Preparing a Personal Property Inventory for your Homeowner’s and Renter’s Insurance
You’ve recently spent hours researching and reviewing a variety of insurance companies to protect your home and belongings, you’ve agonized over the different policies, and you’ve taken the plunge to sign up for coverage. It can be a grueling task, but it’s a wonderful step you’ve taken to safeguard your family with homeowner’s or renter’s insurance. Take a moment to enjoy a job well done, but don’t get too comfortable! There’s an important next step to take to make sure that your insurance provides all the protection it can for your family.
All insurance policies should cover the contents of your home or apartment, to provide you with funds to replace or repair things that might be damaged or destroyed by fire, theft, or other disaster. A personal property inventory is essential to maximizing the amount you can recover and is sometimes even required under your contract as one of the policy holder’s responsibilities. A personal property inventory is exactly what it sounds like – it’s some form of documentation that captures information about everything in your home, including furniture, appliances, clothing, jewelry, collectibles, cleaning supplies, bathroom toiletries, and even the food in your fridge.
When disaster strikes and you need to file a claim, having an inventory already prepared can more than double the amount of reimbursement you request. After a catastrophic loss, you may be so overwhelmed that you find it difficult to remember everything you owned. Even under the best of circumstances, most of us will be able to remember the major appliances and furniture but would be hard-pressed to come up with a comprehensive list of all the little things found around our homes.
There are several ways, some quick and some more thorough, to create a meaningful and useful personal property inventory. Check with your policy first to see what documentation they’ll accept if you have to file a claim, as that should influence which approach you select:
1) Take pictures! Lots and lots and lots of pictures
The fastest, down-and-dirty way to create an inventory is to simply take pictures or videos of everything. In every room, pan your camera all around to capture everything visible. Then open your drawers and closets, and take pictures there. If a closet is crammed full of things, pull stuff out and spread it on the bed for better pictures. Even if you decide on another more thorough inventory system, taking pictures is always a good idea as this may serve as the “proof” an insurance company needs to confirm that you owned those items.
2) Write down an inventory list
If you can find the time, the best approach is to create a comprehensive list of everything in your home. Walk around each room and under a heading or spreadsheet labeled with the name of that room, list everything (and I mean everything) in that room. Many people will use a spreadsheet program like Excel as it can be easy to update and manipulate those lists. List the furniture, clothing and shoes, computers, nick-knacks, rugs and artwork, etc. Beside the name of each thing, jot down an estimate of what you paid for it or its value if known. You might also add the approximate date it was purchased or obtained, model numbers, and any personal notes like the history of the piece or relatives you’ve inherited it from.
3) Make a copy of any receipts you have for the big-ticket items
You’ve probably saved receipts for the appliances and other items, particularly if they’re under warranty. Gather those up and scan them into your computer, or simply take a picture of the receipts with your camera.
4) Don’t forget to inventory all the little things around your home
You might be shocked to discover just how much miscellaneous stuff the average family has and how much it can up to in costs to replace. Be sure to also inventory these things, including cosmetics, first aid supplies, holiday decorations, school and home office supplies, dishes and cookware, cleaning supplies, pet supplies, toys, and games. And don’t forget to open the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry – the average family of four may have $1,000 or more in food alone stored in their home.
No matter which personal property inventory system you use, be sure to backup the information off-site. Email the pictures and lists to yourself, so it’s stored on a remote email server. Copy the files to a flash drive and leave that drive at work or with a relative. Upload the files to the cloud. It will do you no good if your only inventory list is in your house when your home burns down, so an off-site backup is essential.
You’ll also want to set a date each year, such as your spring date for replacing your smoke alarm batteries, where you sit down and update your inventory with any new additions you may have acquired. You’ll want to take more pictures, update any spreadsheets, and copy new receipts to add to your off-site inventory list. You may instead want to update as you go, especially if you’re using the ‘scan in receipts’ method, so you don’t get a backlog of work.