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Accidents happen all the time; it’s a natural part of life. Creating a home inventory list is one of the most important steps you can take to prepare for these accidents. Trust us, your future self will thank you!
When you own a home, you’ll need homeowners insurance to protect your belongings in case of a fire, a natural disaster, a burglary and more. If anything like this happens to you, you’ll file a claim with your insurance company that lists all the valuables involved in the incident – and their worth – so you can get reimbursed.
Having an inventory list of your personal belongings is important. Without one, it could be difficult to remember everything you own – especially when you’re overwhelmed from dealing with a traumatic event. The good news is that there are no downsides to taking the time to create a home inventory list.
We’ll walk you through creating an inventory list and (bonus!) give you a list you can download and fill in with your information. Hopefully, you’ll never have to reach for this list. But if you do, you’ll be happy it’s there.
What Is a Home Inventory List?
A home inventory list is a comprehensive, detailed list of all the personal property in and around your home to use in case of fire or other destructive incidents. Homeowners typically categorize their list by room, item type, worth or other criteria.
The general categories and information that should go into your list include:
- Item description
- Item make, model or serial number
- Item cost at the time of purchase or current appraised value
- Estimated cost if you bought the item today
- Place and date when the item was purchased
- Item receipt and warranty
- Item videos or photos or locations where they are stored
Antique or irreplaceable items (aka custom-made or inherited items) and jewelry may need to be described differently than ordinary items like TVs and coffee tables. You should talk to your insurance agent about how best to itemize and detail unique items – and verify that your policy covers them. If you believe an item you own is exceptionally rare or valuable, you might want to consider getting it appraised by a professional.
Why Do You Need a Home Inventory List?
The point of a home inventory is to make sure you have everything you need to file a complete homeowners insurance claim in the event of a disaster.
A home inventory list has two clear advantages. First, it increases the chances that the insurance provider will fully cover your claim.
The second benefit of a home inventory list is that it ensures that every single household item has been itemized. There may be items you don’t think about a lot – like the $500 Vitamix sitting in your cupboard or the gold jewelry you inherited from your grandparents that’s tucked away in a jewelry box.
Not seeing or using those items every day doesn’t make them any less valuable. Your list helps make sure you don’t miss anything worthwhile.
When Should You Make a Home Inventory List?
The best time to make a home inventory list – and we cannot stress this enough – is right now.
First-time homeowners, make a list of everything you own before you even move into your new house. Your itemized list will give you a sense of the total worth of your belongings. So when it comes time to purchase home insurance coverage, you’ll know the amount of coverage you’ll need and whether you’ll need extra coverage for special items like jewelry, artwork or one-of-a-kind furniture.
How Do You Create a Home Inventory List?
Create your home inventory list in the way that makes the most sense to you. That can look like a handwritten list or a document stored in the cloud. You can use many tools to create a home inventory list, including inventory apps, free online tools and printable inventory lists (like the list we created for you ↓↓).
Follow these steps to complete your list:
- Record when the time is right: If you’re moving, create your list as you pack. If you’re already settled into your new home, try building your list of belongings bit by bit, taking household inventory as you clean or redecorate. As time goes on and you get more stuff, it will be easier to update the list.
- Go room by room: Make sure to look inside dressers, drawers, cabinets, bookcases, shelves and closets. Check your garage, basement (don’t forget the workbench) and attic, too. Take note of everyday furniture items and appliances and more unique items like musical instruments, tools and sports equipment.
- Itemize what you have in storage: This includes commercial self-storage units and storage in and around your home such as crawl spaces or sheds. Check with your insurance provider to confirm which storage locations are covered. Items stored in your shed or commercial unit(s) may not be covered because they are outside the home.
- Create classifications to apply to every item: Some general fields you should always include are where you bought the item, the make, model and serial number and how much it cost. (FYI: You can scroll back up to “What Is a Home Inventory List?” to review our detailed list.) Note how much of each item you own (think: how many sneakers, pots, towels, etc.) and the current appraisal value. If you can, add pictures of each item.
- Calculate each item’s value: Hopefully, you have receipts for everything you bought because the last step is to tally everything up. This tally will focus on replacement costs (the amount you originally paid for each item), not actual cash value (the amount it’s worth today in its used condition).
Where Should You Keep Your Home Inventory Checklist?
Whether you decide to go digital or keep it analog, you should keep your inventory list in a safe, accessible place. If you chose the paper-and-pen route, remember that you might need this list after your home has been damaged in a fire or a flood. The last thing you’ll need is your list getting damaged.
We recommend storing your list in one or all of the following ways:
- In a physical place you trust: Consider a fireproof safety deposit box in your home or a backup flash drive that’s not in your home. You can also store your list in a safe deposit box at a financial institution (usually for a fee).
- In a digital place you trust: Consider storing the list online in a cloud file-storage system. If you have a partner, make sure they can access the file.
- In the care of someone you trust: Send your insurance agent an email with the list so they always have it on file. You can also share the file with someone else who lives in the home or a friend or family member who doesn’t live in your home.
If you’re going the tech route, make sure to review the privacy settings for any apps, databases or storage systems you use. You’ll want to make sure your sensitive information is in a safe, reliable space.
Photos vs. videos
When you’re creating a home inventory list, you’ll need to decide whether pictures or videos are best for documenting the items in your home.
Photos are great because you can document each item individually. And there’s no need to run out and buy the latest DSLR camera. You can use the camera on your phone to take pictures.
In some cases, it might be more appealing to take videos. Video incorporates visuals and audio (which allows you to comment as you record items) and efficiently documents everything in your home. It could be a game changer unless you can’t see anything. Make sure your recordings aren’t blurry, too dark or have a thumb in the middle of the screen.
Home inventory apps and other digital tools
You should compare apps for home inventory documentation. The best apps will make it easy to list everything you own, room by room, and share the list.
Bank apps, which estimate how much everything is worth, are another option. There are also insurance apps that include inventory features and cloud storage.
Do Your Future Self a Favor and Create a Home Inventory List Today
Everyone hopes they won’t ever need to use their home inventory list. But when you need it, you’ll be grateful you planned ahead.
There’s a reason you pay insurance every month – it’s for the protection and peace of mind that you’ll be covered in the event of an emergency. Without a home inventory list, getting an insurance claim approved can be incredibly challenging. Invest the time today so you don’t have to worry tomorrow.
Take the first step toward buying a home.
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Insurance Information Institute. “Facts + Statistics: Homeowners and renters insurance.” Retrieved August 2021 from https://www.iii.org/fact-statistic/facts-statistics-homeowners-and-renters-insurance