On my way to the train to work this morning, I had to walk around a roofer's truck parked halfway into the sidewalk.

I'm not complaining about having to walk briefly in a busy street, mind you. The experience simply awakened me to the fact that autumn is on its way, and it's about time we all began thinking about the condition of our roofs.

I've not had many good roofing experiences over the years. In my younger, more naive days, one roofer's crew actually tarred over the drain on the flat roof of my city townhouse that handled runoff from two other houses as well as mine.

No matter what the intensity of the rainfall was, the runoff would tumble over the side of the roof and into another neighbor's mailbox.

After the roofer failed to honor the warranty, I brought him to court to recover costs.

The next roofer I hired undid the damage of the first, but fabricated other problems he blamed on No. 1.

The next house was shingled with asbestos-fiber shingles that a growing number of roofers, concerned about potential health problems and hazardous-waste disposal costs, will not touch.

I spent the next 14 years patching and repairing, replacing broken shingles with ones fabricated from exterior plywood covered with look-alike asphalt shingles.

The broken asbestos shingles were given to a professional for disposal.

I also maintained a constant vigil, running to every room on all three floors to examine the ceilings during heavy rains.

One of the reasons I bought my present house is because its roof was only four years old and was pronounced in perfect shape by both the home inspector and a roofing contractor I hired to look at it, too.

A sound roof reduces stress and protects the investment you've made in the house beneath it.

Another thing that has gotten me thinking about roofs is Hurricane Charley, which devastated the west coast of Florida last weekend.

I watched the wind peel off metal roofs in a few minutes, opening up the buildings and their contents to heavy rain damage. I saw shingles and plywood decking tossed like children's toys in every direction.

There are precautions that homeowners in hurricane-prone areas can take, such as hiring a contractor to install hurricane straps to help keep the shingles and sheathing in place.

Winds from hurricanes aren't everyone's concern, but the condition of your roof should be yours. Remember, besides protecting your investment, a roof that is in good shape means one less thing you have to think about when you put your house on the market.

When I sold my house with the asbestos shingles, I disclosed that it was an old roof with asbestos shingles on the state-mandated disclosure form.

The roof did not leak. I made certain of that. But it came with no short-term guarantees. I also suggested to the buyers that they hire a competent roofer before we went to settlement to look over the roof.

They chose not to.

Would I have agreed to a new roof? Most likely not. But with seven bidders for my house, all offering well above asking price after only two days on the market, I was in the driver's seat.

What I did do was to make doubly certain that roof was in usable shape between the signing of the agreement of sale and settlement day.

But that is just me. How you and your agent decide to handle negotiations is up to you.

How well a roof works is determined by both the quality of installation and the materials your roofer uses.

The method you use to choose a roofer is also up to you. I am a great proponent of the "word of mouth" school of contractor acquisition. I am also an advocate of checking all references, including ones that you come up with on your own as well as the one the roofer provides.

If you can spend the time -- and I truly believe it is worth your time -- visit jobs your prospective roofers are currently engaged in, and talk to the homeowners employing those roofers when you do.

Never work without a written contract -- not a work order, but a formal contract, signed by you and the roofer. Make sure that contract includes a time frame for completion of the work and covers disposal of materials and places the responsibility squarely on the roofer for any damage he or his workers may cause to you or your neighbors.

Make sure that the work is guaranteed. Most reputable roofers offer warranties of various lengths underwritten by an insurer. However, roofers go out of business all the time, so make absolutely certain that the insurer will assume full responsibility for any repairs that may occur while the warranty is in force.

A formal letter from you to the insurer, and formal guarantee in writing from the insurer in return is sufficient protection for you in the event of litigation.

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