Brandon Chasen is one of the most dominant players in Baltimore real estate. His namesake company has developed boutique apartment buildings in Fells Point and is overhauling historic properties like the old Meyer Seed Co. warehouse and the One Calvert Plaza skyscraper downtown.

The 38-year-old Potomac native, who leads the firm with his best friend from prep school, has made waves for his embrace of a luxury lifestyle: penthouse suites, designer clothes and yachts. His ambitions grew to include what he said would be a $100 million investment in projects across the country.

But now Chasen Companies — which boasts on its website of being on numerous fastest-growing company lists — is scaling back.

The firm has reduced its headcount and is toning down national expansion plans. Chasen called it a “realignment” that allows his company to invest in strategic partnerships with outside firms.

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Even in Baltimore, where “Chasen Cos.” is plastered on buildings along some of the city’s most well-traversed streets, the company has slowed the bullish pace of property acquisition that became a hallmark of the brand.

Since the beginning of last year, the firm’s portfolio of buildings and land parcels in the city has grown by just 15 — a downshift from the 30 acquisitions the business made between 2021 and 2022, according to a Baltimore Banner analysis of online property records. Chasen, like other major developers, said he is contending with high interest rates and escalating construction costs that make sustaining a local real estate empire all the more challenging.

“The company has taken so many different shapes and forms over the seven-year period,” Chasen said. He said that the firm has “adjusted for longevity” and that its restructuring was “the right decision in the end for where we are now.”

Real estate developers Brandon Chasen (left) and Paul Davis (right), best friends since their days at the Bullis School in Potomac, are photographed during an interview at their company’s office building in Fells Point on May 30, 2024. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Meanwhile, Chasen and his partner, Paul Davis, are navigating legal disputes and complaints about their apartments, which some former tenants said are misrepresented in promotional materials as far more luxury than they are.

They have taken the criticism seriously, they said, and it is part of what prompted their renewed focus on Baltimore.

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In a wide-ranging interview last month at his company’s Fells Point headquarters, Chasen said he has taken stock of headwinds in the national real estate market, of the city’s notoriously tricky rental scene, and even of his own lifestyle. Nodding to Taylor Swift, he said he’s in a spiritual, self-care, cold-plunge sort of era — and is rejecting some of his past materialism.

Chasen, the son of a well-known personal injury attorney whose clients have included Baltimore Ravens players, lives in a Four Seasons penthouse. Over the years, neighbors and associates have taken note of his Gucci jackets and fleet of cars that at times included Ferraris, a Lamborghini and a Smurf blue Rolls-Royce.

Now he is striving for a more everyman vibe. He said he has sold most of his cars (not the Rolls-Royce, which he says can fit his four young children) and abandoned the yacht rental side gig that he’d started during the pandemic. A company jet hasn’t been used since late January, flight records show.

Chasen has a shaved head, a thick, dark beard, a muscular physique and a “PRAY” tattoo behind his right ear. He previously sported a cleaner-cut look. At Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, he played on the school’s basketball team and studied finance, marketing and religion.

Brandon Chasen, founder and CEO of Chasen Cos. is photographed in Baltimore for the Daily Record on August 3, 2020.
Brandon Chasen, founder and CEO of Chasen Cos. is photographed in Baltimore for the Daily Record on August 3, 2020, before shaving his head and growing a beard. (Courtesy of the Daily Record) (Maximilian Franz for The Daily Record)
Real estate developer Brandon Chasen, striving for a more everyman vibe in more recent years, is photographed during an interview at his company’s office building in Fells Point on May 30, 2024. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

In this new era, Chasen and Davis said, the company has recommitted to its adopted city of Baltimore. They said that as they explored national expansion, they realized the best path for their business was more local.

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“It’s exciting to be like, ‘OK, we’re growing,’ and we did have that growth. And then you get excited, and maybe you want to see a different area,” said Davis, 39. “We quickly realized, wait: We don’t need to go there. We don’t need to go there. The impact that we can make is already here, is just starting.”

Chasen Cos. has rapidly expanded in Fells Point

In just five years, the company bought about 10% of all multifamily properties in the neighborhood.

Map shows Chasen Cos' acquisition of properties over time.

