Veteran property journalist Jonathan Chancellor has purchased the remaining 90% of Property Observer from Crikey publisher Private Media, four years after he was poached from Fairfax to start the site with the company.

Private Media has been looking to sell Property Observer for some time, and was reported in The Australian Financial Review to have entered into negotiations with Sydney B2B publisher Key Media. Private Media was reportedly seeking $2 million for the website, and it’s understood the two companies were in advanced discussions before the sale fell apart in mid-February. With these discussions coming to nought, Chancellor choose to purchase the website and strike out on his own (he already owned 10% of the site). It’s not clear how much he paid. The AFR has reported that Property Observer, which operates without a paywall, pulls in advertising revenues of around $1 million a year.

Property Observer was first placed on the market in mid-2014, with Private Media hiring corporate advisory firm Federation Capital to handle inquiries. At that time, natural buyers were perceived to be Fairfax’s Domain or News Corp’s realestate.com.au. The sale to Chancellor is highly unexpected.

It marks the first time Private Media has sold a publication. The company, formally known as Private Media Partners, purchased its first digital title in 2005, when Crikey‘s current chairman Eric Beecher and Di Gribble purchased Crikey from founder Stephen Mayne. Today, the company is one of Australia’s leading digital-only publishers — its other titles include Crikey, SmartCompany, Women’s Agenda, StartupSmart and The Mandarin.

On Wednesday, Property Observer advertised for three positions in Sydney. It’s looking for a production editor, a possibly part-time journalist and producer, and a paid social media intern. The position descriptions make no mention of current owner Private Media but do say Chancellor will be publisher of the new venture. All three are based in Sydney — Property Observer‘s current staff, apart from Chancellor, are based at Private Media’s head office in Melbourne, and it’s understood none will be moving to Sydney with the new venture.

Chancellor is one of Australia’s best-known property journalists. His contact book is legendary, formed over 25 years as The Sydney Morning Herald‘s property editor. For 24 of those years, he wrote the Title Deeds column, which reported on the property purchases of the rich and famous. He wrote a similar column, renamed Title Tattle, at Property Observer.

In a statement, Private Media CEO Jason Kibsgaard said the company felt Property Observer could grow more strongly under a more focused ownership structure.

“While the business is performing strongly, it is the only property-focused publication within the Private Media stable and we have formed the view the niche site could lift its performance under different ownership,” he said. “The model of a standalone business owned by its editor is an ideal outcome and we’re confident it will serve PO’s loyal growing audience well … Given that Jonathan Chancellor has been writing about the homes we live in and the investments we make for around 30 years we know we’re passing the baton into the right hands.”

Chancellor said Property Observer‘s “incubation” at Private Media had helped ensure its “successful launch and longevity”. He said, at this stage, the website would benefit from a “singular focus” on serving its readers.

Peter Fray

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