Spring brings to mind rituals of cleaning and planting, but it?s also the time of year when most homeowners decide what improvements they hope ? or need ? to make in the warmer months ahead. That list could include everything from a fresh coat of exterior paint to installing a new roof. If you are considering the latter, the effort you put into finding the right contractor will be as vital to the success of your project as the type of roofing material you choose.

A good roof is one of the most important investments you can make for your home. Certainly, you want a new roof to be attractive. It needs to complement your home?s architectural style and improve its curb appeal ? and resale value, when the time comes. You also want it to be leak-free, fire-safe, wind-resistant, and capable of performing well for 20 years or more. While it?s tempting to start by shopping for materials, you should make finding a qualified roofing contractor your first order of business.

Your contractor can help you make the right decisions regarding materials, particularly as they relate to your house?s style and climate. A contractor can also make sure the roof you install will not only meet your personal requirements but also those of the roofing manufacturer and local building codes.

Here are five things to consider when you?re looking for a qualified roofing contractor:
No. 1: Get a referral

One of the best ways to find any contractor is to check with people you know. Have any of your neighbors, friends, or colleagues had their roof replaced? If so, were they happy with the job and, most importantly, would they work with that contractor again ? a sure sign that the experience was a good one? Likewise, if you know of a home in your area that just had a roof installed, ask the owners if they have a recommendation. Smaller lumber yards and hardware stores are also good sources for leads, as are any roofing distributors in your area.
No. 2: Do your research

Once you?ve identified a couple of qualified roofing contractors ? ideally three ? do some sleuthing. Verify their business address, phone number and email, make sure they are insured and licensed, and even run a credit check. How long have they been in business? Do they have a professional website that includes previous work, customer comments and references? Check with your local Better Business Bureau or chamber of commerce, as well as contractor review sites like Angie?s List, to see if they report any complaints.
No. 3: Meet with them

Once you?ve narrowed the field, have each prospective contractor visit your home to discuss roofing materials, the extent of work to be done, and the amount of time and manpower that will be required to complete the project. Does the contractor seem enthusiastic, knowledgeable and professional? Those qualities will be your assurance of a good find. Contractors have insights on best roofing materials and installation techniques, but it is your house ? so be sure to ask questions and participate in the decision-making. Remember to get references and check them.
No. 4: Get it in writing

Do not let work begin until you have a signed contract that details every aspect of the job, from the type of roofing materials to be installed to the product warranty and workmanship guarantees. Make certain it covers safety procedures and liability ? including workers? compensation, when work is to begin and end, and how many workers will be on the job. The contract should also specify clean-up methods, payment amounts and schedule. You might even want to ask for a lien waiver to protect against claims that could arise if the roofer fails to pay the materials manufacturer or other vendor.
No. 5: You?ll get what you pay for

Don?t go for the cheapest bid in an attempt to save money. Your roof is an investment worth making, and the cost will be amortized over the lifetime of the roof. Your final choice should be based on a combination of cost and confidence.