Constructing a Home Inventory

Growing up with a mother who loved antique furniture meant that over the years of her life I ended up with several antique pieces of which I dutifully took pictures and then stashed the pictures in our safe deposit box years ago.  Recently, when forced to evacuate our home due to a wildfire, it became clear we probably needed something more than a few pictures in a safe deposit box.  That day as I tried to figure out what was most important to pack in the cars, my husband roamed the house taking pictures of our belongings.  Thankfully we didn’t end up needing a catalog of our belongings that day, but we have begun the process of creating a real home inventory in case it’s needed in the future for our homeowners insurance company or to document losses on our tax return.  While having pictures and/or video of your belongings is extremely helpful, it may not have the amount of detail that you need to truly replace your possessions.

My first step was to check online for a template.  Excel has three available so I chose one and individualized it for myself and my house, creating a tab for each room.  I started with the living room because, of course, since we don’t actually spend much time in there, there is not so much to catalog.  I attempted to find the cost of the item if it was fairly new.  The others I just gave a brief description and moved on.  At some point soon, I’ll need to get all those pictures from my husband’s phone to compare and store with my spreadsheet.  Using the same system, I can move through the house room by room.

A different strategy might be to start with the larger, more expensive items in the house, catalog them by room and work your way down to the smaller items from there.  Searches in my personal finance software and my paper files were helpful in finding prices and details including model numbers.  Those receipts from the paper files should probably be kept in a safe place with the home inventory.  Serial numbers are also said to be helpful for appliances; I went hunting for those and found them just inside the doors of the appliances I checked.  Categorizing belongings (347 books vs. listing each one) and opening closets and drawers to take pictures helps to speed the process and saves time from having to list each individual item.  Don’t forget sound systems, speakers, gaming systems and small electronics.  Also, be sure to list all of those small appliances in the kitchen.  Document rugs and window coverings, your cell phone and musical instruments even if they are residing silently in the back of a closet.

As with most things these days, there are phone apps that can be used if you are more inclined that way.  Some allow you to both take pictures with your phone and record details for larger, more expensive items.  Check here for reviews of some available:

If you have artwork, antiques or collectibles you might want to consider having them evaluated and valued by a professional appraiser.  Since homeowners insurance policies limit the amount of coverage on these items you may need supplemental policies in order for them to be insured for their actual value.

Once all is cataloged and pictures taken, what then?  There are several options.  The inventory along with the pictures can be stored in a fireproof safe or in a safe deposit box.  Storing in the cloud is also an option and may offer an easier solution to keeping your home inventory updated.  Copies can also be left with friends or relatives.

Hopefully you will never actually need a home inventory but in the last decade in Colorado we have had both floods and fires that have left people with staggering amounts of damage.  While almost no one would think of owning a home and not having insurance to protect it, it’s also important to know exactly what that insurance policy needs to cover.

~ Carolyn Rice