Propertyfinder‘s CEO is leading a management attempt to buy out the site from joint owners News International and REA Group, she has confirmed, after the pair put their UK online operations under review.
The News Corp (NYSE: NWS) unit and Australian property group bought the site for £14 million in 2005, later adding UKPropertyShop and buying HotProperty.co.uk operator Sherlock Publications for £5.6 million. But the pair last month announced they would review all three businesses, with a view to closing each, meaning REA alone incurring a writedown hit of up to AUS$61 million.
After a few weeks of speculation, CEO Gillian Kent, the former MSN UK head who joined in January ’08, told me: “We want to buy it out, we’d love to do that – it’s a great opportunity – an unusual one in that the business is so well established and we have 2.3 million unique visitors. We’ve been actively going out to find investors and we’ve had a lot of investors approach us – both in the industry and from outside. In that short period (since the review was announced), we’ve come an awful long way – we’ve got some really big heavy-hitting investors.
“Under our parents, we were following a very aggressive acquisition path – but now our parents have both reviewed their own situations – REA is retrenching back to Australia and News have been assessing their portfolio.
“We’ve been a loss-making organisation because we’ve been in heavy investment mode – but we can very quickly turn it in to a break-even, profitable business.” Without group overheads and the REA platform on which Propertyfinder is currently running, things could turn around. “Online is where estate agents are going to be spending their budgets – we’ve had six months of improving results (in the propery market) – there’s going to be an upturn.”
Founded in ’95, Propertyfinder has variously been owned by Asserta and Arts Alliance and now ranks between DMGT’s FindAProperty and Primelocation for popularity, on April comScore (NSDQ: SCOR) figures. DMGT has the lion’s share of UK property sites but News Int also has a stake in free listings site Globrix. REA and NI already shut their joint UK print publishing business in April.