Making an Easy Home Inventory List for Insurance

Do You Know How Much Your Stuff Is Worth? What You Will Need in a Claim

woman taking a home inventory with tablet
••• Ever wonder what the value of the stuff in your home is worth, here's how to find out and make a home inventory list. Hoxton/Tom Merton / Getty Images  

Ever wonder what the value of the stuff in your home is worth? Here's how to find out and make a home inventory list.

Making a home inventory or a list of everything you own may seem like a daunting task, but there are many ways to get started that don't have to feel like such a chore. You might ask yourself, why bother? Is it really worth making a home inventory list? When is a home inventory going to be used for insurance?

Every homeowner, condo owner or renter should have some form of a home inventory list. Let's start with what a home inventory list is, and then some tips on how to make one from the easiest way to options for apps with more detail.

What Is a Home Inventory List?

A home inventory list is a list of the items or personal belongings you have in your home, condo or apartment. The list can be categorized by room, type of item, collection or other relevant criteria. A home inventory list should include as much of the following information for the items as possible:

  • Description
  • Make, Model or Serial number if applicable
  • Description of the item
  • Evaluations of items, Appraisals or cost at the time of purchase
  • Where the item was purchased
  • Date of purchase 
  • Receipts or photos in an attachment if relevant
  • May also include what you think it will cost to replace "today" if you have this information. (What you bought on sale, may not be on sale at the time of loss)
  • Items which are antique, or irreplaceable should be discussed with your insurance representative to find out how to itemize them and how (or if) they will be paid in a claim

Reasons to have a home inventory list:

  1. Understand the value of your personal belongings or "stuff" to make sure you have the right kind of insurance
  1. Be prepared so you can get paid quicker in a claim and avoid the hassle of doing it under pressure

When to Make a Home Inventory List?

The best time to make a home inventory list is right now. Even a basic list is better than nothing and will give you a head start on a claim. If you are a first time home buyer or getting your first apartment or condo, having a list or going through the process of starting one will also help you understand:

  1. How Much Insurance You Need 
  2. What Kind of Insurance You Need

Insurance has certain limits on some items, just because you have an item on a list doesn't mean you will get paid for it. Learn more about this in these three articles: 

Why Do You Need a Home Inventory List?

The main reason to have a home inventory list is to be able to prove your loss and get paid the most money by your insurance company if you have to make a claim.

Any time you will want to make a claim, the insurance company is going to ask you for a list of things lost.

They will use this to pay you, if you miss items on your list or don't know the details, you may not get paid enough money, or may not get compensated at all. When you have a major claim, it is difficult to remember everything because so much is going on.

The Easiest Way to Make a Home Inventory and Get a List of All Your Stuff

The easiest way to make a home inventory and create a list of all the things you own will depend on you. There are many apps available to help you do this, but the easiest way that will take the least amount of time up front will probably be by taking a video. A video alone will not be enough in a home insurance claim, but if you have one, at least you can use it as a reference to make your list and it can serve as part of your "proof of loss".

Video all the rooms in your home, one at a time.

If you have big items, consider a video of the serial numbers and models or these items. Open drawers and closets and video the contents so you can see what is there.

If you have a liquor cabinet, wine cellar, art, collections of any kind or even your jewelry box, take video.

To make this easy,  make several smaller videos of each area, room or type of item. so that you can watch them one at a time when you make your list. Upload them, save them and back them up to a safe storage place.

Photos vs. Video: Creating Digital Home Inventory List Ideas

Taking photos is also a good practice and can serve as your starting point for making a home inventory too. Do the same thing as with a video: take photos of entire rooms, specific areas, drawers, closets, and items. If items have model numbers or serial numbers, take photos of those. Then use these to create your home inventory list as soon as you have time.

Figuring Out the Contents Value of What You Own: How Much Is Your Stuff Worth?

Besides having a list of items to give the insurance company to get compensated for in a claim, knowing the value of your stuff is important to help you figure out if you have the right insurance and how much insurance you need on your contents.

