Easy way to document homeowners insurance inventory

Homeowners Insurance Inventory after Disaster – Get What You Deserve

Easy way to document homeowners insurance inventory

Homeowners Insurance; it’s not just about paying your premiums…

What if you actually need to call on your insurance company for a claim of loss? Do you have a homeowners insurance inventory of everything? (They’re going to ask).

Worst case, what if you lose your home in a house fire or other major disaster? When your insurance company asks for a list of what you lost, how will you possibly be able to remember everything inside the home? You’ll never remember it all!

Especially during the time frame immediately following the disaster, you may not be thinking too clearly.


Have Proof of Contents

The best way to be sure that your homeowners insurance will pay for your lost items (up to whatever limits you have) is to have proof.

The most tedious method is to document and inventory all of the items in a list (paper or computer record). Keep it off-site somewhere not in your home, or maybe a digital file in the cloud. Or on a USB drive hanging on your keychain. Consider a good fire rated safe at home.

Since most people will procrastinate taking the time to physically list a homeowners insurance inventory, a very simple method is to video everything in your home.


The Easy Way

This is so easy to do that there should be no excuse not to video inventory everything once you have read this post. Nearly everyone has a smart phone. Use it to selectively capture a video record of home contents.

Similarly you might just take digital pictures for an inventory record.

Be very methodical about the video or picture taking process so there will be no question regarding your insurance claim and homeowners inventory.

One room at a time, video and pan the entire room, s-l-o-w-l-y. Then, open the closets and do the same. Contents in drawers. Open each one and video contents within. Well, maybe except your…

Open your jewelry box. Look everywhere. Think about everything of value. You will not miss anything so long as you systematically go through each room and every space in the room.

Don’t forget the basement, attic, or garage where you may have stored items.

You will be surprised at the number of items and ‘things’ that you have tucked away here and there. Many of them will have tangible value (it all adds up). There may be items that you have forgotten about too.

Tip: After video or photos, it’s even better to document a list of those items. Start with highest value first. Enter a value too. The more data the better.


Keep Homeowners Insurance Inventory Records Outside the Home

Now this is the most important part:
When you’re done with documenting (video and/or pictures, and/or digital documenation), secure the inventory list (digital files) from potential damage.

Don’t just keep the USB flash drive in your desk drawer at home. If your home burns down or is damaged/destroyed in some manner, you’ll lose it.

Tip: You might want to encrypt the USB drive. Many new flash drives come with a utility already installed to encrypt it.

Within this flash drive you might consider keeping additional documentation. Perhaps a list of of all your financial accounts. Insurance accounts. Policy numbers and phone numbers for each company. Imagine if your file cabinet at home burns. You will lose ALL information contained within. Again, will you remember EVERYTHING? No, probably not.

A particular USB flash drive that I’ve had on my keychain for years has held up well. I keep many things on it, including homeowners inventory records. It’s the Corsair Survivor Stealth:

Corsair Survivor Stealth
Corsair Flash Survivor Stealth 256GB USB 3.0

Read more: The Corsair Stealth Survivor USB Flash Drive Key-chain Backup

The following is the most popular keychain flash drive today:

USB keychain flash drive 64GB
Silicon Power 64GB USB 3.0 Flash Drive

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  1. Great article! For our documentation of belongings, we did both a video (last minute and fast), plus the photographs done with a little more care. Making the list of belongings was the hard part. Insurance won’t pay based on a list only, because lists can be “made up”. The list will help you with valuation of your stuff.

    Also, make sure you have any appraisals of jewelry, art, antiques, etc in a safe place as well.

    Thanks again Ken!

  2. Several years ago we were hit with a large electrical spike which blew out the furnace, the electrical panel, and almost all of the electronics. Trying to list everything with their value was difficult as some items were over 20 years old. I normally purge the files of old receipts from time to time. I normally keep them at least until the warranty expires. After that episode I decided to keep all receipts until I no longer have the item.

  3. I live in a home full of very valuable antiques and artworks. It is like living in a museum with 18th century paintings and 19th century ceramic artworks all around me. I could live for years for the value of one painting. I guess I should work on this.

  4. As Beach’n mentioned about ‘jewelry-antiques-guns-specialized equipment’, they “require” an appraisal for their TRUE value.
    Other wise you receive the minimal amount listed in the HO3(homeowners policy). Just before you think it is per item, it is not, it is for all those items. Most policies will give you only $500, then if you have special clothing as a Mink coat/stole passed down in the family or new. It also will only be $500 but in another section of a HO3 policy.
    You will also discover that if you have what is termed a ‘farm package’ due to the amount of acres you have with livestock. Same rules apply there also.

