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County cyber attack concerned local realtors

More than three weeks after Suffolk County was hit with a cyber attack that blocked ability to access many of its records, the County Clerk’s office was able to reopen for business Monday serving critical needs of area real estate professionals.

Word came from Chris Nuzzi, regional director of Advantage Title in Riverhead, who said the inability to access records had been “a major issue.”

This was especially true for buyers with mortgage rates they had locked in that could have had to be renegotiated at higher rates if closings were delayed.

The cyber attack, even though resolved,  “Should be a concern for everyone,” Mr. Nuzzi said. “The real estate industry is one of the underpinnings of the County.”

Some real estate transactions on Shelter Island, particularly deals priced at $2 to $3 million, were being crippled by the cyber attack on Suffolk County records. None of the real estate professionals contacted by the Reporter said arrangements were hurt because of an inability to close deals.

But some professionals in other areas of the County told “The Real Deal,” a real estate publication, that since the Sept. 8 shutdown of County websites, they were unable to verify property titles, and insurers were not willing to certify that a sale property is clear of liens.

While acknowledging the cyber security hacking was “horrific and very scary,” broker Melina Wein of M. Wein Realty said she has deals she expected to close even if the shutdown of record access had been longer. Buyers and sellers understood the problem and were patient, she noted.

Many deals would be able to close with testaments from sellers that their property is free of liens. They could be liable if they falsified such information.

But Ms. Wein was the first to allude to those high priced deals that could have been hampered because buyers at that level want all the necessary guarantees and protections in place. “I’m not saying there isn’t a problem or there isn’t going to be a problem,” she said prior to the reopening of the County Clerk’s office.

Compass, a real estate technology company, was seeing what Ms. Wein reported — deals of several million dollars were delayed in closing because of the inability to provide all necessary records.

Real Estate Agent Julia Weisenberg said title searches started but not completed before the cyber attack were sometimes caught in limbo unless there was a recent report that allowed them to close.

Although she hasn’t had a deal that was in danger of not closing, she said Compass was working on strategies to try to troubleshoot potential problems.

Susan Cincotta, an independent real estate broker, said she was concerned about delays that could have resulted if buyers lost favorable mortgage rates. There needs to be a solution put forth for future security, Ms. Cincotta said. “Real estate is being hurt, as is everything,” she added.

Saunders Associate Broker Penelope Moore agreed with that, noting she had plans with a client, a retired law enforcement officer who had to cancel because she was without money; her monthly disability check hadn’t been received.

Ms. Moore learned systems such as payroll, disability, data for law enforcement and real estate had all been affected.

Broker John Catrambone of Dering Harbor Real Estate said he hadn’t had any deals affected, but expected the cyber attack had an impact on transactions. He expected the situation would have become a larger issue if contracts were backed up in the system.