Suffolk County begins to restore title searches after ransomware attack

Suffolk County said it was able to resume title searches Monday morning after a ransomware attack on the county’s computer systems last month disrupted a critical process for the local real estate industry.  

Title companies ensure that no one besides the seller has a claim to the property and that there are no liens or financial judgments that would call ownership into question. For sales in Suffolk County, these companies seek records from the county clerk’s office, which along with other county departments was compromised in the cyberattack. A title company’s inability to vouch that there are no claims against the property can prevent sales from closing.

With title companies unable to access records since the Sept. 8 cyberattack, real estate agent Jeffrey Jimenez said he has been unable to move forward toward closing on 30 sales that recently went into contract. 

“Everything’s at a screeching halt,” said Jimenez, a team leader at eXp Realty, who primarily markets homes in the Tri-Hamlet area of Shirley, Mastic and Mastic Beach.

Delayed closings can have cascading consequences for buyers and sellers, particularly now, as mortgage rates have been jumping up in recent weeks.

Homebuyers agree to lock in a mortgage rate with their lender for a set period of time, say 60 days. If they cannot close before the rate lock expires, they may need to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to extend it. Otherwise, they would need to accept a new, probably higher, mortgage rate — but that would boost their monthly payments and they might no longer qualify to receive their home loan.

The average U.S. 30-year fixed loan rose to 6.7% for the week ending Sept. 29, which is about a full point higher than it was a month earlier, according to mortgage giant Freddie Mac.

Sellers risk losing a deal with a buyer and having to put their homes back on the market, at a time when buying power has been diminished by higher interest rates that increase buyers’ monthly payments.

The county’s real estate industry also faces a cash crunch, with agents, title companies and attorneys waiting on commissions and fees due after closing.

Christopher Como, deputy county clerk for Suffolk…