    Make sure you have ‘replacement costs’ on your home & furnishings , along with your appraisals. Other wise they will give what is termed as ACV, which is ‘actual CASH value’. What it means to your pocket book, deprecation on what you bought. Basically pennies on the dollar, thought all of you should know.

    Alright here is my bill,, five USD for this knowledge, but the money is to go to Ken. 😎

    1. Antique Collector;
      You bring up an excellent point, check your insurance policy, 99.99% of them only cover Firearms. Jewelry and such for $500 or less for ALL of those items, you need “Add On Insurance” to cover them.

    2. I spent a few years writing estimates for auto insurance claims. For autos the ACV is the book value(NADA or Kelly Blue Book). They will give you a range of prices depending on the condition of the vehicle. If you have a car that is customized you must have documentation of this to raise the value. Also keep maintenance records to increase the value. If the car had any prior damage that will lower the ACV. The insurance companies are looking to cut expenses anywhere they can with no regard for you. Sorry Ken I know the topic is home owners insurance but the insurance adjusters will be the same way.

  5. Good article Ken, wonder where ya got the idea, you beat me to it HAHAHA

    A couple of more suggestions;
    1. Firearms; make a very detailed list with Make, Model, Serial number, and price you paid, plus date purchased. If they were a gift to you, make a comment also, it could be considered more valuable if from your family because of sentimental reasons.
    2. Everyone has boxes of “stuff” lying around, like Grandma’s old dishes; make darn sure to make a note with the picture of what’s in each box of stuff. Remember antiques are a LOT more valuable than what most insurance co.’s will want to give.
    3. Jewelry, get it appraised, especially nice, expensive, and the older stuff. Also make darn sure you vid or photo any gold/silver you have, Yes it will melt, and becomes very VERY hard to get a value in a melted state.
    4. Do NOT vid or photo that illegal or otherwise considered “go to jail” stuff, and do NOT try to claim a bag of pot on the insurance….. I know someone that tried that, 2 years jail time.

    Ok a few hints with working with an Insurance Co.
    1. They (the insurance companies) will or should send out an “adjuster” these people are all out liars and thieves. (JMHO)They will turn in false claims and completely overlook items that are right in their faces. Very first thing you need to know is…. Adjusters work for the Insurance Companies and will try every trick in the book to short pay you. I have seen it happen hundreds of times over and over with the same Adjuster and Ins. Company. DON’T Trust them!!!!
    2. Do NOT sign a release for XYZ amount of money. Get your own estimates (three is best) for the Home Rebuild, and price every piece of Stuff you lost, YES it will take time, but you’re talking thousands and thousands of dollars. Example, and adjuster offered a burn house customer right at 50% of the actual cost to rebuild the home, the final adjustment was 100% of cost once my company got finished rebuilding the home and threatening to help the owner take the Insurance Co to court.
    3. Do NOT let an adjuster “line up” a Flood/Fire/Damage company to “come in and clean up first”. Those companies have been known to “borrow” a lot of items that the owner now no longer has, not saying they stole a bunch of stuff, but kinda odd it just disappeared.
    4. Do NOT allow an adjuster in the house without a competent Contractor and a Witness there taking video and photos during the investigation.

    Ok Ok, enough of slamming the Insurance Co. Just be careful.

    SO, you had a fire that burned your home, what’s first?
    Call the Insurance CO and call a Fencing Company and a Reputable Contractor, have the Fence Co build a temp-fence around the house and a Contractor “Board Up” the house so the looters can’t get in without “Breaking In”; that way if the LEOs find someone in the house, it’s breaking and entering the home and can be tossed in jail, even the Adjuster. Cen you tell I have NO warmth in my soul for Adjusters?
    Also post “No Trespassing” signs on all 4 sides of the house.

    If the home is not a total Burn, photo and remove as much valuables as you can, rent a Conex (Shipping Container) and have it placed on the property, or rent a Storage Space locally. Photo ever item you remove where it is in the homes and make a note where you put it. Again I would have a witness there.
    Next make sure to let the Electrical, Water, Cable TV or Internet, and Gas Companies know, they will put your home on a temp “Hold” so you don’t get delinquent on the billing.
    If you need to relocate to a Hotel, get a signed “Ok” from your Insurance Co, and make sure you get and keep receipts, they should be paid by insurance. Also Food and any other thing you need; clothing, toiletries, a vehicle if it was in the garage that burned, and so-on.

