Updated June 4, 2021
Reading time: 4 minutes
If something happens to your house, will you be able to tell your homeowners insurance company what you lost? If you can’t, your insurer is unlikely to pay your claim, leaving you in the lurch.
More than half of Americans don’t have a home inventory of their most important possessions, according to a study by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. All of those people are at risk for inadequate coverage if something happens. Don’t be one of them—make a detailed inventory of everything on your property. It may seem like a huge task, but there are plenty of ways to get started.
While you’re at it, it’s a good idea to review your home insurer every few years to make sure you’re getting the best deal possible. Compare insurers easily with Insurify, a simple tool that lets you compare insurance quotes from lots of insurers with just a few minutes of research.
The most important reason to have a home inventory list is to be able to prove your loss to your insurance company if you have to make a claim. Any time you make a claim, the insurance company will ask you for a detailed list of things you lost. If this list of your possessions is missing items or you don’t know the details, you may not get paid enough money to cover your losses—or the insurance company may not compensate you at all.
So why shouldn’t you wait until you have a loss and then make the list? Because when you have a major claim, it can be difficult to remember all the details with so many other things going on. It’s easier to be able to pull out a handy list you made ahead of time.
Making this list can also help you understand how much insurance you need and what kind. It might turn out that you need to talk to your insurance agent about buying an insurance rider for special items, like jewelry or collectibles.
The best time to start on your inventory list is right now. It doesn’t have to be complicated. There are lots of apps and printable worksheets available online to help, but the easiest way to get started is by just walking through your home and shooting a video. The video by itself won’t be enough to prove your losses if you have an insurance claim, but you can use the video as an easy reference to make an itemized written list.
Start by taking a video of every room in your house, one room at a time. Open drawers and closets and peer into bookcases. Record all the contents in a way that lets you see what’s inside when you rewatch the video. Film your liquor cabinet, linens, wine cellar, art, collections, electronic equipment, and jewelry box. Leave no stone unturned. You can make this easier by making smaller videos covering sections of each room or grouping items together then watching them one at a time to make your written list.
For small items like cutlery, silverware, glassware, and dishes, it’s usually okay to estimate the number of each item you have—for example, “12 place settings” instead of meticulously counting each item.
Find the receipts for larger items and take photos or videos of those, too. Take the time to write down the serial number for items like electronics, firearms, and appliances. Cover the contents of your freezer or pantry if you stockpile food—if you document those losses, you can get assistance from your insurer if a power outage destroys your food. And don’t forget the components of the room itself. If you have built-in shelving or nice finishes, capture those so that you have proof of what you lost if something happens.
Finally, head outside and document the contents of your garage, shed, or other outbuildings. You don’t want to have to pay out of pocket if a storm destroys your lawnmower, for example.
With these photos and videos in hand, you can make your written home inventory list of your personal belongings. It should contain as much of this information for each item as possible:
Description of the item
Makes, model numbers, and serial numbers
Appraisal value or cost when you purchased it
Where you bought the item
Date of purchase
Sales receipts or photo of receipts, if possible
Estimated replacement cost if you bought it again today
Does your home include antiques or anything irreplaceable? Talk to your insurance agent to find out how to itemize those and how they will be covered in a claim—or whether they’ll be covered at all. You may need extra coverage for them.
This is also a good time to find out whether your insurance company pays replacement cost or actual cash value in the event of a loss. If your insurance company doesn’t pay replacement cost, think about increasing your coverage or finding another insurer —you don’t want any nasty surprises when a claim happens.
There are lots of options for where to store your home inventory list, but the important thing to know is that keeping it in your home is a bad idea. If you have a loss that destroys important possessions, it could wipe out your list too. The key is keeping it in a safe place, whether that’s a printed copy in a safe deposit box or secure file storage in the cloud.
Whatever you choose, just make sure you have access to it when you need it. It should be easily available during an emergency, and it should be stored securely and privately the rest of the time.
Making your list doesn’t have to be a huge hassle. Pick a small contained area to start, like the kitchen cabinet where you keep your small appliances or the shelf where your handbags stay. Another way to start is with recent purchases—document them all, then work your way backward to older possessions. Remember, it’s better to have an incomplete inventory than nothing at all, so just pick a spot and start.
Your coverage should equal the cost of replacing your possessions at today’s prices. If it doesn’t, you need to revisit your insurance policy. Special items, like jewelry or fine art, should be appraised to make sure they’re properly covered.
Yes, if you pick a trustworthy storage service. Make sure you understand the service’s privacy and security settings. Research whether the service you’re using is reliable. It’s a good idea to give access to someone else in your home as a backup.
There’s no wrong way to get started making your home inventory list; the important thing is just getting started in the first place. When it comes to cataloging your belongings, it’s better late than never.
While you’re creating your inventory, make sure your belongings have the coverage you need and deserve by using Insurify.
Jackie Cohen is an editorial manager at Insurify specializing in property & casualty insurance educational content. She has years of experience analyzing insurance trends and helping consumers better understand their insurance coverage to make informed decisions about their finances.
Jackie's work has been cited in USA Today, The Balance, and The Washington Times.Learn More