The storm siren sounded. Getting up, the man could hear debris hitting his house. Walking quickly down the dark hallway to waken his house guests and guide them to a safer, interior room, he looked up where his ceiling once had been and realized he could see trees and lightning. Luckily, nobody was hurt that night.
The worst part wasn’t losing his house to the tornado. He had insurance, after all, and it would be rebuilt. No, the worst part was having to list all his damaged, destroyed and missing belongings to file his homeowners insurance claim … from memory. Could you do it? Would you want to?
Take Inventory Before It’s Needed
Nobody wants to create an inventory of everything in their home (and garage, and shed, and rented storage unit, etc.). So instead, just start by taking photos of each wall in your home, garage, or other space where you keep your belongings. It won’t take long, and it will be a great help later.
Open the closets and cupboards before you take pictures so you can see as much as possible. Also, make sure you have good lighting and zoom in to record important details.
After you have taken photos, start adding detail as you are able. For the items that are rare, valuable and/or collectible, provide as much of the following detail as you can:
- Name and description of the item
- Where and when you purchased the item
- Price paid for the item (save receipts and owner’s manuals, if you have them)
- Make, model and serial numbers (appliances, electronics, wherever appropriate)
- For expensive jewelry, antiques and collectibles whose value can fluctuate, obtain formal appraisals—and check with your insurance provider now to make sure those special items are covered by your policy
Once you have catalogued those items and as you have time, move on to everything else that you would want replaced if a fire or natural disaster occurred. You can list some things, like clothing, in groups (e.g., 15 dresses, 10 suits, 12 silk ties, 33 pairs of shoes). If any items are especially valuable or expensive (e.g., all your shoes were made by Louboutin, Manolo Blahnik or Choo), list them out separately.
Remember to look in the attic and basement, and to include things you may be storing at the home of a friend or family member. Don’t forget about belongings housed in rented storage units, as well as seasonal items or holiday decorations that are out of sight most of the year.
Keep Your Records Safe
Treat your household inventory as a living document, not as a “one and done” exercise. Update your records as you make substantial new purchases or receive valuable gifts, when you move, and when you have a rummage sale or donate items.
Store a paper inventory, photos, receipts and appraisals in a fireproof safe or somewhere offsite. Consider storing a digital record online, where you can access it from anywhere, anytime.
Avoid the trauma of trying to remember everything you lost during possibly one of the most stressful periods of your life. Having this information at your fingertips after a disaster occurs is invaluable and will help you settle your insurance claim faster.
Want to learn more about how homeowners insurance works? Read our blog post: Does Your Insurance Cover You if the Unexpected Happens?
The above information does not constitute advice. Always contact your insurance broker or trusted adviser for insurance-related questions.