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From Big Macs to the big end of town: REISA's new chair looks to the future

Business

Fairlie Delbridge’s first major foray into the property industry was as the owner-operator of McDonald’s restaurants in Murray Bridge, Elizabeth and the coastal Perth suburb of Scarborough. Following a string of industry appointments, Delbridge is now tasked with guiding the Real Estate Institute of South Australia through the challenging COVID-19 era.

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The SA-based property professional was announced as REISA’s new Chair following the organisation’s AGM last month. She replaces past president, transition chair and director Brett Roenfeldt, who led the previous board.

Delbridge, a former State Planning Commissioner, was among four non-industry directors and three industry directors appointed to the new board, following a restructure of REISA’s governance system earlier this year.

Under the new structure, REISA will be led by a CEO and chair and will no longer appoint a president.

As REISA’s first non-industry chair, Delbridge said she not only hoped to draw from her extensive experience to offer a fresh perspective to the peak body but also “pay it forward” to the sector she is passionate about.

“Real estate is fun and most people are interested in it. It’s not like politics or religion, it’s not a conversation stopper at the dinner table, but everyone has an opinion and it touches most people’s lives. It certainty touches on people’s aspirations as well,” Delbridge said.

“Home ownership has been core to Australian values. It’s a fun place to be, it’s impactful and it’s intrinsic with Australian values.

“There would be people who say that’s under threat for the next generation and it’s about being involved in that broader conversation: How do we service all segments of the housing continuum? How do we make sure our social housing is serving the most vulnerable through to built-to-rent institutional organisations?”

Delbridge started her career in sales and marketing with Coca-Cola in Adelaide and Perth in the late 1980s before working as a business development manager with Citibank Australia from 1994-99. She was the owner/operator and director of the three McDonald’s stores over a 13-year period from 1993 to 2006.

In more recent years, the mother of four has worked as General Manager, Strategy and Innovation, for Renewal SA and as State Planning Commissioner.

She also founded the Adelaide-based strategic development and consultancy company Cminus with her husband Darren Bilsborough in 2007, where she still holds the role of managing director.

REISA is the latest in a string of board roles Delbridge holds, which also include non-executive member of the Rundle Mall Management Authority, Co-Deputy Chair of Scotch College’s governing council and Junction Australia board member.

While the new REISA governance system means the new CEO – who is due to be named before the end of the year – will be the official spokesperson for the peak body, Delbridge said she aimed to help place the organisation at the forefront of the state’s residential real estate conversations and, in doing so, serve the peak body’s members.

“Real estate transactions make up an enormous proportion of the state economy. So we will aim to create value for our members but also hopefully it will return REISA to having more of an economic voice in the state,” Delbridge said.

“When you sell a property there’s a lot of activity that goes around with that: stylists and painters and maintenance

“There’s a whole supply chain and eco-system and economic multipliers that come out of that core transaction when you sell that piece of property.

“We’ll be looking at how do we serve our members better and, it’s a conversation to be had, I think we’ll be looking at how do we support that broader industry and supply chain that sits behind real estate transaction.”

Delbridge has joined REISA following a rocky period for the professional body and a time of uncertainty for the nation’s property market as a whole, following the economic fallout of the coronavirus.

In stepping away from the top job, REISA past president Brett Roenfeldt said it had been a “great honour to serve as the president over the last two years, at a time of turmoil and immense challenges including the COVID-19 pandemic”.

“REISA’s board has met those challenges and put in place a strong foundation for our industry body to thrive in 2021 and beyond,” he wrote.

Roenfeldt was appointed president of the peak professional body in 2018 following the resignation of former president and Harris Real Estate director Phil Harris.

InDaily previously reported that Harris was in the role for less than a month before voluntarily stepping away due to publicity surrounding a court battle with rival agency Toop and Toop. He replaced Alex Ouwens.

Looking to the future, Delbridge was optimistic about the outlook for the state’s property sector.

“Fortunately, South Australia is showing itself to be quite resilient to the pandemic, and we’ve seen that real estate volumes are up in SA and the September quarter is outstripping expectations,” she said.

“It’s creating positive sentiment out there.

“Anecdotally we can see that South Australia’s reputation as one of the safest places on the planet effectively, that’s paying dividends.

“There’s lots of human capital that’s flooded out over the years and is now wanting to return to South Australia and that’s creating transactional opportunities in the residential real estate market.”

PointData’s quarterly Lay of the Land report in October showed the total proportion of Adelaide properties continued to buck a national downward trend in value, with more than two-thirds of metropolitan suburbs experiencing price growth in the six months to September.

REISA published its own quarterly report last month, which said: “Despite the broader COVID-led market slowdown, sales volumes were up and properties were selling for higher prices than expected”.

“This demonstrates the robust nature of our local market at present and creates a sense of optimism for the South Australian market moving forward.”

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