    OK, this was very long winded, sorry, but I have seen thousands of families go through this, and hundreds of them get screwed over by the Insurance Companies and Adjusters needlessly over the decades.

    Be Smart. Don’t lose out because of some fast talking Adjuster or Insurance Company.
    Remember Insurance Companies are your friend as long as you’re paying them, ahhhhhh not so much the other way around.

  6. Had a house fire 3/16/05 & 3/17/05. Luckily I’d grown up with the Adjuster. 2 years to submit all claims; very arduous process. Had a small side business run out of the home, jewelry, coins, antiques, etc. Because I didn’t have a “Rider” policy (add-on insurance) they only reimbursed me for the basics. Called all credit cards, utilities, etc. for a hold, received up front check from insurance to buy daily personal items and some clothes, insurance paid rent for comparable lodging until home got rebuilt. Yes, the “clean up” company ended up with a lot of the items. I wouldn’t wish this experience on my worst enemy….well….!

    1. Sad to hear. Isn’t is disgusting that your personal items would become a free-for-all to the clean up companies? I’ve heard of people not being allowed to salvage anything from their destroyed homes but the clean up crew sure could.
      I hope you’ve been made whole again, or at least as near as possible.

  7. Insurance is one of the biggest “rackets” known to man. That’s why insurance companies are among the richest companies in the world. Does not matter what kind of insurance, health, auto, homeowners, etc, it’s all a racket. Anybody that says differently is not truthful.
    If us “little people” done business this way, we would be in jail.

    1. Anonymous,
      Amen to your statement. They do have very nice office buildings and seem to drive very nice cars and have very nice homes as well. I dislike doing business with them .Unfortunately they are solid fixture in our culture.

  8. Something to consider is value vs. replacement cost.

    For example, our homeowners insurance has the replacement cost of our house as being over 2x what we paid for it. They figured it as what it would cost them to rebuild this house after a total loss, not the current market value of the house itself. Sometimes, this also applies to your personal possessions as well.
    As mentioned, any “special” items such as jewelry, firearms, furs, etc. will usually have a ridiculously low limit and thus require an additional “rider” in order to get enough coverage to actually replace them – it’s a de facto gun registry but it’s also the only way you’re going to get coverage. Yes, they will usually require make, model, serial number, price paid, etc.
    Check your homeowners POLICY- not an explanation or declarations page, and communicate with your agent IN WRITING (e-mail) so that they can be legally held to what they tell you! If you don’t understand something, ask them. If you don’t get a “plain English” answer, reply and ask again!
    You can email yourself the inventory of your home so that it is in your email account and thus accessible from anywhere you can log in from. You can use programs like PGP to create a self decrypting archive so that if your email is hacked, nobody can decrypt/view the list of your possessions.
    Good idea for an article Ken! I imagine there are quite a few poor folks suffering through this because of all of the wildfires last year.

  9. NRP, How right you are , son 1’s apartment building was involved in a fire right after he and the psycho were married. He got a renters policy that was total replacement , no depreciation. The adjuster came in and started to “assess” the brand new wedding gifts as depreciated. Jerk thought he was dealing with young “dumb” kids. Was he surprised they had lists and pictures of everything that was ruined and that the policy was total current cost replacement NO depreciation. IE, IF Recliner was $350 in the store , that is what Insurance co had to pay NOT a fraction of what it would cost to replace. That was due to my DH ‘s family having a fire in their house when he was young and the trouble his parents went thru dealing with the insurance company. We made sure son 1(& son2) was covered properly.

  10. You need to always read your policy! Every state and every policy in that state is different. Usually if you have replacement cost and have a total loss, the insurance company will pay policy limits. . If you don’t have replacement costs, you will get replacement less depreciation. If you have valuables, always get appraisals and schedule them with a rider on your policy. Always contact your insurance agent if you have any problems. Usually they are just a small town person like yourself and will advocate on your behalf. Not all insurance people are crooks. Most are just small town guys and gals working to make a living. Believe me agents do NOT make a ton of money of your policies. After hiring staff and the overhead is a very small amount.

    Most problems are people wanting the cheapest insurance they can get and then when they have a loss, they just don’t understand why they didn’t have coverage. Make sure you get a good agent, have them explain the policy and don’t try to take the cheap way out! Been in the industry 30 years + and most of the time that is the problem.
    Sometimes there are crappy adjusters, just like crappy people, it happens. That’s were a good agent comes in handy. Usually your agent can handle those crappy adjusters.

