She didn’t realize at first she’d interrupted a burglary. The elderly, deaf dog was dozing on her usual chair and everything looked fine. But when the homeowner, let’s call her Jean, turned on the TV to check the news, it didn’t work. She checked it over and found the cable connection was undone. Odd, she thought, plugging it back in.
She put away her groceries, then went to change her clothes. As she glanced out the window, she noticed the substantial woodpile had collapsed all over the side yard. And then she realized she was looking out a window with no glass in it.
Later, Jean and her husband pieced together the story. Someone—they believe it was teenagers because of what was taken—had scaled the six-foot fence, broken the window (while the dog slept on), taken two pillowcases from the bed and started loading things into it. A dresser drawer of jewelry, a watch, an iPod, an iPad, an Xbox and several Xbox games, the small wireless router for the computer, a pair of high-end sunglasses. And, her sons discovered when they arrived home from school, two packages of Oreos.
Evidently the thief or thieves had been preparing to make off with the television when Jean arrived home. They’d fled over the back fence, knocking over the woodpile in their haste to escape.
When she called their insurance company, there were many questions she couldn’t answer. Since things were taken from various rooms it was hard to figure out just what was missing. What jewelry had actually been in the drawer? When exactly had the Xbox been purchased? How much had the wireless router cost?
Inventories are essential
What if you were a victim of a burglary or a fire, flood, or other disaster? Do you ever look around your house and think, “Wow, I’ve got a lot of stuff?” From the obvious things like televisions, the piano, and appliances to the things tucked away in cupboards, closets, and storage areas—from pots and pans to ski poles, guitars, and Christmas ornaments—chances are good you own hundreds, if not thousands of things.
Creating a comprehensive home inventory is one of those things we all know we should do, but somehow never get around to. “I’m guilty,” admits Steve Harper of Harper’s Insurance Agency, a family-owned operation in Charlottesville. “I did one once, but I haven’t kept it up to date.”
An inventory can be crucial, he points out. “If you leave your home today and come home to find a pile of ashes, do you remember everything you have in your home? You’d be shocked, displaced, and under tremendous stress so when it’s time to talk with an insurance adjuster, it’s going to be so tough.”
Theft, he points out, is a more common risk. “TV sets, computers, and Xboxes are popular targets,” he says, “and every one of those Xbox games has a value, too.” He uses big flat screen television sets as an example. “When did you buy it?” he asks. “What was the model? Maybe XYZ was top of line last year, but not now. Knowing exactly what you have can help you acquire replacement cost.”
With any insurance claim, the adjuster will need to know the numbers behind the losses. “The claims office needs to know what did you lose, what was the model number, how much did it cost,” Harper explains. “Trying to do a mental recall can be really tough. You need to know what the item was, what is its value, and when you got it.”
Ideally, you should have information on:
*Date of purchase
*Value of any high-value items that have been appraised
Having an up-to-date inventory is helpful in several ways. First, it’s a good yardstick for measuring whether you have sufficient insurance coverage. Second, it’s crucial if you need make an insurance claim. Third, it can help substantiate a claim for uninsured losses on your income tax return.
With colder weather here, now might be the perfect time to undertake an inventory, spending an hour or two each weekend for as long as it takes. That way, if the worst happens, you’ll have an updated and complete list.
High-value items and other special situations
When is a sofa not a sofa? When it is an antique. Appraisals of antiques, valuable paintings or other artwork, jewelry, weapons, and other items of unusual value are important to have in case of a claim. Generally, the cost of extra insurance is related to the value of the items. You might want a separate section in your inventory for such items. Include the provenance, if this is appropriate, in addition to the usual purchase price and date information.
Harper explains that most homeowner policies have caps in coverage for particularly valuable items such as fine arts or antiques. “There are limits for theft for high-value items,” he says, “generally furs, jewelry, and guns. For example, a typical policy might have a theft limit of $1500 for firearms. You definitely need an extra rider for those high-value belongings.”
