IT USED TO be if a person owned a boat and was queried, "How much does it cost to run?" the response was, "If you have to ask, you can't afford it."

With the arrival of spring, the same answer could go for someone owning a house.

I came home the other day to see a man standing on my roof.

"What are you doing up there?" I asked him.

"Four thousand dollars, which doesn't include the gutter work."

I was about to say something, when a truck drew up and two men started throwing mulch on the lawn.

The driver said, "You're lucky it was a warm winter. The grass looks in pretty good shape."

"How good?" I wanted to know.

"Two thousand and six dollars, if you want us to prune the trees."

A car parked behind him. The man got out holding a clipboard and a ruler and started to measure the retaining wall, next to the garage. "What't up?" I asked.

"Your wife called and asked me to give her an estimate on what it would cost to repair your wall."

"I know what it will cost," I said.

"How much?"

"Three thousand, two hundred and twenty-five dollars."

"How did you know?"

"I have psychic powers."

A large van pulled up in back of the retaining-wall man's car. "Where do you want the patio furniture?" the burly man asked.

"You sure you've got the right house?"

The man checked his order slip. "It says 'Patio Furniture' $4,500."

"You've got the right house."

I sat on the stoop and lit a cigar. Two men in overalls came around from the side of the house. "It's had it."

"What's had it?"

"The air conditioner. The moro is shot. You need new bearings, and the cooling unit has to be replaced. You would be better off buying a new one than having us fix the old one."

"Don't I know it," said. "What are air conditioners going for these days?"

"If you want one that will last, start thinking $6,000."

"That's what I was thinking," I said.

"You have to order one now in time for the summer," one of them said, handing me the slip.

I was about to go into the house when the painters arrived. They kept staring up at the windows and writing numbers on a pad.

"There's a lot more trim on those windows than you'd think," one told me. "Also your front door is warped. You'd better have that fixed before we paint it."

"Ill bet you couldn't paint the windows for less than $3,000," I said.

"We could, but you'd be wasting your money. They should have at least two coats."

My wife called down from porch, "Don't let the painters leave until they look at the cracks in the basement."

"Why would I want them to leave?" I said.

The roofer was putting his ladder back on the truck, the mulchers had finished their mulching, the retaining-wall man had left, and the painters were in the house talking to my wife.

My son drove up in his car. "What's up, Dad?" he asked.

"Sit down, son. I have something to tell you. Someday," I said, pointing at the house and grounds, "all this will be yours."

"When Dad?"

"How does today suit you?"