4 Things to Know About Creating a Home Inventory List

by Susan Evans

Every person who has been through a theft, fire, flood, tornado, hurricane or other home-wrecking disaster says they wish they had created a home inventory list and every firefighter, police officer or first responder we interviewed says this is the most important thing a family can do.

WHN Staff TIP – Times Two: Second home? Keep a separate inventory list.

When You’ll Need It

A home inventory is a list (paper or digital) along with 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.

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, MN

When to Do It

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.

  1. During spring or fall cleaning, moving to a new house, after the new year — or anytime!
  2. Update your home inventory list at least once a year. Choose a date to help you remember, like the change to Daylight Savings Time.
  3. Update your records 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Consider other options to further secure your belongings like home security systems or safes.

Where to Keep It

WHN TIP – Go Digital: Save all your information digitally. Scan paperwork, save digital images of expensive or valuable items and then save to the cloud or put on a flash drive to store off-site.

  1. Make a home inventory folder, box or binder to hold videos, photos, written lists and documents of your belongings. Label it!
  2. Keep a duplicate copy of videos and pictures off-site. If the images are digital, save it on a flash-drive to keep off-site and/or in the cloud
  3. Save the written information on your computer. For added protection, store a copy on a flash drive to keep off-site and/or save it to the “cloud.”
  4. Not a “cloud” fan? Keep a copy of your information somewhere out-of-town — with a friend or relative. Why? Natural disasters can affect an entire community.
  5. Give a copy of your inventory list to your insurance agent. Be sure he or she has your most updated version.

WHN Reader TIP –  Be Honest: Be truthful and as accurate as possible when you quote the cost of items. A question about one item could lead to questioning the value of all your possessions.

How to Do It

WHN Expert TIP – Entry Points:  Stephen Hadhazi, public insurance adjuster and publisher of DocuDamage.com 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.

  1. Need a guide? Print our room lists. These have been created with help from people who have lost their homes.
  2. Do one room at a time.
  3. Use your phone to take pictures and/or videotape and narrate. Focus on the big items like couches, tables, electronics, art, etc. Turn on the location, time and date function to show when you recorded your home and possessions.
    • Include information like “I bought this TV in 2012 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.).”
    • Consider holding a ruler next to items to show the dimensions.
    • Save the images and video to a flash drive and store offset and/or in the cloud. If you just keep them on your phone and it’s stolen, you have lost everything.
    • Write or describe each item, its brand name, make, model, serial numbers and the price. Include any other information you think might be helpful.
  4. Don’t forget sheds, garages, basements, porches, attics, hallways and around outdoor areas like pools and decks.
  5. List seasonal items: snowblower, skis, tennis racquets, skates, surfboards, bikes, lawn furniture, barbecue grill, lawn mower, etc.
  6. 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).
    • Remember to look in closets, drawers and boxes.
  7. Note special features such as decorative plaster work, intricate hardwood floor patterns, ADA-compliant design, energy-efficient additions, craftsman work from 100+ years ago.
  8. Document the age, make and models of your utility systems (e.g. 50-year-old furnace vs. 3 years old).

WHN Expert TIP – Fittings and Finishes: Paul Winans, former president of NARI (National Association of the Remodeling Industry), recommends documenting the finishes and fittings in your home. “There is a big money difference between sheetrock and plaster, a Formica counter versus granite, linoleum versus tile.”

Photo Credit: Denny Müller

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