Why You Shouldn’t Wait to Take a Home Inventory

Iimagine that all your belongings are destroyed in a fire. Fortunately, you have insurance. But to make a claim and get reimbursed, you need to make a list of everything you’ve lost. How many of your things would you be able to remember?

I tried it on a smaller scale, listing from memory everything I could think of in my home office. I came up with 51 items. Not bad, I thought, but once back in the room, I discovered 25 other things I had missed.

“All the stuff that we collect as people over the years…often totals hundreds of thousands of dollars. And remembering all those little things is nearly impossible,” says Steve Severaid, president of The Greenspan Co./Adjusters International, a public fitter serving California, Nevada and Arizona. Public adjusters help policyholders negotiate fair insurance claims.

To ensure that your claim payment is not insufficient, consider creating a survey of your possessions, often referred to as a home inventory.

The benefits of a condition report

In the aftermath of a disaster, you will likely mourn the loss of your home, search for a temporary place to live, and struggle to understand what lies ahead. In addition to helping you get full reimbursement for your belongings, having a home inventory can ease your burden during a stressful time.

“Is it difficult to [make an inventory] now? Yes,” says Katherine Navarro Wong, owner of a State Farm agency in Santa Rosa, California. “But after losing everything, it’s really difficult.”

Because you’ve already done most of the work, having a home inventory in place makes it easier and faster to file your claim, Wong says. “You will get your money faster.”

Building up your inventory can also help ensure that you have sufficient insurance coverage. You might not realize how much your stuff is worth until you start documenting everything, Wong says. Then, if you discover that your personal property coverage isn’t enough, you’ll have time to increase your limit before disaster strikes.

How to Create a Home Inventory

Listing each of your assets can seem like a daunting task, but there are ways to make it more manageable.

“One of the quickest and easiest ways to do this is to take 15 or 20 minutes with a video camera or your iPhone,” says Severaid. He recommends going through each room and telling as you go, zooming in on the labels of high-value items. Don’t forget to pull out dresser drawers and open cabinet doors to show what’s inside.

In addition to being faster to produce than a written record, a video also gives your insurance company a way to see the quality of your articles, says Severaid.

Taking photos instead of video is another option. For example, many home inventory apps allow you to upload images and information about each item, such as serial number or date of purchase.

My personal favorite is the Encircle app, which lets you quickly browse each room with a series of photos, then add details about specific items. It is available for iOS and Android.

You can also create a spreadsheet, either from scratch or by downloading a template from the web. For example, United Policyholders, a consumer advocacy group, offers a complete inventory spreadsheet with hundreds of suggested items divided by room.

If trying to count every kitchen towel makes you want to give up altogether, “focus on the most valuable items,” Wong says. This can include jewelry, artwork, musical instruments and collectibles, as well as furniture and electronics. The elements of a tool shed can also add up quickly, she notes.

Whichever method you choose, make sure your home inventory is stored somewhere outside of your home, such as in the cloud or in a safe deposit box at the bank. Having an inventory won’t do you any good if the computer it’s on burns down in a fire.

Your insurance agent may even be willing to keep a copy of your inventory, Wong says.

Severaid recommends updating your inventory every year or two, or sooner if you’ve made major purchases or redecorated your home.

Make a complaint without an inventory

If disaster strikes before you’ve started building inventory, you can try the following to get the most out of your home insurance claim:

  • Ask friends and family to share photos taken at your home, suggests Severaid. “The photographs are never meant to document the house, but it’s always in the background,” he says. “It’s a great way to get details when you weren’t prepared.”
  • Check your phone (if it survived the disaster) and social media accounts for photos from inside your home.
  • Look for a list of common household items, such as the United Policyholders inventory above, to help jog your memory.
  • View your order history from the online stores where you shop most often. Your email account may also contain receipts for past purchases.

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