The online estate agent Emoov is preparing to call in administrators in a last-ditch attempt to salvage its future.
Sky News has learnt that the company, which orchestrated a three-way merger just five months ago that attributed a £100m price tag, is on the verge of appointing James Cowper Kreston, an accounting firm, to act as administrator.
Sources said that a pre-pack administration, through which a buyer acquires some of a company's assets while leaving its liabilities behind, could be announced as soon as Friday.
The identity of the buyer of any of Emoov's assets is unclear, although Russell Quirk, the company's founder and chief executive, is said to be determined to continue to lead the business.
An insolvency process could leave prominent investors including Richard Desmond, the former Daily Express and Channel 5 owner, nursing seven-figure losses.
Channel 4's Commercial Growth Fund, which strikes media-for-equity deals with advertisers, is also a shareholder in Emoov.
Sky News revealed last month that Mr Quirk had hired Arden Partners (LSE: ARDN.L - news) , the City broker, to find a buyer for the business, although it is thought that few parties were prepared to consider a solvent takeover.
Mr Quirk denied that administrators had been appointed and did not respond to several requests for comment that James Cowper Kreston had been lined up to handle a pre-pack sale.
In an earlier text message this week, he said that "some buyers had mooted that they'd prefer a pre-pack [and] we wouldn't rule that out".
The move towards a possible insolvency process comes less than six months after Emoov completed a merger with Tepilo, the business founded by Channel 4 presenter Sarah Beeny, and Urban (Other OTC: AQUM - news) , the online lettings group.
It had been intended that the deal would lead to a stock market flotation before the end of the year, although sources said that was now off the table because of Emoov's financial position.
Rising customer acquisition costs and investors' scepticism about the ability of smaller players to challenge Purplebricks (LSE: 139215.L - news) have prompted numerous rounds of merger talks between online estate agents in the last two years.
Deteriorating sentiment about the outlook for the UK housing market - with the Bank of England modelling a 30% fall in residential property prices in the event of a no-deal Brexit - has contributed to waning investor appetite for estate agency shares.
Other significant operators in the sector include HouseSimple, which is part-owned by the Carphone Warehouse co-founder Sir Charles Dunstone, and easyProperty, which merged with the parent company of the Guild of Property Professionals last year.
Another rival, Yopa, has raised funding from investors including the publisher of the Daily Mail, while OnTheMarket, a property portal used by independent estate agents, floated earlier this year.
Emoov raised about £9m in funding in the summer of 2017 which valued it at £40m, and its performance since then has been difficult to deduce from publicly available information.
The company believes its hybrid model, which offers other property-related services as well as the ability to market homes on its platform, provides a route to future profitability.
While Purplebricks is by far the largest player in the online estate agents sector, its business model has also begun to attract greater scrutiny.
Last month, Purplebricks confirmed the purchase of a stake in Homeday, a German online estate agent, taking it into an important European market for the first time.