    1. You hit it right on. I’m an independent insurance agent and co-owner of the family business in IL. It is very rare that anyone reads their policies & want stripped down coverage to get it as cheap as possible then when a claim happens the client is irate because they don’t have the coverage for the loss. A good agent makes all difference. You have to have a good relationship and communication with the agent to make sure your property and belongings are covered. We are not mind readers so if you don’t tell us what you have and what you don’t have, how are we supposed to know?

      I have read some good comments on here and some bad. As far as the comment of agents making tons of $$, well like any business the more you do the more you make. As far as rates go, one of the things that affect rates are the amount of losses a company has to pay. So anytime you see major catastrophes, tornado’s, fires, EQ’s, we all pay for those. One of the companies we sell for paid out $3 for every 1$ they took in, for 4 years strait, before the company got back to being profitable again. States have to approve the rate increases that the companies submit, for what they want increase them by. Another big item that affects rates is your insurance score. The higher your score the cheaper the rates will be.

      Its not a bad idea to document your belongings but most policies nowadays are replacement cost, meaning you will be reimbursed for replacing your old items with new items as you turn in receipts for purchased items. The reason policies have limits on guns, jewelry, furs, antiques, tools etc., is because of false claims to make $. The limits are usually only for theft or “losing” the item. So if you have specific items you need covered, get an appraisal, get it to your agent and have them Schedule it. Schedule is to list specific items for said value and can even have a separate deductible than what the home deductible is. If you rent, you need a renters policy. The building owner is not responsible for your property.
      On replacement cost policies the home is rated for what it would cost to replace the home(replacement cost) for a partial or total loss. Not an appraised, purchased, or market value.

      Claims adjusters are there to help you in your claim but they also have to try to minimize losses for the company they work for. You have to do your do-diligence. It takes work on the clients behalf as much as the insurance company. Once a claim is set up the agent is out of the loop unless the client communicates with their agent and gives updates or calls for questions or advice on dealing with the claim. We are not out to screw ppl as some have said. We want you back in your car or home as quick as you do. Claims can take time. Sometimes weeks or months depending on the claim. So if a claim happens stay as calm as you can and let the process happen. When your talking thousands and sometimes hundreds of thousands of $$, its going to go slower than you would like.

      Again I’m speaking in general and with rules within the companies I represent and within the state of IL. Each state and company has different rules and guidelines. That’s why you have to ask questions and have a good working relationship with your agent. It makes all the difference. Don’t ever assume something is covered. Talk to your agent!!

  11. We lost our home 1June 18 to a very rare tornado in Wyoming. Our home was under insured by 50,000 dollars. We had cash value and replacement cost for our belongings. We still do not have our home finished. It has been a very long 9 months. We did not have an inventory of belongings, but did have many pictures. My DIL is a photograher and has taken many pictures. We had to fight the insurance company to even replace our appliances. I have learned a lot from this experience and will do things differently next time around. Patiently waiting my house to be finished.

    1. Sherri
      Those of you who have had to FIGHT your insurance companies, please go to your insurance commissioners office or call them. That is their job to protect the insured against the reprobate adjustor(s).
      File complaints against the adjustor &/or the company itself. It does help, been there in your position.

  12. Haha
    Insurance coverage.
    What a joke.
    When building my house, the first year basement flooded. About knee deep. And of course, my tools, our extra storage, photos, my college books, was down there.
    Made a claim, a list with lost contents and approximate prices. I spent hours, days, weeks, months.
    I cheaply figured $5000 in loss.
    I had to fight like hell to get even half that. Even called the BBB
    Comment from the insurance company…..
    Why would a person store that much in a basement?
    I didn’t have the correct coverage, in their terms. Not flood. Not a flood plain. And had to fight to get the right coverage out of them.
    Septic and plumbing coverage, u dumb jack-…first time house owner. U lose. Sorry, have a nice day.

    1. Yep just a stupid Joe on coverages I guess.
      Replacement value, either above or below, on items. Didn’t read the fine tune, and not knowing jack on insurance companies waverley literature.
      The insurance salesperson, didnt suggest additional coverage, as of a basement flood, whether it be a flood or plumbing issues. (Replacement costs). I didn’t know we had to have a 24/7 attorney to read all and to do all) They knew I had a basement, they made a trip out, especially to inspect the in house wood burner though. To make sure it wasn’t a ‘fire hazzard.’
      I have never argued on the price of coverage I pay year after year.
      My 12×12 shed, now is an added
      12x 20chicken coop is a $12, 000 + replacement value. Not including contents. (Well…. depending on what they deem necessary to cover.) Cost me less than $500 in the day to build. Cement floor also.
      Hell I could build a nice sized dirt floor garage at that cost of $12,000.