Source: Maryland Department of Assessment and Taxation • Chart: Greg Morton

Chasen and Davis have been dreaming up ways to make it big for more than two decades.

They met at the Bullis School in Potomac, where they said they were first rivals and then became best friends. In their early 20s, the two quit high-paying jobs in finance and technology to go into business together. They started by opening a string of CrossFit gyms and then moved on to flipping single-family homes.

By 2015, the two found themselves in legal trouble.

The Maryland Attorney General’s Office accused their business of posing as a state agency that offered to appeal homeowners’ property tax assessments for a $99 fee — something that consumers can do themselves, for free. As part of a settlement, they agreed to repay what they collected from consumers and pay as much as a $200,000 fine.

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“Masquerading as a government agency is deceitful, and poses as a real threat to consumers who unknowingly send money,” Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said in a 2016 statement.

Chasen declined to comment about the property tax settlement. But he previously described that business as a “billion-dollar idea.”

Chasen and Davis turned their attention to property acquisition. They registered as a limited liability company, and their new venture gelled into what would become Chasen Cos.

The company scaled from a few buildings to about 2,000 rental units. As Chasen and Davis tell it, they went from a $5 million start-up to a $100 million company in just a few years.

Owned by Chasen Cos., the former Meyer Seed Co. property is becoming the Whitney. The property on South Caroline Street, pictured on May 31, 2024, is expected to deliver late next year. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)
An overhaul of One Calvert Plaza in downtown Baltimore, pictured on June 20, 2024, is expected to be complete by the end of the year. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)
The exterior of The Wilkes, one of several Fells Point buildings owned by Chasen Cos., on May 30, 2024. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Chasen said 90% of the company’s units are in Baltimore. Other active properties include at least three in Newport News, Virginia, and three in Tallahassee, Florida, according to the Chasen Cos. website.

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Chasen Cos. is working on a project in Boca Raton, Florida, with investor Adam Gottbetter, who pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Newark, New Jersey, to conspiracy to commit securities and mail fraud and was sentenced in 2015 to 18 months in federal prison. Marketing materials pitch the Florida project as an all-glass building that includes the city’s first “rooftop oasis.”

Gottbetter did not respond to a request for comment. Chasen said his company has a minority stake in that deal. He declined to comment on his relationship with Gottbetter.

He also declined to name Chasen Cos.’s other investment partners, citing confidentiality agreements. Chasen and Davis only said the group includes “high-net worth individuals.”

That includes Barry Honig, whom the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission charged in 2018 in an alleged “pump and dump” scheme that artificially inflated stock prices. The SEC in 2019 obtained a partial consent judgment against him.

Honig said his family has had a role with Chasen Cos. as a “limited investor.”

“Chasen Companies has a great future in leveraging its toe hold position,” he said in an email. “Baltimore presents a great opportunity.”

For Chasen Cos., Baltimore also has posed continued challenges.

The Baltimore Department of Housing and Community Development has issued citations to the company for problems including interior and exterior sanitation concerns, according to an online database. Officials from the city finance office said the company has applied for, but not yet received, tax credits.

Chasen Cos. is missing a license for at least one rental property, housing department spokeswoman Tammy Hawley said.

The housing department also is seeking an injunction over sanitation and trash at one Chasen Cos. property on Park Avenue in Mount Vernon. In the complaint, the city said the property has incurred 12 violations in the past two years. Chasen Cos. agreed to improvements and to provide the city a copy of its “established trash disposal protocols.” But the case remains open, and there is a hearing scheduled for July 10.

The Maryland Attorney General’s Office has received 10 complaints about Chasen Cos. in the past three years, a spokesperson said. At least two involve its lack of active rental licenses.

Some tenants have taken Chasen Cos. to task, saying the company falsely advertises by promising boutique and luxury apartments that fall short of those labels.

In interviews, court records and online reviews, some said their rental units lacked basic features such as working appliances. Others said they were misled about certain promised amenities — such as a widely publicized automated concierge service called Hello Alfred. Still others said their requests for maintenance or more security took too long to resolve.

Chasen and Davis said they’ve read the posts and taken the feedback to heart. Such complaints aren’t representative of the customer experience, they said, or of how much their tenants matter to them.

