Having appropriate coverage is critical for your protection in the unfortunate event that something happens to your valuables, but what is the best and easiest way to document your stuff?
If you file a home insurance claim, insurance companies will often ask for copies of receipts or pictures of the items you lost as proof that you had them in the first place.
That’s why creating a home inventory list is both sensible and necessary. Whether you are a new homeowner or renter or have lived in the same digs for years, a home inventory list is the most effective way to determine the value of your personal belongings and provide a catalogue of all the things you own in detail.
What is a home inventory list?
A home inventory list documents your possessions in your house, condominium, or apartment. Should a fire or flood destroy your belongings or if your abode is burglarized, you can easily verify what items were lost and how much they cost to replace if you need to file a claim.
While it may seem like a lot of work, you can simplify the task by breaking it down into a categorized list. For example, categorize your possessions by each room in your dwelling (bedroom, living room, kitchen) or by type (electronics, kitchen appliances, clothing).
The easiest way to create your inventory checklist is to take a video or digital photos of your possessions. Use a spreadsheet to complement the images you take by tracking your possessions by room or download and print the Insurance Bureau of Canada’s property inventory checklist to document each item.
What to include in your home inventory list
Many insurance providers provide a mobile app or cloud-based storage to upload digital photos, videos, and details of your goods. If not, store your digital inventory in the cloud using an online storage option, such as Dropbox, Google Drive, Apple iCloud, or Microsoft OneDrive.
You can also download an app to your mobile phone or tablet computer to inventory your goods, such as Sortly (iOS or Android), Nest Egg (iOS), or Memento Database, (Android).
If possible, include as many of the following details for each item:
- A description of the item, as well as its model or serial number (if applicable) for things such as a laptop computer or appliance
- A digital photo or video of the item
- The date you purchased it and how much you paid for it when you bought it (ideally, include an image of any receipts you have for your goods)
- The estimated cost to replace the item if you had to buy a new one today
How to create a home inventory list
When determining the value of your belongings, be sure to consider the replacement cost of the item as opposed to its cash value. The cash value of goods may depreciate over time, whereas the replacement cost provides you with enough funds to replace your items. On that note, you may need to ask your insurance provider about adding coverage for expensive items like jewelry, works of art, or valuable coin collections.
Here are some tips to help you take a digital inventory:
- Use a colour camera with a flash, video camera, or a digital camera.
- Label the photos and videos with the dates they were taken.
- Place a card next to the items with the purchase price and date of purchase in the photo.
- Include a family member in the picture to help substantiate ownership.
- Open closet doors to show the amount of clothing you own.
- Take pictures of the insides of drawers with the contents fanned out.
- Use a dark cloth as a background for silver, china, or jewelry.
- When photographing china, take a picture of the pattern name or manufacturer's signature, along with a picture of the pattern.
- Include images of expensive power tools, your barbecue, and equipment in your garage, such as a lawnmower or snowblower, as well as any gardening tools and bicycles. Don’t forget the items in your basement and backyard.
- If you want to take only a few pictures, either take group pictures of your most valuable items or record whole rooms with your most valuable and theft-prone items prominently displayed.
- Don't forget to get an image of the camera or mobile phone you use as part of your inventory.
How to figure out how much your possessions are worth
Keeping receipts of everything you buy and taking digital images of them to include with the items you have is the best way to determine the replacement cost of your goods. However, you may not have receipts for things you purchased months or years ago. So, what to do?
In that case, try walking through each room of your home with a calculator and adding up the cost of everything you have. For example, peer into your closet and add up the value of every pair of pants, shirts, shoes, jackets, and coats you have. Before long, you’ll have a view of how much your possessions are worth, even if it’s only an estimate.
Ask about the claims-filing process
Also, remember to update your inventory whenever you make new purchases. That helps ensure you have enough insurance to cover a loss, and it keeps your list up to date.
It’s also worthwhile to ask your home insurance provider or broker in advance how claims are handled should you need to file one. Get an idea of how your insurance company settles a total loss. Ask them what you may need to provide for them to make an accurate assessment of the full value of your possessions.