How to Protect Yourself from Ransomware

There was a widespread outbreak of ransomware attacks, based on a vulnerability in Windows that was released a couple months ago from NSA leaks. Ransomware typically infects a PC through a malicious website (less common) or via clicking an infected link in an email or an attachment (more common.) The infection usually encrypts the user’s files, and demands a ransom in electronic currency to recover them.

Here’s how you can protect yourself:

If you have a Windows machine, such as a personal laptop or home computer, please take a moment today to do a full round of Windows Updates and update any antivirus software you might be using. This should be a regular part of your routine. Try to turn on automatic updates and don’t delay them too often when they prompt you to install or restart – they’re important for exactly this reason.

Be careful opening email attachments, particularly if they appear to be from DropBox, DocuSign, or appear to be from a Realtor®, but contain vague instructions about a contract or financial transaction—the kind of email that looks like it might be something a Realtor sent you by accident or was intended for someone else. See example below.

In this example, the “payload” of infected code is in a link the PDF attachment. The text of the email itself has no malicious links and contains real information for an actual Realtor®. We called that member and she’s dealing with hundreds of these being delivered to her contacts and people she doesn’t know—myself included—but is at least aware of the issue and taking steps to handle it.

Unmask links in your emails to inspect them before clicking them or downloading attachments. If you hover over a link, you can see where it goes without clicking it. If the URL in the preview goes to an unfamiliar website or location (Particularly if the email you’re looking at purports to be from Dropbox or DocuSign but the domain in the URL is something totally different) Example below:

Remember that most of the effective, complex vulnerabilities that can attack even systems with good security like ours tend to rely on code being executed in other programs, like Adobe Acrobat. Many of the serious infection risks occur when a new vulnerability is discovered in how computers handle external files, like PDFs. You can mitigate a lot of risk simply by not downloading attachments from emails that appear suspicious. The whole purpose of these emails being vague and somewhat confusing is to get you to click on the attachment to see if it clarifies things.

Don’t fall for it. Just delete it and move on. If it’s legitimate or important, the sender will contact you again. If you’re not expecting it, it’s probably not something you want. This is a good thing to remember with emails you send, as well – don’t send members or other staff an email that’s just an attachment and no text, or something similar. Take a moment to write at least a one-sentence description of what the purpose of your email is, even if you just talked to the person about it. At the very least, it will help if they (or you) need to search for it later.

Here are a couple links that might be helpful:

Update your Windows systems now. Right now. – Washington Post Story

Microsoft Windows Update Instructions – via Microsoft

Microsoft Ransomware Information – via Microsoft

One additional note on ramsomware: You should always back up important files, but if you are attacked by ransomware and you have no other option, it’s worth noting that paying the ransom to decrypt the files and retrieve them usually does work. These schemes wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t a real mechanism for you to recover the files, and the hackers don’t have any motivation to leave your files encrypted—they just want to get paid.

If you have no other option to retrieve your files and are considering paying a ransomware demand, please feel free to call us to discuss the matter and we can advise you. Paying the ransom does not usually expose you to any additional infection risk. Any system compromised this way should have Windows fully re-installed from scratch anyway, so in some cases paying up might be the lesser evil. We’re here to help, and if you have any questions on the subject, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Closed Home Sales Down in April After Record Inventory Lows and Rising Prices

Front Porch Of Resedential Home With Autumn DecorationsLow inventory and rising prices caught up to the spring market, with single-family home sales decreasing over eight percent from this time last year. Both single-family and condominium prices saw a hike. Condominium sales decreased almost 10 percent from April 2016.

Read more in the full April 2017 Closed Sales Release.

  • April single-family home sales went down -8.5% over last year (3,735 sales in 2017 from 4,082 sales in April 2016)
  • April single-family median prices went up 3.6% year-over-year (to $362,500 in 2017 from $349,900 in April 2016)
  • April condo sales went down -9.5% and median prices went up 4.6% (to $345,000)
  • Inventory in April went down -31.8% to 13,234 and condominiums available down -28.4% to 3,729
  • SF listings added to the market in April went down -9.5% over last year. (7,706 from 8,513 in 2016)
  • Condo listings added to the market went down -11.1% over last year. (2,640 from 2,971 in 2016)

“The Greatest Show on Earth” | MAR Conference & Tradeshow

Cropped image of magician opening red stage curtain

The iconic 146-year-old circus Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey announced that their final performances will take place this month. Recently, the CBS Sunday Morning Show featured company members to discuss what it takes to plan “The Greatest Show on Earth.”

This has us at the association reflecting: What does it take to be the greatest show on earth? How much sweat, stamina, and knowledge goes into planning an event like this? Members that participate on the MAR conference committee might have an idea.

Planning an annual event like the MAR Conference & Tradeshow is hard work. The time spent researching a venue and speakers for the event is immense. Then comes brainstorming as a group: What cutting edge information can we bring to the real estate world? What burning questions should our speakers address? In other words, how can we best provide for our members?

This kind of thinking is not only time-consuming, but requires a special kind of person to commit to the task. Still, conference committee members continue to demonstrate their skill and dedication. For example, in 2015 the planning committee selected Jan Hargrave, a body-language expert, to speak at that year’s conference. Jan was a hit! Members lined up to meet Jan and purchase her books. Afterwards, Jan was in high demand in the real estate industry. She came back for our conference in 2016 and spoke at the Jack Conway Convention and the Northeast Association of Realtors® Education Fair. Our committee team always has their eyes on the “next big thing” in real estate, and Jan was a prime example.

