Just how safe is the ‘safe’ world of syndicated mortgages?

With its playful indoor slide and five-storey “bio-wall” of greenery, Toronto’s five-year-old Corus Quay building—the headquarters of Corus Entertainment—served as an inspirational backdrop for attendees of Fortress Real Development’s “Listen, Learn and Lunch” event three years ago. Attendees at the glitzy real estate event on the shore of Lake Ontario noshed on sliders and listened intently to speeches by several Fortress executives, including CEO Jawad Rathore and chief operating officer Vince Petrozza, as well as star local developers like Toronto “condo king” Brad Lamb. “There’s many ways to make money in real estate,” Lamb says in a heavily edited video of the event posted on Fortress’s YouTube channel, complete with jaunty music. “But one way to make money in real estate is the safe way, which is buying Fortress investments.” A few moments earlier, a Fortress exec trumpeted the value of the firm’s partnerships with Lamb and a Windsor, Ont.-area developer named Charles Mady, saying they are “some of the strongest partnerships you can imagine being part of.”

Fast forward to 2016: Fortress has taken over one of Mady’s projects in Barrie, Ont.—a building with 82 condo units and an eight-storey office tower—after both the development and developer ran into financial trouble. It’s a good thing Fortress stepped in, too, otherwise potentially hundreds of investors who funded Fortress’s contribution to Collier Centre through what’s known as a “syndicated mortgage” may have lost their shirts.

It was stark reminder that there’s no sure thing in the investing world, including Canada’s supposedly “proven” real estate market (to borrow another term from Fortress’s marketing). Yet Fortress has ridden a wave of enthusiasm for its housing and condo projects in recent years, as eager investors, many of them already homeowners, have sought to double down on their exposure to that overheated sector of the economy.

Headed by Rathore and Petrozza, Fortress Real Developments promises to scout out “high quality” projects with “top developers” across the country, including condos in relatively sleepy centres like Barrie, St. Catharines, Ont., and Regina. The firm then offers developers services that include everything from “analyzing and buying the land, to hiring the architects, to building the sales centre to retaining the planners who obtain permits and approvals from the city to improving the quality of the rental units.”

The real magic, however, happens on the back end…. To continue reading click here.