This article appears in Disaster Prep 2018.
Most people don’t anticipate a natural disaster wreaking havoc on their home, and property owners rarely file home insurance claims. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be prepared with a home inventory.
While something like 6 percent of homeowners will file a home insurance claim in a given year, having an existing record of your belongings is incredibly beneficial when disaster strikes, said Michael Barry, spokesman for the Insurance Information Institute.
“Recouping your losses will be much easier if you have documented your possessions. People underestimate the amount of property they own,” Barry said. A detailed inventory of items destroyed or damaged is necessary for an insurance claim. Proper documentation means a quicker and smoother claims process, Barry said.
“It’s always easier to do it while the sun is shining rather than in an emergency,” said Julie Rochman, president and chief executive officer of the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety. “It’s overwhelming to think about everything you own,” said Rochman, who had to evacuate her “well-built” Tampa, Florida, home last year when Hurricane Irma swept through.
Rochman’s family decided to leave when the hurricane reached Category 4. The day before, the family went through the house room by room taking photos to update their home inventory. Then next morning, they grabbed their evacuation kits, home insurance policy and receipt files and were out the door.
Televisions, entertainment equipment, furniture and appliances are obvious, but will you remember grandmother’s china packed away in the back of a closet, the bowls you received as a wedding gift, and all the stuff stored in the attic or garage?
Creating a home inventory may seem daunting, but the process is pretty easy, Rochman said. Her first tip: Recruit help by assigning rooms to family members.
More tips from the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety:
— Use technology: Create a photo record of your belongings. Capture important individual items as well as entire rooms and closets, and be sure to open drawers and cabinets. Label your photos and include where you bought the item, plus the make or model. Store your home inventory on a disc, flash drive or in the cloud and update it yearly. Mobile apps, like Know Your Stuff, can help you create and store a room-by-room record of your belongings.
— Count clothing by category: For example, “5 pairs of jeans, 3 pairs of sneakers …” Make note of any items that are especially valuable.
— Don’t forget: Belongings kept in a self-storage facility are covered, too. Don’t forget items in the garage, attic or crawlspace.
— Keep proof of value: Receipts are more compelling evidence of loss than photos or descriptions, Rochman said. Add sales receipts, purchase contracts and appraisals with your list.
— Know your coverage: It may be the most boring 10 minutes of your day, but take the time to read your insurance policy at least once a year. Be sure it’s up to date, too. Add significant new purchases and save receipts while the details are fresh in your mind. Update your coverage when you renovate and add floater policies for high-end items like jewelry, artwork, musical instruments or collectibles. Understand the difference between replacement (that provides a higher reimbursement) and actual cost coverage (that depreciates).
— Save a copy: Keep these documents in a safe deposit box or at a friend’s or relative’s home. Make at least one backup copy of your inventory document and store it separately. An easy way to make digital backup copies of your paper list is to take pictures of it on your smartphone.