They churned through four property management companies in seven years before landing on another Chasen-owned entity to take over those duties. No one is going to care about their tenants as much as they do, they said. And despite the negative reviews, they said, their units continue to lease up.

“There’s a new, different level of accountability, responsibility over everything that we have,” Chasen said.

Paul Davis, Brandon Chasen and Drew Peace (left to right), of the Chasen Cos., pictured on the roof of their company’s office building in Fells Point on May 30, 2024, say they are committed to Baltimore. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)
The Chasen Cos. logo, seen on the exterior of The Madison building in Fells Point on May 30, 2024, is a common sight in some areas of the city. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Chasen Cos. and its supporters said the firm’s focus on converting distressed properties into modern housing while preserving neighborhood character is a good fit for Baltimore. The company has beautified blocks of the city that had for years been falling into disrepair, Chasen said.

“We’re happy to see them grow,” said Jeffrey Dewberry, vice president of the Society for the Preservation of Federal Hill and Fell’s Point. He said Chasen and Davis have been “good partners.”

Still, some former tenants said they can’t see renting from Chasen Cos. again.

“It’s honestly just a lot of calling and getting nowhere,” said Kaitlyn Jung, a Johns Hopkins University student who lived in a Park Avenue walk-up in Mount Vernon for a semester last fall before leaving for a Washington, D.C.-based internship.

Jung said her building’s washing machine was broken when she moved in and wasn’t fixed by the time she left. When the front door jammed shut in the middle of the night, no one at the “24/7″ maintenance line agreed to come help, she said. And she said she didn’t receive guidance about where to dispose of her garbage; trash bags from other tenants would pile up around the building, she recalled.

At the same time, Jung, an Atlanta native, said she had trouble finding another reasonably priced option that would offer her a short-term lease within walking distance of a university shuttle stop.

Chasen Cos. has also rapidly expanded in Mount Vernon

The company's portfolio includes several historic buildings, including several purchased from the Walters Art Museum.

Map shows Chasen Cos' acquisition of properties over time.

Source: Maryland Department of Assessment and Taxation • Greg Morton/The Baltimore Banner

Chasen and Davis said they aren’t perfect, but they are listening and learning.

Contractors have sued over Chasen Cos.’s alleged failure to pay for their services. One of them, Green Apple Commercial Cleaning of Baltimore, claims the company owes it more than $21,000.

Chasen and Davis said they are working to resolve current disputes, which they said are often not as serious as they seem.

Chasen Cos. continues to buy property and receives high-volume loans from reputable banks and financial service companies, including one for $20 million earlier this year. Property records show that Chasen Cos. frequently refinances and takes on more debt.

That approach isn’t unusual in the commercial real estate business, said Seydina Fall, a senior lecturer in finance at Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, who is not affiliated with the company.

Fall said banks are motivated to keep lending to Chasen Cos., regardless of possible problems in the real estate market or with certain transactions. Growing larger and larger, he said, is often a company’s clearest path to generating revenue.

“This is a big dilemma for bankers,” Fall said, “but it’s also an incentive for developers to be huge.”

That comes with risks, Fall said. A company has to hope that interest rates and other unforeseen costs of doing business don’t spiral out of control so that each loan can be serviced.

“You may have issues like slow rental growth, and rent moratoriums,” he said. “You need immediate reserves.”

A woman with a baby stroller crosses the street in front of The Anne, a building under development by Chasen Cos. and expected to be completed later this year, in Fells Point on May 31, 2024. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

High interest rates are part of what prompted Chasen Cos. to pare back expansion plans and deploy its staff differently, Chasen said.

The firm was flush in 2020 and 2021 as interest rates plummeted, allowing it to buy property when rates were at their lowest. Once rates shot up, which they began to do in mid-2022, the company, like many others in the industry, had to make tough decisions, Chasen said.

Chasen and Davis said that at times they feel that other real estate insiders question their intentions, which they attributed to their status as “outsiders” in a tight-knit city. But Baltimore’s small-town feel is what makes them want to keep investing, they said, even when times are hard.

“We can really shape the neighborhood, shape the city, because there is that opportunity,” Chasen said. “We’ve learned how to work with what we have, to the best of our abilities.”

Morton, who did data reporting for this story, is a resident at a Chasen Cos. property.