Flames shoot out of an upper story and engulf the roof of a house on fire.Imagine trying to list every possession you own, along with each item’s worth, after your home has been destroyed by fire or a natural disaster. The task will feel overwhelming and will be nearly impossible.

However, having a detailed home inventory can make the difference between a paid insurance claim and a disputed claim. Relying solely on your memory could be expensive.

According to a survey from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, home insurance is important for both homeowners and renters. Homeowners need to purchase insurance to protect their homes and personal property. Those who rent need insurance to protect their furniture and personal property. Everyone needs protection against liability for accidents that injure other people or damage their property.

Whether you live in tornado alley, wildfire zones, earthquake areas or along coastlines prone to flooding and hurricanes – now is the time to properly insure your home and possessions.

In recent years severe weather disasters across the country have inflicted more than $43 billion in damage. According to a survey from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, research suggests more than half of consumers do not have an inventory of their possessions.  Of those who do, many haven’t kept their records up-to-date or don’t include the necessary documentation.

A home inventory can help you secure an insurance settlement and prove useful when verifying property loss for taxes. When you assign values to your items, a home inventory can also help estimate how much insurance you really need.

Whether you hire an inventory professional or do it yourself  — please do it!

For you do-it-your-selfers, here’s a link to a free online software platform I use for my clients.

1. Read your homeowner’s policy (or discuss it with your agent)

According to Mitchell, less than 5% of people actually read their homeowner’s policy. Review you policy or talk to your insurance agent to understand what’s covered.

  • Are you covered for the replacement value of your possessions or only actual cash value?
  • Do you need any special riders or endorsements for unique items?
  • Do you have any musical instruments that need to be covered?
  • If you have firearms, are they covered?
  • Are your golf clubs covered?

2. Start with photos of the outside of the house

  • Take photos of the outside of your house from at least four angles. Be sure to photograph your home’s landscaping so you’ll be able to have it recreated in the event of loss. Don’t forget to photograph all outdoor furniture and ornaments.

3. Photograph each room from at least four angles

  • Take a room-by-room photographic inventory. Take as many pictures as needed to inventory each and every room in your house.

4. Open every closet, cupboard and drawer

Before you open a drawer, try to list every item in the drawer. You’re losing money if you forget anything.

Document the following information about every item in your home:

  • When you got it
  • Where you got it
  • How much it cost

Keep receipts, if possible. Scan receipts to keep with your home inventory. Keep the receipts of new household purchases in a special folder so you can update your inventory at least annually (tax time is a good time to update).

Can’t remember or don’t have old receipts, don’t worry, if you can estimate the year of purchase, that will help and remember to keep receipts of new items coming into the home.  I recommend taking a picture of them with your phone and creating an album called Home Inventory Receipts.

Clothes closets

Clothes, shoes, purses, accessories and jewelry add up in value. Be sure to take photos of your bedroom closets. For any item over $350 in value, take a separate photo of the item and label.

5. Don’t forget to update your inventory after home improvements

Did you get new window coverings or new hardwood floors? Be sure to update your home inventory. Homeowners often go years without documenting upgrades.

6. Photograph model and serial numbers for electronics

In today’s homes, electronics are major purchases. Be sure to photograph (and list) each piece of electronic equipment. Take a photo of the model and serial number plates. Include:

  • Televisions
  • Stereo systems
  • Computers
  • Mobile devices (especially with the high price tag of some of these phones and tablets)

7. China, crystal and silver need special attention

  • Lay out a full set of your china to photograph. Take a picture of the front and back of your plates to show the brand and pattern. Then, take of picture of where your china, crystal and silver is stored to show you own the whole set.
  • Be sure to specifically document gravy bowls, serving dishes and any extra pieces.

8. Don’t overlook garage contents

  • It’s common that your garage contains more dollars per square foot in inventory than anywhere else in your home. Take lots of photos.
  • Document bicycles, sports equipment, tools, equipment like lawn mowers, and all items stored in your garage.

Yes, I know this sounds daunting.   It doesn’t have to be done all in one day…

9. Take photos of things that can’t be replaced (family photographs, childhood mementos, etc.)

Do you have cherished photographs and family heirlooms? Although these items can’t be replaced, at least you’ll have photos and a “living legacy” of these items if they are destroyed. Think of what’s precious to you.

Also, don’t forget to include rare or high-end items you have purchased or inherited in your inventory.

10. Store the home inventory off premises

Be sure to keep a copy of your home inventory outside your home, off premises. Use your personal cloud storage to keep copies electronically. Don’t save the inventory only on a computer drive that could be destroyed. Also, consider making a flash drive copy and placing it in a safety deposit box.  I also recommend a cloud back up.  Should you need it and can’t get to your home or bank safety deposit box, anywhere with an Internet connection will give you access to your files.

Source: Jayleen R. Heft, PropertyCasualty360.com

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