By Jim Cory. When one of Marty Schirber's 1,287 former clients is thinking about buying a house, the Minneapolis contractor is often called in to give his opinion.

"When people are thinking of buying a house, they look at it in a very emotional way," Schirber, of Castle Building & Remodeling, points out. "They're scared to death. I look at it in a cold, hard, detached way. I look at the same things as a home inspector, but I look at them from the standpoint of what has to be replaced, and how soon."

In addition to examining the house for issues like mold, asbestos, and water intrusion, he estimates the "life expectancies" of its various parts. Some examples are the 20-year roof that's 19 years old, the 30-year furnace that's 45 years old, or the galvanized pipes with rust hanging from the joints -- systems that are "living on borrowed time."

In addition, Schirber explains how the house works. He will point out, for instance, where water lines enter and sewer lines leave and demonstrates essential maintenance procedures, such as how to change furnace filters.

Schirber typically sets aside Saturdays for these visits, performs between 50 and 60 a year, and for this service -- a completely verbal report -- charges anywhere from $75 to $150.

The home inspections also give the contractor a good idea of what's going to be on the client's maintenance and remodeling wish list for the next few years. "I usually walk away with a job lined up," Schirber says. "They say to me, here are the three things we know we're going to do." In addition, when clients sell the house, they usually recommend that new owners contact Schirber and his company, Castle Building & Remodeling, because he knows the house.