Doing business from home is another situation to address. “If you have a home office, you should have an endorsement,” advises Harper. “This is a simple rider that covers your computer, fax machines, et cetera. The additional cost very modest, but very important.” He adds that people with home-based businesses with what he calls “in-and-out traffic” also need special liability insurance. Examples might be music teachers, accountants, and beauticians. Day care, in particular, requires special coverage.
“I encourage people to sit down and do a review of not only personal possessions but also liabilities you might have, because you have to know your exposure on your property as well as off,” Harper continues. He cites four-wheelers as an example of potential liability, as well as hunting or even playing golf. “Also,” he says, “you may need extra insurance on ‘toys’ like jet skis and boats.”
It used to be people simply kept an accordion file of receipts for everything they bought and inventoried items in a notebook. Later people developed spreadsheets on their computers, then started taking photos of each room, opening closet doors and dresser drawers to record their property. Later still, it was popular to stroll through the house room-by-room with a video camera narrating as they shot the room’s contents.
These days, however, many people are going digital. This makes creating an inventory much easier and also easier to update as items are replaced or updated. Home inventory software programs are similar, of course, but they do vary when it comes to extra features. Here are some enhancements to consider.
Basic inventory software should have a variety of fields to help with inventory management. For example, you should be able to add purchase price and date, manufacturer information such as model numbers and serial numbers, photos, repair histories, and each item’s location.
Some programs go well beyond basic inventory creation. For instance, you might be able to add beneficiaries for specific items or appraised values in case of professional assessment. It’s helpful to have customizable categories. Some people inventory room by room, others prefer to inventory by category such as all the furniture in one file, electronics in another, small appliances, garden equipment, china and glassware, linens, or musical instruments in still others.
You definitely want software that is easy to use, has good printing capabilities, easy backup, and easily accessed help documentation such as tutorials and a user’s guide. It’s also helpful to be able to contact customer service and technical support.
Of course, you’ll want to keep original receipts, especially for major items, in a secure place. In addition, consider scanning them to a CD if your inventory software doesn’t have receipt storage capability. Whenever you make a substantial purchase, be sure to add it to the inventory promptly.
It’s essential to keep a copy of your inventory—whether written or digital—outside of your home. Use a trusted (and organized) relative or friend or keep in a safe deposit box. These days many people store their inventories on a cloud.
There’s a wide variety of software programs for creating and maintaining household inventories. Googling “home inventory software 2014” will take you to listings comparing products ranging in price from $10 to $60.
There are also free programs. For example, insurance agent Harper suggests taking a look at The Allstate Digital Locker® online at Allstate.com. It’s a free app for smartphones or any Internet-connectable computer. Once the user creates a free account, the “locker” on a secure data-storage cloud can be accessed from any internet-connected device. Users can create their own categories, add photos and link them to multiple items. To take a look, visit, www.DigitalLocker.com.
The Insurance Information Institute is an organization that seeks to improve public understanding of what insurance does and how it works. It has created the free Know Your Stuff © – Home Inventory. This is a creation wizard for entering information about yourself, your property, and your individual insurance company.
This means you can easily provide information to your insurance provider in the event of fire, flood, tornado, derecho, hurricane, other natural disaster, or a burglary. This information is stored remotely on secure servers so is accessible from any computer, even if yours has been destroyed or stolen.
KnowYourStuff is also available for iPhones or Android. Information on both computer and smartphone software is available at HYPERLINK “http://www.KnowYourStuff.com” www.KnowYourStuff.org
A good strategy is for two people to tackle one room at a time. One person can open doors and drawers, hold items for shooting pictures, separate clothing on rods, and then put things away again.
Don’t overlook storage spaces like attics or storage sheds to itemize out-of-season items such as holiday decorations, seasonal sports equipment, or camping items such as the propane camp lights equipment.
So don’t postpone this any longer. In the best case, you’ll never need that inventory. But if something bad happens, you’ll be glad you cataloged your things.
Marilyn Pribus and her husband live in Albemarle County near Charlottesville. When they were burglarized some years ago (in another state), they were glad to have good records when it was time to place a claim.