Create an Inventory of Your Possessions for Homeowners Insurance Claims

Fully protect yourself against loss from theft and other disasters by making a comprehensive inventory of your belongings.

furniture inside home

According to a 2012 survey conducted by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, only about 40 percent of Americans have taken the time to create an inventory of their possessions.

What does that mean for the remaining 60 percent or so of people who call this country home? For starters, it means they’re at risk for inadequate homeowners insurance coverage should some sort of catastrophe destroy or damage--or should someone break into their dwelling and steal--their belongings.

A home inventory—a detailed list of everything in your home, basically--can benefit owners or renters in other ways, too, such as by helping them speed up the recovery process, verify tax-deductible property losses, and keep track of all the things they’ve accumulated over the years. It even can help people figure out how much insurance they should buy.

The good news here is that it isn’t very difficult to create this kind of inventory. In fact, it can consist of nothing more than a simple pen-and-paper record of all of your possessions, although most insurance experts and agents probably would suggest putting in a bit more effort than that—by, say, cataloging your valuables using photos (digital ones, especially) and video, too.

Plenty of Apps and Online Tools

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel here, by the way. There are plenty of free and easy-to-use tools out there that will do a lot of the heavy lifting for you.

If you’ve got an Android- or iOS-based smartphone, for instance, all of the following apps will help you produce a home inventory that’s sure to impress even a seasoned insurance agent:

The Digital Locker, DreamVault, and Know Your Stuff apps also can be accessed via the web, if you’d prefer to use that medium to compile your inventory (or if you simply don’t have an Android- or iOS-enabled device).

Don’t worry if you’re kind of “old school” when it comes to such things and you’d rather go the pen-and-paper route. You’re covered even then, thanks to the efforts of organizations like the Texas Department of Insurance (download and print its Home Inventory Checklist) and the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association (find its sample inventory form at the bottom of this page).

Home Inventory Tips and Tricks

No matter which method you use to create your home inventory, here are a few tips that should help you produce the most comprehensive inventory possible.

Go with your gut--There are all sorts of ways you can catalog your belongings. You can walk from room to room and record them that way, or you can record and organize them by category (electronics, furniture, jewelry, etc.), from most expensive to least, or even by newest to oldest. Regardless, pick the one that you’re more likely to stick with, or the one that feels most natural to you.

Don’t forget those out-of-the-way spaces—It’s easy to overlook items that are stored in your attic, basement, garage, and any detached structures (like your tool shed) while working on a home inventory, so you may want to make a point of beginning the process in those areas.

Day-to-day items need love, too—There’s no way you’re going to forget to include your TV, jewelry, or laptop in your inventory, but how about all of those less exciting items like small appliances, clothes, and sports equipment? Added up, they’re probably worth a good amount of money, so keep an eye out for them, too.

Make, model, and more for electronics and appliances—Whenever possible, include in your inventory the made, model, serial number, purchase date and price for each appliance and electronic item.

Relax a bit when it comes to clothing—As fun as it may be to list and photograph and produce video footage of every single piece of clothing you own, that’s not really needed when working on a home inventory. Instead, record the number of items you own in each category (shirts, pants, coats, etc.) and only single out pieces that are particularly expensive or valuable.

Spend extra time with high-value items—Some belongings like art, collectibles, jewelry, and musical instruments may be worth enough that they need to be insured separately. If you’re at all unsure as to whether or not some of your possessions require this sort of special attention, ask your agent.

Keep it current—With “it” being your home inventory. In other words, update it once in a while—like whenever you get rid of something noteworthy, or after you make an especially significant purchase.

Don’t just stick the finished product in a drawer—OK, so that’s pretty unlikely to happen if you make use of one of the above-mentioned smartphone or web apps, but if you use a printed checklist, you’re going to want to make sure you store copies of it outside of your home. A safe deposit box is a good option here, although one of your desk drawers at work may be acceptable, too.

Home Inventory FAQ

Q: Why do I need a home inventory?

A: A comprehensive home inventory can help you: determine how much homeowners insurance you should buy, speed up the recovery process should your belongings get stolen or be damaged or destroyed, and verify tax-deductible property losses. It also can simply allow you to keep track of the many items and gadgets and pieces of equipment you’ve purchased and otherwise acquired over the years.

Q: What information should I gather and include in my home inventory?

A: Wherever possible, you should catalog an item’s make, model, purchase date, purchase price (or current, estimated value), and serial number within your inventory.

Q: Is video footage of my belongings enough for insurance purposes, or do I need to do more?

Although video footage is great for all sorts of reasons—one of which is that it provides proof of ownership—if your goal is to cover all of your bases you’ll also want to photograph your possessions (photos usually provide greater detail than video footage does) and somehow record all of the information mentioned in the response above.

Q: Do I really need to take photos, or even video footage, of my belongings if I have a rider on my valuables and adequate insurance coverage on the rest of my possessions

If you want to receive all that you’re owed for not-as-valuable items that aren’t covered by a rider should they be stolen, damaged, or destroyed, yes, you’ll want to make sure they’re as thoroughly documented as possible—which means making note of serial numbers, purchase date, estimated value, and more, whenever possible.

As for your more valuable items, the riders you have for them should be enough to insure that you’ll be fully reimbursed in the event of a disaster or catastrophe, but only if your appraisals (and, as a result, riders) for those belongings are up to date.

Q: Will I be covered if I follow all of the advice mentioned here—record pertinent details of my belongings as well as photograph and maybe even capture video footage of them—but I don’t have receipts for all or even most of my possessions?

If you have receipts for your insured items, great. That will go a long way toward helping an adjuster settle your claim—and hopefully to your utmost satisfaction. If you don’t have them, but you still have detailed descriptions of each item, as well as photographs or video footage, you’ll still be in the clear. In most such cases, an adjuster will turn to software databases to determine the average values for any items that aren’t fully documented.

Once you've completed your review, take a few minutes to compare homeowners quotes from multiple insurance companies and local agents to get the lowest rates.

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