the office was doing much of anything at all.
An ‘epic mess’
Prior to Hollings taking the helm, the office was plagued with threats of litigation and front-page headlines detailing its failure to meet state standards. Former registrar Michael Miller, who was elected in 2018, fielded frequent complaints from real estate professionals and attorneys. Hollings beat Miller in last year’s Democratic primary and then captured the seat in November with a win over Republican candidate Bob McIntyre.
In late November 2021, a lawsuit was filed to ensure the office would be monitored. A second lawsuit was filed in December 2021 by a former employee who said she was fired for speaking out against the office’s performance. By February 2022, a state Circuit Court judge ordered Miller to get the office back on track, even if it meant the staff working longer hours and over weekends to chip away at the backlog.
“I just don’t think my predecessor had the knowledge coming into this office … it was an epic mess,” Hollings said. “There were 26 employees when he walked in the door, and over the course of a couple years, 21 of them had left. Most of them left out of frustration. There was no guidance — one day you’re doing this one way, and the next you’re being told to do it a completely different way that often didn’t make sense.” The office currently has 20 employees.
But Hollings worked in the office for 16 years from 2005 to 2021, prior experience that gave her the experience to know how it is supposed to run, she said.
“When you know what you’re doing, it’s not difficult at all,” she said. “I have 16 years of experience in this office, and I know how this office should run, because I’ve seen it run efficiently and effectively before.”
Charleston County Council Chairman Herb Sass said he can see a noticeable improvement top to bottom.
“There’s a huge difference there,” he said. “She’s making a tremendous difference. I’m really happy she’s in there, and she’s got everybody working in the right direction the way it’s supposed to be.”
Elevating the team
Some of the most impactful changes Hollings has made, she said, has been bringing in and elevating strong employees as well as building a management team she and others in the office can trust. Most of these new managers were inside promotions.
“Everyone in this office now has someone to go to, and they know when they hear the answer to a question, it’s the right answer,” she said.
The new structure has greatly improved team morale, she said.
“I witnessed on a frequent basis the morale of the office was very low, largely due to the fact there was no positive management in place,” Hollings said. “Now, I hear from attorneys, paralegals and people off the street complimenting the office on being a better place to come into and do work.”
Sass agreed. “Morale just seems to be much higher when I go in there now than it was before,” he said. “I can’t explain it
— it’s just a feeling you get when you talk to people. They’re happier.”
Attorney Colleen Condon, a former
member of county council, said she doesn’t do a lot of real estate work, but she has found a great improvement in the Register of Deeds office services.
“I only file a few documents a month,” she said. “But I’m finding that they are getting filled immediately, which is how it should be. It’s not a problem, and it’s absolutely wonderful [Hollings] has been able to get caught up so quickly.”
Hollings said she plans to get the office’s backlog caught up soon, and she has big ideas for the office in the future as well, including implementing an efficient electronic filing system.
“My goal is to have this office operating as quietly and efficiently as possible,” Hollings said. “It’s not going to be a breaking news story. It’s not going to be on the front page of the paper. I want our office to be the best office in the state. We were the gold standard for a number of years, and we lost that. I’m going to get it back.”
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