You and your family are sitting on the bumper of a fire truck. You kids are wrapped in one of those bright yellow emergency blankets. The smoke alarm alerted you in plenty of time to get out of the house, but the smell of fire permeates the neighborhood. The senior firefighter on the scene walks over to you and tells you that the house has been severely damaged and you will not be able to occupy it that evening.
You have insurance, and the home will be restored. You also have had the foresight to get full replacement value for your personal items. However, after you can safely examine what remains of your home, you realize that you have accumulated a great many things. You look around. You see the remains of a lamp. Where did you get that? Was it a gift? How much was that painting worth? Do you remember who the artist was? What was the name of the silverware pattern you kept in the buffet that is now just charred rubble?
Perhaps instead of a fire, your home was burglarized. In that case, you do not even have damaged remnants of your possessions – just a ransacked home.
Savvy homeowners will inventory their household goods from time to time. In the past, photos and paper ledgers listed the things one owned. These days, there are cell phone applications that allow you to keep a running inventory along with a photo, and even the old ledger and snapshots can be done online, safely storing your information should the need arise.
Taking your Inventory – Ideally one has receipts, but most insurance companies will accept your inventory as proof of ownership when you file a claim. The most important thing is to make sure your inventory captures the data your insurance carrier requires in order to file a valid claim. Check with your insurance agent to learn what is required. Among that data you will find helpful is:
- Location – Where was the item located in your home (living room, kitchen, garage)? While not required for the insurance company, but handy to have to help organize your inventory.
- Description – What was the item? Record the name and brand as well.
- Model – Keep a record of what model of an item you have.
- Serial Number – If the police find a suspect in a theft, the serial number may be how they tie them to the crime in your home.
- Date Purchased – This will help determine how much depreciation will be applied.
- Where Purchased – A helpful note when you go to replace it. Name the store or website where purchased.
- Warranty – As long as you are recording information, indicate how long it is warranted!
- Price – Indicate how much you paid for the item.
- Condition – Especially important for collectibles, but you want to indicate what condition an item is in as you inventory it.
- Estimated Value – Also important for collectibles. If you have an idea as to the market value of an item, make a note.
- Notes – Have a column where you can add any additional notes relevant to your item
- Photo – A nice photo of your property will go a long way to establishing ownership and condition. You may want to take multiple angles, such as both sides of a fine china plate so as to record the hallmark and pattern.
Taking an inventory before a loss allows you to record serial numbers, brand names and other information to allow your insurance carrier help you replace those things you lost. In the event of a theft, identifying marks like a unique serial number may even help the authorities catch the thief. Finally, from time to time, add and remove items to your inventory to keep it up to date.
Online, Electronic or Offline – The disadvantage of a ledger of your possessions is that if you keep it in your home it could be destroyed along with your belongings. That said, there are inexpensive fire-resistant lock-boxes and safes that can mitigate this danger, and may even be a smart place to keep irreplaceable belongings and documents. If you have a safe deposit box, you can keep it there, too.
Online inventories have the advantage of being available anywhere at anytime, but their availability is dependent on that particular firm remaining in business. It would be dreadful to need an inventory in an emergency only to learn the website is no longer available. Choose an online service that you are confident will be around for a long time, or allow you to keep offline backups.
However you do it, make sure before you invest a great deal of effort that your application or offline method is able to accommodate all the information your insurance requires.
Microsoft Excel has a home inventory template you can use to make a spreadsheet of your possessions. Google Drive does as well. Once finished, you can keep the electronic version on your local computer, as well as leave it in a “cloud drive.” You can save a copy to a flash drive, CD Rom and, along with a printout, keep it somewhere safe.
We certainly hope nobody suffers a loss due to flood, fire, storm or theft, but that’s why we have insurance – because it could happen. We install smoke alarms, pay attention to the weather, and lock our homes to protect our property. A home inventory is just another smart step to protect our investments. If you have any questions about the coverage for your personal belongings, call one of the independent insurance agents of O’Connor Insurance at 314-434-0038.