If you’ve been thinking lately about securing — or increasing — insurance for the contents of your home, you’re one step ahead of the upcoming disaster season: It’s never a bad idea to document your possessions in case of burglary, damage or fire. But how should you go about it? Well, the best tool for the job is the one you’ll actually use.
Taking a home inventory isn’t hard, but it is time consuming. It’s also extremely important; maintaining a complete and accurate inventory will speed up the insurance claims process and ensure your insurance takes care of everything you lost. (You do, of course, need the insurance.)
Many tools can guide you through the process of taking an inventory and storing it somewhere secure (we’ll list some below), but the basics are pretty simple: You’ll want to take pictures of all your stuff (including the serial numbers for your electronic gadgetry. In the age of smartphones, this is no problem: simply walking through your home and filming its contents will get you off to a good start.
In addition to the video, you’ll want to keep a details on makes and models for your pricier items — along with receipts, if possible (take pictures in case you lose the originals). As we’ve pointed out before, simply listing “toaster over” isn’t enough if what you actually own is an $800 convection oven; the insurance company will be happy to price out a cheap $30 replacement model if you aren’t able to prove the true value of your losses. This is especially true for unique and valuable items like jewellery, wine and firearms (though it’s important to note that coverage may be limited for these items; for example, a typical insurance policy will only provide up to $1,400 per piece of jewellery and $7,000 per incident.
You can keep the inventory in whatever format is most convenient, whether a Google Doc or with an app, either from a third-party or one provided by your insurance company. Make sure to update them regularly as your upgrade or dispose of various possessions.
It’s also important to store your inventory outside your home in some form. Again, your phone will make this easy — you can save a backup of your photos and videos in the cloud and save your documents or app data without a second thought — but it’s also a good idea to keep a physical copy at your office or with a trusted friend. You could even rent a safety deposit box or use one of these alternatives — which isn’t a bad idea, as it will also give you somewhere to store important documents so they won’t be lost or damaged in a fire.
This article was originally published by Lisa Hoover in March 2010. It was updated in August 2020 by Joel Cunningham to provide more complete advice, update the content to include newly relevant information and revise sections linking to outdated resources.