Fairfax's Fairwater sale reflects baton change from old media to new tech

Fairfax's Fairwater sale reflects baton change from old media to new tech
Jonathan ChancellorDecember 8, 2020

The tech billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes and his wife Annie Todd have bought Australia’s most expensive house, the harbourfront jewel, Fairwater at Double Bay.

The sale, possibly for close to $100 million, and likely to be in cash, ends more than a century of Fairfax family ownership on Seven Shillings Beach.

Despite the end of the boom, their purchase highlights the enduring popularity of premium harbourfront property, as old money passes the baton to new money.

It took just three weeks for the 1.12 hectare estate to sell, although there had been expectations of its listings since the death of Lady (Mary) Fairfax last September.

The current Sydney time on market has edged up this year to be taking 37 days to find buyers, among the 28,000 current offerings available for sale, according to CoreLogic.

Property developer Richard Sheinberg had been among those who'd been through.

“We are delighted with the purchase of Fairwater for our young family and look forward to continuing the legacy of this beautiful Sydney home,” Cannon-Brookes said. 

“We love the idea of raising our four young children in this historic property, filling the house and gardens with love and laughter through the years," the Cannon-Brookes said.

The price has not been revealed since its sale on Wednesday night, but it had been expected to fetch somewhere between the $71 million paid right next door and close to $100 million.

The sale coincided with a visit to Sydney from the United States by Cannon-Brookes who spends much of his time in San Francisco near Atlassian's US HQ.

The billionaire was always tipped to be its likely buyer, and not just because estate agents pinpointed his Kalamazoo, American-born wife as keen to secure an Australian trophy home.

His Atlassian business partner Scott Farquhar paid $71 million without any mortgage next-door for another Fairfax family home, Elaine which took three years to sell.

There was no formal website marketing for the home that dates back to 1881, but interested parties were being taken through the landmark home by Christie's International agent Ken Jacobs.

“Elaine and Fairwater are the golden girls of Sydney Harbour,” selling agent Ken Jacobs said earlier this month.

"To get over 11,000 square metre of land on Sydney Harbour is just unheard of, and it will be impossible to repreat that," Jacobs said.

"You'd have top buy 11 standard Point Piper sites to get to this size, so it's really just a one off.

"Internationally, to get a property as revered as this within five kilometers from the CBD and this landsize, and on a harbour, is just unheard of.

"It's very extraordinary for a property like this to still exist."

Almost like Cannon-Brookes and Farquhar's business exploits, Jacobs suggested Fairwater and Elaine complement each other.

"They add value to each other because you've basically got Australia's two best properties together. And they're both about to be revived to their former glory."

"They're both legacy properties," Jacobs said, adding that they're not on the radar of properties that continually turn over.

"They're ones that have just been there and maintain quite an amount of mystique.

"It was wonderful when Elaine came to the market, but with Fairwater, it takes it to another level because of the land size.

"It's an acre larger than Elaine and the grounds are just extraordinary.

"It may not come for another hundred years or more."

The Atlassian co-founders' wealth is pegged at a combined $6 billion after Atlassian was founded in 2002 using $10,000 in credit card debt.

The Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes was always on Jacob's radar as a prospective buyer.

He recently sold his Braelin, his Centennial Park trophy, for $16.5 million, and has looked at several trophy homes to purchase.

Last year the family even stayed at Barford in Bellevue Hill to test whether they liked it there on the hillside location.

The Cannon-Brookes had already spent a combined $16 million on two non-waterfront Double Bay houses. The acquisitive couple have spent more than $45 million worth of homes in the past six years including a second Southern Highlands weekender.

The Double Bay offering by the executors of the late LadyFairfax had been in the Fairfax media dynasty family since 1901 when Sir James Oswald Fairfax paid £5,350.

The two-storey, late Victorian mansion - which was designed by architect J. Horbury Hunt for stockbroker, Francis Joseph in 1881, is set on five sub-dividable blocks on exclusive Seven Shillings Beach. 

Elaine is a 6,900 square metre land holding, with Fairwater ranked as the largest privately-owned harbour side landholding, spanning 11,210 square metres.

"It is remarkable that an estate offering such rare and unrepeatable features still exists in Australia today; this opportunity will not come again," Jacobs said.

"It's not what you expect to find in Sydney.

"It's what you expect to find in Newport, Rhode Island for example, because of the grandness of the estate."

Coming without Opera House views, and just the top of the Bridge, the property was always likely to sell to locals rather than Chinese buyers who seek the postcard aspect. 

The top 10 sales across Australia include four sales in Point Piper, three in Vaucluse, one in Melbourne's Malvern and a Mosman Park compound in Perth, which when sold for $57.5 million in 2009, held the national price record.

There had only been one prior listing through to had the potential of securing $100 million, just around the corner.

It was in 2016 when Aussie John Symond listed his Point Piper trophy home with unconfirmed $100 million plus expectations.

His modern four level harbourfront home, set on 2685 square metres, was so vast, and then without vegetation, that it was nicknamed 'Aussie Stadium'.

The state government will secure $6.94 million stamp duty on the touted $100 million sale, and $14.9 million if the Cannon-Brookes are considered based overseas and subject to foreign buyer duty.

Lady Fairfax briefly contemplated gifting her mansion to the people of NSW. 

In 1996 Lady Fairfax announced a trust of seven was being established to oversee the estate. 

Lady Fairfax, who later declined to comment on her intended gift, moved into Fairwater with her husband, Sir Warwick in 1969.

During her decades the Fairwater grounds had been regularly opened for charitable fundraising occasions, including the East West Foundation, the Australia Ireland Fund, the Opera Foundation Australia (founded by Lady Fairfax) and the Cochlear Implant Centre, Sydney. 

At one dark stage in the Fairfax annuls, the mother of fallen media boss Warwick Fairfax, suggested after he lost the newspaper empire, that she might have had to sell part of the grounds to pay the land tax and its upkeep.

"Fairwater is safe but what is Fairwater without the garden, it's just another big old house," she said amid the 1990 company stockmarket turmoil.

Jonathan Chancellor

Jonathan Chancellor is one of Australia's most respected property journalists, having been at the top of the game since the early 1980s. Jonathan co-founded the property industry website Property Observer and has written for national and international publications.

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