      1. Joe c
        Did anyone tell you that your $12,000 coverage is not just for the building materials, it also includes someone coming to your place for reconstructing the building from the ground up.

        Joe c, I do not know who represents you on your insurance but I would like to suggest you find a different agent/agency. One that will explain what you have in coverage and what you do NOT have on your policy.

        When shopping for a new agent/agency for your coverage write down questions after your bad experience with the basement flooding. Ask if it will be covered if a pipe bursts, mother nature flooding is a different matter. Have them explain that to you at the same time, it falls under a different program. Same goes with everything you have on your place(aka-flood insurance).

        When you update your electrical, water lines, or other improvements, take photos-keep the receipts for proof of changes. Depending on when a home was newly constructed(1960’s)aluminum wire was used. Many of these homes still have it, and they are slowly being upgraded. Most prominent were mobile homes during that era as it was a cheaper way to run wiring in the home. fyi-jic

        1. AC
          Yes I dropped that insurance agency, like a flushed toilet.
          What, then, got to me was the question of pets (dogs) Certain breeds, no matter if full blood or a cross, they would not insure homeowners.
          When a person reads, full contents insured, a person doesn’t expect to be thrown a list of variables, in which that full coverage applies to.
          Lesson learned

  13. Wow! Many of you must have horrible agents. A lot things mentioned here are incorrect. I’ve been an agent for over 23 years and my customers don’t have issues. First homeowner forms 3 and 5 are replacement cost coverage for the structure and contents period. When you have a loss companies will calculate both the replacement and ACV estimates. Your initial payment will be ACV. When you make the repairs and/or replace the item you get another check for the difference between ACV and replacement cost. This encourages customers to make repairs and replace items. It it’s the customers choice. Regarding specialized coverage, yes you need to discuss with your agent. My policy automatically gives $5,000 for firearms, $7,500 for tools, $1,500 for jewelry per item and $2,500 max. If you have more of course it needs to be schedule to increase the limit. Super easy to do. And there is not a homeowners policy on the planet that covers flood, it’s a separate policy. Even flood doesn’t cover ground water seepage it needs to be a river, lake, ocean event with multiple homes involved. Sewer back up and sump failure coverage is available and I wish more people bought it unfortunately less 15 percent what to pay the cost. Regarding the valuation of the home; insurance companies have complex calculators that are zip code level and are loaded annually with labor and material cost for everything. I hear all the time my do I have to insure for more than I paid. It because new construction cost is more than buying an existing home. Also included in the valuation is the clean up cost which can easily be 10 percent of the cost. Everyone of my customers are called every two years to see if they want to come in and review coverages, unfortunately less then 20 percent take us up on this. Regarding agent pay yep I make a nice living I should it’s a very difficult job it’s a Hugh responsibility protecting families. You never get a day off. The first 5 years I work 70-80 hours a week and my family of 4 would have qualified for housing assistance and food stamps.

    1. Up North;
      I have State Farm, yep you’re right…. Horrible Agents for sure and the Adjusters are even worse.
      A lot of things mentioned are SPOT on for the experiences I have seen many MANY customers experience over the 25+ years I have helped them battle Adjusters and Inc. Companies.
      ACV’s are ALWAYS incorrect within the areas the adjusters, they have zero idea of what it cost, and the “insurance companies have complex calculators that are zip code level and are loaded annually with labor and material cost for everything.” Is the most inaccurate system I have ever been forced to use, Xactimate (SP) is nowhere correct. And that’s if/when ya can get an adjuster to show up, PLUS they will NOT allow you to be there when they are doing their “evaluation” and point out everything they are missing on their report……
      As far as values insured for firearms, jewelry and stuff, the co’s will ONLY pay the “true value” IF you have a current certified appraisal for ANYTHING more than 10 years old. Remember Grandmas Brouch that is valued at $10K, I have an insurance co denuy a friend any cost at all because she did not have it aprazed and she could not find it AFTER the “cleanup crew left, did they steal it YES!!!! For she remember exactly where it was in the house.
      As far as Sewer and Sump Failures… Again add on more cost, and more cost, typical of Insurance Co’s.

      I’m really wondering when was the last time you followed a claim 100% through with the first fire truck rolling till final. AND actually sit down with the Contractors and Clients and listen to the FIGHT with the Ins Co. to settle a claim, yes you may be an “Agent” but your not the one in the Big Office fighting for every dime they can screw out of the Client.

      Sorry my friend, ain’t going to change this old fart that’s seen all the worst of Insurance Companies.

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