Create a Home Inventory List

Is this hard to do? Not at all. Is it a time-consuming pain? We'll be honest - it depends on who you talk to.

Every person who has been through a theft, fire, flood, tornado, hurricane or other home-wrecking disaster says this is the one thing they wish they had.

Every firefighter, police officer or first responder we have interviewed says that a home inventory is the most important thing a family can do.

Why? It’s easier to write the details now - it's harder after a traumatic event like a break-in or a house fire.

A home inventory is a list or videos/photos of everything in your home. Here are just four times when your home inventory will help you out:

  1. When your things have been damaged or stolen
  2. Filing a police report, insurance claim, federal disaster claim or taxes
  3. Settling an estate
  4. Purchasing insurance policies for the right amount or adding riders and extra coverage

When can you do this? During spring or fall cleaning, moving to a new house, after the new year - or any time!

Here are home inventory hints.

Your Home Inventory List

  1. Make a home inventory folder,box, binder to hold videos, photos, written lists and documents of your belongings. Label it!
  2. Need a guide? Print our room lists. These have been created with help from people who have lost their homes.
  3. Do one room at a time.
  4. Video tape and narrate. Focus on the big items like couches, tables, electronics, art, etc. Turn on the time and date function to show when you recorded your home and possessions.
    • Include information like "I bought this TV in 1998 with my VISA card. I got it at Best Buy and it cost $400. The receipt and warranty are in (file cabinet, safe deposit box, etc.)."
    • No video camera? Take photographs and label them with the same info above. Consider holding a ruler next to items to show the dimensions.
    • If you use a digital camera, you can load the inventory list on the same CD as your photos.
  5. Write or describe each item, its brand name, make, model, serial numbers and the price. Include any other information you think might be helpful.
  6. WHN STAFF TIP: No Time?

    Create an inventory guideline - nothing under $50 the first time through - save those items for a later date. It’s better to have a brief inventory than no record at all.

  7. Don't forget sheds, garages, basements, porches, attics, hallways and around outdoor areas like pools and decks.
  8. List seasonal items: snowblower, skis, tennis racquets, skates, surf boards, bikes, lawn furniture, barbeque, lawn mower, etc.
  9. Group items by category, quantity and cost. For instance, “10 pairs of shoes” or “100 books,” and estimate the total cost. If you have high-ticket items like fur coats, designer dresses, heirlooms or antiques, take a picture and write down details (brand, year, price, description, authentification).
  10. Remember to look in closets, drawers and boxes.
  11. WHN READER TIP: Honesty

    Be honest when you quote the cost of items. A question about one item could to lead to questioning the value of all your things.

    WHN EXPERT TIP: Windows

    Stephen Hadhazi, public insurance adjuster and publisher of recommends taking close ups of your windows, doors and their frames. Also, videotape or take a picture of someone holding a level to your foundation to show that the foundation is indeed level at the moment.

    WHN EXPERT TIP: Fittings and Finshes - Document

    Paul Winans, the president of NARI (Natl Assoc. of Remodeling Industry), recommends documenting the finishes and fittings in your home. "There is a big money difference between sheet rock and plaster, a formica counter versus granite, linoleum versus tile." Also note special features such as decorative plaster work, intricate hardwood floor patterns, craftsman work from 100+ years ago. Document the age, make and models of your utility systems (e.g. 50 year old furnace vs. 3 years old).

  12. Save the information on your computer.
  13. WHN READER TIP: Copy a Friend

    Give copies to a friend or relative. If you lose your computer in a theft or fire you won't have access to your inventory list.

  14. Make copies of photos, videotapes and your list.
    • Store each copy in different locations such as a safe deposit box, fire-resistant file cabinet, at work and/or somewhere away from home (work, friend or neighbor’s house).
    • WHN READER TIP: Out of Town Records

      Keep a copy of your information somewhere out-of-town. Why? Natural disasters can affect an entire community.

    • Give a copy of your inventory list to your insurance agent. Be sure he or she has your most updated version.

Ongoing Tips

  1. Update your home inventory list at least once a year. Choose a date to help you remember like Daylight Savings Time.
  2. Update your DVD, CD or folder when you add something to your household.
    • Include the info, pictures, copies of receipts, purchase contracts, warranties and other documents to the folder. This includes antique and art appraisals.
  3. Re-evaluate your list and insurance needs after any large purchases. Look at the total cost of the big-ticket items and contact your insurance agent to see if you need a rider or additional coverage.
  4. WHN STAFF TIP: Times Two

    If you have a second home, keep a separate inventory list.

    WHN READER TIP: Expensive? Engrave it!

    Consider using an electric engraving pen to mark more expensive items. Write a personal ID such as your last name or nickname. It helps with faster identification.
    - Gladys, Minnesota.

  5. Consider other options to further secure your belongings like home security systems or safes. Read our Get Prepared House/Apartment Theft preparation info.
  6. Updated: 5/2009