Performing a Personal Possessions Inventory

I started counting my sweaters the other day and fell asleep in the middle of it. They were wool.

Think of your home and everything in it. Now, imagine one day while you're out checking the markdown rack at Kohl's, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse saunters by and steps on it. Total devastation. Nothing left.

But you have homeowners insurance. You can replace every blessed thing with a phone call, right? Do you know what happens when your house gets shipwrecked on dry land?

Early in the claims process, the insurance adjuster will ask you to prepare a detailed inventory of all damaged or destroyed personal property. "Your list should be as complete as possible, including a description of the items, dates of purchase or approximate age, cost at time of purchase and estimated replacement cost," she'll say.

"What am I, Nostradamus? You have gotta be kidding! I must own dozens of things! Maybe hundreds!" you'll say. "How am I supposed to remember what the heck they were?"

Answer: Swallow the live toad now, while you still have the stuff.

Now is the time to make an exhaustive (and probably exhausting) inventory of your precious stuff. Start by making a "walking around" list of your possessions, describing each item, guessing--as best you can remember--where you bought it and what you paid for it. Note its make and model. Clip to your list any sales receipts, purchase contracts, and appraisals you have (like you have any). For clothing, count the items you own by category--pants, coats, shoes, bustiers, for example. making notes about those that are especially valuable. For major appliance and electronic equipment, record their serial numbers usually found on the back or bottom, whichever is most inconvenient to access.

This advice is best appreciated when you're young and just setting up a household. After you've lived in a place a few decades, this could be a (understatement of the week) daunting task. An incomplete or "haffast" inventory is better than none at all. Start with recent acquisitions and work backward until you get to wedding shower gifts.

Use technology.

Expedite your claims with a photographic household inventoryRecord Your Voice - Legal pad and pen-impaired? Use your cell phone or get one of those little hand-held voice recorders and record your own voice as you walk around describing stuff. You can use the recording to make a list if you have to make an insurance claim.

Employ Your Computer - Put this magic box you call the PC to work. Use a word processor or spreadsheet. Or download software that gives you hints and cues and helps you organize the process. Here are but a few:

Home Inventory Software

All Home Inventory
AssetManage Home
A2Z Home Inventory

Google it. There are dozens of them. Find one that suits your style.

Take Pictures - With today's digital cameras, you can snap images of everything in your domicile until you see the flash with your eyes closed. Take wide shots of entire rooms and then drag crap out of drawers, pantries and closets and shoot close-ups. You can store every image on a CD or DVD.

Don't have a digital camera? Dude, move to the 21st Century. You can pick one up for under $200 and they're ridiculously simple to use.

Video proves the existence of your belongings pre-disasterTake Videos - Now you're startin' to have fun with it. You're Cecil B. DeMille and Antony and Cleopatra are played by your living room furniture and your Russian Matryoshka collection. Having use of sight and sound here is a real advantage because you can describe the item, where you got it, and what you think it's worth. Your own personal Antiques Roadshow.

Whatever medium you use, make copies for your safe deposit box, a family member's home, someplace safe. Greta will keep a list or tape or CD in your file at her office with your policy if you like. The information will help you create a list for any claim you have to make.

Hire it Done - If you're too busy or too lazy, there are actually businesses that do home inventories for you for a fee. Check your phone directories and the Internet.

A note about big ticket items
Valuables like jewelry, art work and collectibles may have increased in value since you received them. When you've built your inventory, make sure Greta knows about the fancy stuff. You know you'll want replacement value for these irreplaceable items. You may need a "floater" or a "rider" or some other ghostly-sounding insurance apparition.

Property Insurance Exposed | How to Buy Homeowners Insurance
Stuff that Affects Your Homeowners Premiums | Renters Insurance
Inventory Your Possessions | Request an Online Quote

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