Consider the amount of replacement cost and not actual cash value. This is also a good time to ask your insurance company what the basis of claims settlement will be and if you will get replacement cost. If not it's a good time to review your insurance coverage because no one wants to be surprised to find out they won't get enough money to replace their items when a claim happens. Learn about replacement cost vs. actual cash value and why its important to know the difference.

Tips on What to Do First When You Try to Make a Home Inventory

We are covering some home inventory apps in the section below, these will help you make a home inventory, however, if you are going to procrastinate using them or put this off for "when you have time" the most important thing to do is just do what you can quickly.

The video is a great first step, and it will at least protect you until you have the time to do document everything in a more formal app. Having something on hand during a claim is better than nothing, even photos. Claims don't wait until you've had the time. 

Don't Think What You Have in Your Home Is Worth Much?

One of the most common things I hear from people on a regular basis when they are discussing their insurance and how much they need is "I don't have anything of great value". Whether it is condo owners, tenants or homeowners, there seem to be a lot of people who think this. I used to think that too, but I learned a valuable lesson by trying this: 

A quick tip to figuring out if what you have is even worth making a home inventory is to walk around one room of your home with a calculator.

Give yourself a 5-minute challenge, start adding up on your calculator the replacement cost of anything you see. Don't list the great sale price you got the item at, list what it costs full price, because in a claim you won't be guaranteed to find a deal like you did when you picked up the item originally. How much did you end up with in 5 minutes?

The value of the "stuff in your home" may surprise you. Not convinced? Here's an easy hack: try this 5 minute calculator challenge.

Still not convinced? Go to your closet, and take your calculator with you. Start adding up how much each of your pairs of shoes, clothes, dresses, suits, jeans, purses, sweaters and t-shirts all add up to. Don't forget your jackets and coats! You probably won't make it through the whole closet before you realize the things you own are worth a lot more than you think. 

Another surprising room of people's homes is their kitchen: pots, pans, and other kitchen utensils and tools add up very quickly. Test it for yourself.

Free Home Inventory Apps and Tools to Help Make Your Digital Home Inventory List

There are many tools available to make home inventory lists that will help you collect all the information you would need in a claim.

  • Your insurance company may offer an inventory tool in their own app, it's a great first place to start when you want to find a good tool to use. After all, they are the ones who will pay your claim, so ask them what they recommend. Using a tool they have may really help you speed up the process in a claim, especially if it's integrated into their app and connected to your own file. 
  • The Insurance Information Institute used to have a great app that you could use for free to make your home inventory, but it is no longer available. However, they recommend these apps.

You can also search on your app store and you may find other good apps like Sortly, among others. Be sure and read the reviews before downloading any app.

Make sure any app you choose allows you the chance to export lists and information so you don't loose everything if the company stops making the product or app.

Keeping Your Home Inventory List Safe, Accessible and in a Secure Place

Having a home inventory is important, but keeping it in your home may not be the best idea. Luckily with technology, we have a lot of options available to us to store our information out of the home. It used to be that you had to keep your home inventory in a safety deposit box or give a copy to a friend. Now with technology, you can store your information in any number of safe places, out of your home, but accessible at all times. Make sure that whatever service you use:

  • you understand the privacy settings and security of the service
  • keep your information private and not publicly accessible
  • don't put your home address on your inventory list—in case it does fall into the wrong hands
  • consider putting your insurance policy number and claims phone number on the form so if you do need it, you can also use it to report the claim.  
  • make sure the service you are using is reliable and has security features
  • give access to the principal adult members of the home in case one person is not available when you need the info for whatever reason. 

You can consider secure cloud file storage services to save your video and pictures, with list when you make a detailed list. You can also use the apps or services we outlined above or ask your insurance company what they recommend. Just make sure you have the info backed up somewhere other than your cell phone, home computer or at home. Some people keep a copy at their office. The idea is you want it available when you're in an emergency and you want to make sure it is securely kept and not publicly accessible. Learn more about storing your financial information safely online.