Prepare a home inventory before disaster strikes. It’s not a pleasant topic but what would happen if your home were damaged, burned down, or otherwise destroyed or your property was lost or stolen? Would you have the ability to recall everything you had in your home? Trying to remember when you bought your television in the midst of a disaster is the last thing you’ll want to be doing.
It may seem like an overwhelming and time-consuming process but try to think about the peace of mind you will have once your home inventory is complete. You don’t have to complete it all in one day, weekend or week. Even if disaster strikes before you have completed it having a partial list is better than no list at all.
Here’s what you need to know:
What is the goal of a home inventory and why do I need it?
The goal of a home inventory is that in the event of a loss you will hand this document over to your insurance company or use it to create a list of items lost. The reason we all have homeowners insurance is so we can be reimbursed and made as financially whole as possible in the event of a loss.
If you have a detailed inventory of everything you own this should increase your insurance reimbursement and possibly reduce the amount of time it takes to be reimbursed. You increase your chances of a better reimbursement because not only will you have a list of what you owned and proof that you owned (photos, videos, receipts) but also because the list will be more complete. Rather than trying to recall what you had in the midst of a disaster you will have completed it before you sustained the loss.
The insurance company isn’t going to reimburse you for anything you don’t remember you had. And according to the Insurance Journal having a home inventory may “halve the time it takes to process a claim.”
Overview: what should a home inventory include?
- The key to a good inventory is detailed descriptions and information and proof of ownership.
- A home inventory should be a list of everything you own, along with the date you bought it and financial information including purchase price and more..
- It should include descriptions, make and model and serial numbers (where applicable) for more expensive items.
- It should provide proof that you actually owned the items on your list. You can accomplish this with photos and if you want to be really thorough a video of all areas of your home.
- You should also attach any receipts, purchase contracts and appraisals that you have. You should try to have as much documentation as possible for expensive items.
- The more detailed the document the more you are likely to recover from your insurer.
Tools to prepare a home inventory
There are many methods to accomplish this. Just use whatever method is most expedient for you so you can get it completed and that will be easy for you to update.
- You can write everything down using pen and pad.
- You can create a spreadsheet, Google doc or Google for a template you can customize.
- The Insurance Information Institute offers free software called Know Your Stuff, which offers cloud-based storage and an app. Many insurance companies recommend this software.
- Some insurance companies offer advice on how to put an inventory together so you may want to check with your carrier.
- National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
- Encircle free app.
Steps to follow
- Start by going room-to-room. You may want to tackle one room a day. You may also want to enlist the help of other household members to create a preliminary list for their bedrooms. You can then go through and confirm that everything is listed, is correct and add missing information.
- Take a photo of each wall in every room. Photos (and videos) provides proof that you owned items. You may look at a photo later an notice something you missed on the list.
- Take close up shots of valuable items so it is clear what they are. Zoom in for serial numbers.
- Label all your photos either electronically or by printing them out and writing detailed information on each photo.
- You can take videos (even with your cell phone). Narrate as you go along with descriptions, price and purchase date of expensive items.
- Don’t forget closets, drawers, hallways, boxes, under beds, behind large pieces of furniture, storage rooms, basements, attics, crawl spaces, sheds, and garages. Take photos and videos of these areas also – including inside drawers and closets. If you have expensive things like shoes or clothing you may want to take pictures with the labels visible.
- Record the name of each item, describe the item, including its brand/model (if applicable), condition, purchase price, and the date and location where you purchased the item. Also, record any serial numbers found on any items. For items such as furniture also include the dimensions and the materials (i.e. oak desk or four foot by six foot mahogany table).
- If you have receipts, attach them either electronically or group all the paper together.
- If you have a replacement cost policy you should include replacement cost estimates for every item in your inventory. You may have to do some online (Amazon, ebay etc.) and/or in-store legwork for that information after you’ve made your list.
- Locate receipts. If you purchased valuable items online go into your accounts and reprint the receipts. Some banks charge for receipt copies but if you recall which credit card you used to purchase an item request a copy of the receipt.
- Don’t forget about documents that cost money to replace: birth certificates, social security cards, passports, visas, drivers licenses, car titles, college diplomas, check books, gift cards.
- Work with your insurance agent to ensure that your inventory is acceptable and that your current coverage is adequate by showing them your inventory. Also they will determine whether you may need an insurance rider for certain items such as jewelry, artwork, musical instruments, furs, valuable wine, etc.
- Update the inventory every time you make a large purchase, receive expensive gifts or move items within your home. At the minimum update your inventory annually. Keep a file or container and put your receipts for large purchases in it then go back periodically and log in the new information. Also take new photographs. Then electronically store the inventory.
- A home inventory can be used as the basis for taking a deduction from your income tax for the uninsured portion of a casualty loss.
- Update your insurance coverage if necessary when adding expensive items to your home.
- Store a copy of your inventory, including all back-up documents, away from home. Store it on the cloud (i.e. Dropbox), email it to yourself if you are comfortable with that or save it on a disk and store it some place safe.
- If you’re using the Know Your Stuff or other insurance company software, your inventory may be stored online.
- If you live in a disaster-prone area, keep a copy in your emergency evacuation bag.
Keep in mind that your expensive electronics and appliances may have cost a lot but the value of your shoes, clothing, coats, dishes, cookware, bakeware, small appliances, vacuum, yard maintenance equipment, tools, books, bicycles, sports equipment, children’s toys, beds, linens, bath linens, home decor, draperies, rugs, furniture and more probably far exceed the value of your computers, televisions etc. So don’t skimp on the project because that could cost you far more in the long run. Good luck!