Preparing a property inventory today will save you headaches and heartaches tomorrow.
A major headache that many of us may face is a property loss—from fire, theft or other catastrophe. To some, this kind of loss can be life altering. Even for smaller losses, you may find the process of submitting a claim to be onerous and time- consuming. Too many will find themselves unprepared for the process of dealing with their insurance company during a stressful time.
Burden Is on You
While most property owners are financially savvy about buying property insurance, most don’t realize they also need to be savvy in preparing for a loss—before it happens. Preparation will make a significant difference in the resolution of your property claim.
In presenting your property claim, the burden of proving losses rests solely on you. But, most of us are unsophisticated in handling claims and are at a disadvantage when negotiating with an insurance adjuster. Adjusters, on the other hand, are trained in the claims process and trained to protect the insurance company.
Prepare with a Call and an Inventory
If you’re unprepared, you’ll find it difficult to prove your loss. So, take a first step and evaluate your coverage with your insurance agent. Find out if you’re insured for replacement value, if there’s adequate coverage for all your personal property, and if items need to be specifically scheduled—expensive jewelry, art, antiques, etc.
Second, prepare a property inventory. An inventory accomplishes three important goals: it helps determine how much insurance you need, speeds up the claims process, and helps verify losses for income tax purposes.
Don’t put it off! If a loss occurs, you can run through your inventory to determine what’s missing. That’s especially helpful during stressful times after a loss when your memory may fail you.
Preparing a Property Inventory
There are plenty of ways to prepare your inventory—notebooks, spreadsheets, photos, videos. The best method is the one you’ll actually use and that you’ll update each year.
The Insurance Information Institute’s online inventory tool, “Know Your Stuff,” is free, easy to use, accessible from any computer, and even offers storage on secured servers. This spread-sheet-based software offers a system to enter information by room, then by item, with prompts to identify categories (e.g., art, antiques, jewelry), replacement costs and purchase date. You can add images, receipts, appraisals and even warranties for your records.
Other software—from Quicken, Home Inventory Pro, and others—has similar features and may offer bar-code scanners to help you track serial numbers, model numbers and the like.
A simple method you can do today with your phone is to take a video of your entire home (or business, but that’s a separate discussion) and all its contents.
The inventory, with your audio comments, should slowly pan each room—showing the floors, all four walls and ceilings. Focus in detail on the contents of each room—each item, stating when each was purchased, and giving the approximate value. Open closets, cabinets, drawers and doors to show the contents. Zoom in to show bar codes or important markers of value for antiques, jewelry, etc.
Ideally, upload the video to the cloud (you can store it privately on YouTube or Vimeo), store a copy in a fireproof safe, safe deposit box or give it to a friend to keep. Photos can also be stored on the cloud and on Flickr, Dropbox or e-mailed to yourself.
Update this inventory annually and amend it as needed by life changes, significant gifts and purchases, or changes in value of your property (such as collectibles that may appreciate).
Follow these suggestions and you should have the information needed to help you compile a complete and accurate list of property in the event of a loss. And that’s the best way to avoid headaches and delays processing your claims.
After doing your inventory, you may even be inspired to de-clutter your home!
Dan W. Welch is the president of Dan W. Welch, Inc., claims navigators and public adjustment firm located in West Chester. DWWImc.com; 800-881-3994.