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Why it's critical to maintain a current home inventory

(Article from InsWeb Insider Newsletter, September 2006)

Nobody ever thinks a fire is going to burn down their home, and with any luck, it won't. But we can't count on that. That is why we need to take certain precautions to make sure we are as prepared as possible for those "just in case" disasters. For example, make sure your family has an evacuation plan in place just in case a fire ever starts in your home. Also, make sure you have properly installed and working smoke alarms and fire extinguishers in your house; again, just in case. What's another important thing you should do to make sure you are fully prepared? Keep an up-to-date home inventory in a safe spot.

As previously mentioned, most people do not think of preparing for fires in their homes, or if they do, it's to ensure safety measures are planned out. While a well-thought-out safety plan is definitely the most critical thing to do, it's also very important to make sure you can get reimbursed for your personal possessions from your homeowners or renters insurance company as quickly and easily as possible. Think about it; can you accurately list from memory everything in your house? Most people cannot, and that is why it's important to have a list, and, if possible, receipts and purchase information.

A Basic Home Inventory
If you don't yet have a home inventory, thinking of starting one can seem like a monumental task, especially if you've been living in your home for a long time. While the best time to start your list is when you're just starting out in your first home or apartment, or have just moved to a new home, it can still be an achievable task in that home you've lived in for several years. Just start one room at a time. Remember, a partial inventory is better than no inventory at all.

Go room to room and note down every item you see in that room. Try to get serial numbers for the big ticket items, and write down when, where, and for what price you purchased each item. Make sure you remember to go into closets, cupboards, and storage areas and write down the items in these as well.

While some items you own have depreciated in replacement price (televisions, electronics, furniture, etc.), some items may have increased in value (such as art, jewelry, and collectibles). You may need to insure these items separately; check with your insurance agent and find out if your current policy adequately covers these valuables.

Take Pictures Or A Video
It is a good idea to take pictures or make a video of the items in your home. If you take pictures, write on the back the details of the items in the pictures. If you take a video, narrate as you walk from room to room (what items are in the room, when and where you bought them and for how much). Photographing or videotaping your home's inventory can be especially helpful if items are hard to describe on paper or for items you do not have receipts for.

Store Your List In A Safe Spot
Make sure you store your list, pictures, and/or DVD or video tape in a safe spot. While it's a good idea to have a copy at home, make sure you have at least one additional copy outside your home. If you only have one copy inside your home (or on your home computer) and your home burns down, that list won't do you any good. Store extra copies at a friend or family member's house, in a safe deposit box, or at work. If your inventory is on your computer, make a disk or CD and store it elsewhere, and/or send your list to yourself at work or to your web-based email account so you can access it in places other than your home.

Keep Those Receipts!
Many of us are not great at keeping our receipts for purchases. Now that you've read this article, make sure you keep receipts from now on, especially for those big ticket items. These receipts will help you settle your homeowners or renters insurance claim as quickly as possible. And remember, keep receipts (or copies of them) in a place besides your home, along with a copy of your home inventory.