Tom Silva and daughter Kate
Photo: Richard Schultz
8. Fix It Before It Breaks
I'm here to help with the big jobs, but as the owners of this place, the day-in, day-out maintenance is up to you. The trick is to take care of little things before they become big problems. I noticed some roof shingles are missing and that the caulking is cracked around some windows. That's easy stuff for any homeowner to fix. If you wait until water can get in, it will start destroying the wood and you'll need major work. Remember this mantra: Water is a house's worst enemy.

9. Keep a To-Do List
That said, once you've finished your tour of the house and made a list of repairs, figure out which ones can wait. Not every fix has to happen right away, especially with a limited budget. There are many you can space out over time. Like the chimney repointing—you've got a few cracks at the top that need to be fixed. But they're not letting water in, and the freeze-thaw cycle that caused the mortar to crack won't be back for a few months. The garage door looks bad after 50 years, but it still goes up and down. It can wait, too. Now, the leaking bulkhead for the cellar stairs—that could wait, because it's only a little water going to the slab floor, not the wood framing. But if you want to make use out of that space, you should fix it now.

10. Dry Yourself Out
Dollar for dollar, a basement is the cheapest space in your house. As long as you keep it dry, you can get a ton of use out of it—by making it into a workshop, or a family room, or even that media room Jay wants so he can watch the Red Sox. What's great about a finished basement is that homeowners can save money by doing some of the work themselves. If I show Jay how to patch that leak in the concrete foundation with quick-drying hydraulic cement, then he can paint it with a masonry waterproofer. When he's done, the place will be good and dry and ready for walls and floors.

11. Keep It in the Family
See? I've already got you and Jay working—you don't really need me after all. But, really, doing hands-on projects together is a great way for a family to stay connected, and there are lots of things you need two people for. Like ripping out the old wall-to-wall carpeting, or cleaning out the gutters (one of you has to hold the ladder). But I'm really impressed by the work you've already done on the house, and how well you've taken to the responsibility of home ownership. One of these days, I'll even come over for dinner and not bring my tools.
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