The committee is planning another exceptional event right now. The 2017 Conference & Tradeshow will be back at The Sea Crest Beach Hotel in Falmouth, MA on September 25 & 26.  The speakers are solidified, the website is launched, and registration is open. This year, along with providing a slew of national and local industry experts, the committee has several new networking opportunities planned (not to mention fun activities). In traditional New England style, we’ll be kicking off the first night of the conference with a clam bake on the beach. If you come the night before, head over to Lanes Bowl & Bistro where you can bowl and enjoy a dessert buffet.

Now that the scheduling and booking portion of the event is finished, it’s up to you. Sign up and enjoy another fun-filled and educational event that also includes the industry’s largest tradeshow. The opportunities are endless and we think it’s one of our “greatest” events yet.

Find out more about this year’s conference and sign up for the early bird price of $179.

Can a text be legally binding in a real estate deal?

Can a real estate agent bind their client to a contract through a text message or email? The Massachusetts case, Saint John’s Holdings, LLC. v. Two Electronics, LLC., examines this very issue. The plaintiff, Saint John’s Holdings, LLC., sued Two Electronics, LLC. alleging that a text message from the defendant’s real estate broker constituted acceptance of a binding offer from the plaintiff to buy the defendant’s property.

Young woman using cell phone to send text message on social network at night. Closeup of hands with computer laptop in background

The case first examines whether the exchange of emails and text messages can create a binding and enforceable agreement. The Statute of Frauds requires that an agreement for the sale of real property be supported by a writing that contains the essential terms of the agreement. With the advance of technology what constitutes a ‘writing’ has become a gray area. The court examined multiple email exchanges between the plaintiff and the defendant and found that the emails contained the necessary essential terms of a contract including the purchase price, seller financing, the due diligence period, the closing date, and the deposit amount.

The defendant then argued that, even if a contract existed between the parties, the plaintiff’s acceptance of the contract terms by text message does not satisfy the signature requirement of the Statute of Frauds. In order to be enforceable, an agreement for the sale of real property must be signed by the party against whom enforcement is sought. Several courts have found that the requirements for a signature to satisfy the Statute of Frauds can be relatively minimal, including a typewritten, printed or stamped signature. The real estate brokers for both parties had typed their names at the end of messages that contained essential terms but did not type their names on more informal discussions. By signing their names in these exchanges, the court inferred that the parties chose to be bound by their signed communications. The court found that, by signing his name at the end of a text message acknowledging acceptance of the terms of the agreement, the defendant’s real estate broker intended to have the writing be legally binding.

Having found that a writing and a signature existed through the exchange of emails and text messages, the court then had to determine whether a real estate broker has the authority to bind a client to a legally enforceable contract. The plaintiff argued that the defendant’s real estate broker had the authority to bind the defendant to the contract. The court disagreed. The defendant’s real estate broker had never received permission from the defendant to do anything other than pass information back and forth between the parties. In addition, the plaintiff could not recall that the defendant ever informed him that the defendant’s real estate broker was authorized to accept offers to purchase the property or otherwise bind the defendant to a sale of the property.

Even though the real estate broker did not have authority to bind the defendant to the sale of the property, it’s important to note that exchanges in emails and text messages can satisfy the Statute of Frauds writing and signature requirements. Always be careful when sending communications through emails and text messages because you may run the risk of creating a legally enforceable contract.

Modest Gains for Pending Home Sales as Prices Continued to Climb in April

Single-family pending home sales increased again in April, but only by one percent compared to the same time last year. While single-family pending sales were up, condominiums put under agreement went down over six percent in April. The median price for both single-family homes and condos continued their upward trend. Realtors® confidence both in the market and in home prices was positive in April, with the Realtor® Market Confidence Index reaching a new high.

April Pending Sales:

Single Family April 2017 April 2016 % Change
Sales 6,062 6,001 1.0%
Median Price $360,000 $349,900 2.9%
  • Pending sales have been up 49 of the last 50 months
Condominium April 2017 April 2016 % Change
Sales 2,316 2,470 -6.2%
Median Price $345,000 $329,950 4.6%
  • Pending sales have been up or flat 18 of the last 20 months

Realtor® Market and Price Confidence Indexes:

Confidence Index April 2017 April 2016 %Change
Market 85.47 82.88 3%
Price 80.34 76.71 5%
  • The Realtor® Market Confidence Index has been up or flat for 25 straight months
  • Highest Realtor® Market Confidence Index has been since MAR began recording the data in 2008
  • The Realtor® Price Confidence Index is up over the 80 mark for the second time since 2015
  • Measured on a 100-point scale, a score of 50 is the midpoint between a “strong” (100 points) and a “weak” (0 points) market condition

Spring Market Blooming Despite Ongoing Inventory Shortage and High Prices

Front Porch Of Resedential Home With Autumn Decorations

The number of closed single-family home sales were up more than two percent over March 2016, with median price also seeing a hike. This is despite the month seeing the lowest number of homes for sale since MAR began recording the data in 2004. Condominium sales and price also rose over last year. 

Read more in the full March 2017 Closed Sales Release.

  • March single-family home sales went down 2.1% over last year (3,615 sales in 2017 from 3,540 sales in March 2016)
  • March single-family median prices went up 6.6% year-over-year (to $350,000 in 2017 from $328,375 in March 2016)
  • March condo sales went up 11.3% and median prices went up 8.2% (to $334,950)
  • Inventory in March went down -34.4% to 11,892 and condominiums available down -30.8% to 3,478
  • SF listings added to the market in March went down -13.5% over last year. (7,180 from 8,300 in 2016)
  • Condo listings added to the market went down -7.0% over last year. (2,785 from 2,995 in 2016)