How to Make an Easy Home Inventory List for Insurance

Be ready if you need to prove the value of your possessions

woman taking a home inventory with tablet
••• Hoxton/Tom Merton / Getty Images  

Making a list of everything you own may seem like a daunting task, but there are many ways to get started on a home inventory that don't have to feel like a chore. Especially for insurance purposes, every homeowner, condo owner, or renter should have some form of a home inventory list.

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 of the item
  • Make, model or serial number if applicable
  • Appraisals or cost at the time of purchase
  • Where the item was purchased
  • Date of purchase 
  • Receipts or photos in an attachment, if relevant
  • Estimated replacement cost if you bought today

Antiques or irreplaceable items should be discussed with your insurance representative to find out how to itemize them and how—or if—they will be covered in a claim.

When to Make a Home Inventory List

The best time to make a home inventory list is 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 homebuyer, 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 what will and won't be covered for some items. Just because you have an item on a list doesn't mean you will get paid for it. Special limits also exist for particular categories of merchandise. You may need to purchase an insurance rider for items such as jewelry.

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.

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 can be difficult to remember everything because so much is going on. Having a list ready means one less thing to think about.

The Easiest Way to Start a Home Inventory

There are many home inventory apps available to help, but the easiest way to start your home inventory is by walking through your home and capturing video. A video alone will not be enough in a home insurance claim, but if you have one, you can use it as a reference to make an itemized list and it can serve as part of your "proof of loss."

Take a video of all the rooms in your home, one at a time. If you have large items, consider a video of the serial numbers and models of these items. Open drawers and closets and record the contents in a way that 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. That lets you watch them one at a time when you make your list. Upload, save, and back them up to a safe storage place.

Photos vs. Video: Create a Digital Home Inventory List

Taking photos of what you own is a good practice and can also serve as your starting point for making a home inventory. 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.

The video is a great first step, and it will offer some protection until you have the time to document everything in a more formal app. Having something on hand during a claim is better than nothing, even photos. So just do something.

Claims don't wait until you've had the time to make a formal list. 

Figure Out the Contents Value of What You Own

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 it's important to know the difference.

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

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

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

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?

Still not convinced? Go to your closet, and take your calculator with you. Start adding up the replacement value of your shoes, dresses, suits, jeans, purses, sweaters and t-shirts. 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 thought. 

Another room where possessions cost a surprising amount is the kitchen: pots, pans, and other kitchen utensils and tools add up very quickly. Test it for yourself.

Free Home Inventory Apps and Other Digital Tools

Many tools are available that will help you collect all the information you would need to make a home inventory list that holds up in a claim.

Start with your insurance company to see if they offer an inventory app or have a tool they recommend. This could save time if you ever need to file a claim.

You can also search in your app store to find other options. Be sure to read the reviews before downloading any home inventory app.

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

Keep Your Home Inventory List Safe and Accessible

Having a home inventory is important, but keeping it in your home may not be the best idea. Technology provides options to store information in the cloud or a place accessible from anywhere at any time. It's no longer necessary to keep a home inventory in a safety deposit box or give a copy to a friend. (Of course, you still can if you choose.) Make sure in the case of whatever service you use that you:

  • Understand the privacy settings and security of the service
  • Keep your information private and not publicly accessible
  • Keep your home address off 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 you can also use it to report the claim  
  • Research that the service you are using is reliable
  • Give access to the principal adult members of the home in case one person is not available when you need the information, for whatever reason

You can consider secure cloud file storage services to save your video and pictures, then append a detailed list once it's ready. Just make sure you have any info backed up somewhere other than your cell phone, home computer, or at home. Some people keep a copy at their office. You want it available when you're in an emergency, and you want to make sure it is stored securely and remains private.