House that exploded was being rehabbed

Posted: July 31, 2013

The owner of the South Philadelphia rowhouse that exploded Monday morning is a recently created real estate investment firm, SCK Investments L.L.C., set up to buy, rehabilitate, and resell neglected properties.

What used to be a two-story home at 428 Daly St. was apparently its first investment, the only Pennsylvania property under SCK's ownership since the business was incorporated in January 2012, listing an address at 2653 S. Camac St.

Its principals - Cathy Finney-Hughes, described as president on an SCK website, and executive secretary Steve Finney - failed to respond to repeated phone calls, messages, and visits from reporters.

"Right now, he's not talking to anybody," said a man who answered the door at Finney's home in Packer Park. "And I'm just a neighbor." Then he shut the door.

SCK's website describes Finney as "a state and national leader in the real estate industry," as the 1995 president of the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors and for 10 years a director of the National Association of Realtors. It listed past businesses in Mercer County, on the Ohio border.

"The mission of SCK Investments L.L.C. is to purchase neglected properties, to rehabilitate those properties and sell them," says a brief description on the Internet. "At some point in the near future, we also intend to buy properties to develop a rental portfolio."

The 1,100-square foot house on Daly, built around 1920, was purchased in March for $65,000, according to city property records.

Before the purchase became final, the company solicited bids for a near-complete renovation, including demolition of the entire interior save its framing and stairs, plus new drywall, new floors and windows, a new roof, new kitchen cabinets with granite countertops, a new bathroom and basement powder room.

Much of the work had already been done.

Keith Mitchell, 27, who lives across the street, said Finney gave him a tour of the house Sunday.

"I said it looked nice on the outside. He said, 'You want to see the inside?' " Mitchell recalled.

Finney had installed new hardwood flooring, a new kitchen, and a new central air system, Mitchell said. Outside, the house had a new front door, new steps, and a fresh coat of paint.

"Everything was new," Mitchell said.

Finney said he recently replaced the original contractor because the work was taking too long, according to Mitchell.

He said he saw Finney at the house almost every day, including Monday morning.

Mitchell went to work and later found out about the explosion.

In bid documents describing the scope of the planned renovation, SCK said it would provide major appliances, including the range, refrigerator, and washer and gas dryer. But it said the contractor would be responsible for installing a new furnace with central air, and reinstalling the existing hot water tank.

That tank may have played a role in the explosion. City Councilman Mark Squilla said Monday that the contractor working in the basement of the home - the most seriously injured victim of the blast - told rescuers that he was trying to light the water heater when the explosion occurred.

SCK's bidding document - also posted on the Internet - included a section on "legal issues," saying the contractor would be responsible for "obtaining all city permits in connection with this project."

And it warned: "It is our understanding that certain contractors obtain and install items that were obtained illegally. Installation of such items is strictly prohibited. If we later discover information that this policy was violated, said information will be turned over to legal authorities."

City permit records listed four contractors: Philly's Finest Construction L.L.C., 1100 Porter St., to do major alterations; David Rubin of South Philadelphia for electrical work; Michael Daley of Prospect Park for plumbing; and Francis Savarese of Sicklerville for mechanical work, installing a new furnace and air-conditioning.

Daley, of Daley Plumbing & Heating Co., said his crew had installed several drains about a month ago and left after finishing the work.

He said the crew never did any work with gas lines at the house.

Savarese, of Temp-Stat Inc. in Camden County, received a permit in April to install a furnace and air-conditioning, according to city records. The permit was updated in May. But a spokesman for Temp-Stat said no one in the company was involved in the work on Daly Street.

Officials at Finest could not be reached for comment. Rubin did not respond to phone calls.


Contact Bob Warner at 215-854-5885 or warnerb@phillynews.com.

Inquirer staff writer Dylan Purcell contributed to this article.

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