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Quick Guide to Making a Home Inventory List

Every homeowner, condo owner, or renter should have a home inventory list.  Even though no one expects to lose their possessions, the truth is that you never know when a disaster or burglary could occur.  Without a detailed list, dealing with the aftermath of a significant loss would be that much more stressful and difficult.  While it may seem a bit daunting to put together, making a list is easy and can even be fun—the hardest part is getting started!

Why make an inventory list of your home or apartment?

Homeowners insurance policies commonly offer “personal property” coverage for the contents of your home.  Such possessions may be insured up to the limit specified in the policy.  In the event of a covered loss, you would be expected to provide a list of the personal property that was damaged or lost along with its corresponding value in dollar terms.  If approved, your insurer would then reimburse you for the loss, sparing you the financial hardship.  

The process of creating your list will also help you understand exactly what kind of insurance you need—and how much.  In the event of a claim, even having a basic home inventory list is much better than having none.  

What exactly is “personal property”? 

Your personal property is anything not permanently attached to your home.  Some examples include: clothing, accessories, furniture, computers, electronics, cameras, media, rugs, curtains, appliances, tools, as well as things like art or musical instruments.

Getting started: taking pictures

You should approach this task systematically: so, grab your camera and start at the front door.  Take pictures of everything in the entry room of your home, including wide shots of each wall, and closer shots of all the furnishings and items.  Open every drawer, closet, and cabinet and take a picture of what’s inside.  You’ll then need to do this for each room in your home (don’t forget your garage or attic, any sheds or storage rooms, etc.).  

After capturing multiple images in each room of your home, you’ll want to give extra attention to any items of higher value that you may own.  For many people, such items may include: jewelry, watches, collectibles, computers or phones, art, coins, guns, musical instruments, bicycles, antiques, heirlooms, etc.  Insurance carries certain limits on what will or won’t be covered; if you have any items of exceptional value or that would be difficult or even impossible to replace, you’ll want to speak to your insurer about specific coverage for those items.  

Although you can store your photos on your camera or computer, it would be wise to email them to yourself or otherwise have a secure, online backup storage location.  If your home is lost to a storm or fire, you don’t want to also lose your home inventory list!  

Making the list & determining coverage

Now that you have a visual reference of your entire home inventory, you can create a document or spreadsheet to begin the actual list.  Organizing your list by each room is likely the easiest, although you can categorize your items by any other relevant criteria if you so choose.  The important thing is to include the two basic columns: “article” and “retail value”.  Under “article”, try to be as precise as possible by including a detailed description: the make, model, or serial number, if available, as well as where and when the item was purchased.  If you miss items or don’t know the details, you may not be appropriately compensated later on if you have a claim.

Under the “retail value” section for each item, you can include what you originally paid for it but, more importantly, write in the replacement cost of the item if you were forced to purchase it again today.  Some items may actually be more expensive now than when you originally bought them!  

When you’ve finished your home inventory, you can add up the “retail value” column for each room to finally see how much your personal property is worth. The grand total figure you’ve calculated is the amount of coverage you would need to fully protect your items. 

What if your personal property isn’t worth much?

You may be surprised at how quickly things add up!  You also probably didn’t buy all your possessions at the same time—you’ve accumulated them.  So, what if your home is severely damaged or you lose all your clothes, furniture, appliances, electronics, etc?  Will you have the financial means to replace everything all at once?  At the very least, it would be wise to make a list and know, without a doubt, the true value of your personal property.  If you later decide it’s not worth protecting, at least you know exactly how much you’d need to replace everything on your own if disaster strikes.

Things to keep in mind when looking for coverage:

  • Ask your insurer if your personal property is covered at “replacement cost” or “actual cash value”. Depending on the details of your policy, you may be reimbursed at the “replacement cost”, which is its current value if purchased new, or at the “actual cash value”, which may be significantly depreciated by this point.
  • If you have additional contents in storage, ask your insurer what reimbursement limits your policy has on personal items that are not at the original, insured property.
  • If you’re a renter rather than a homeowner, you absolutely should still consider getting insurance.  This is because if your unit is damaged, your landlord’s policy will not cover your personal property!  Fortunately, renters’ insurance is very inexpensive and will keep you protected in the event of a covered loss.