Rebuilding After A Disaster: Create A Home Inventory Now

by Thursday Bram on 18 March 2008 12 comments

It seems like, every other week, there is some natural disaster threatening people’s homes. Worrying about that sort of thing has lead me to be a little more prepared than I might be otherwise. I’ve got an emergency plan, I’ve backed up my hard drive, and my cats’ carrier is easily accessible. Now, I’m starting to focus on what might happen after a disaster. The key to starting over again seems to be knowing what you might need to replace. Insurers will insist on such a list, for instance. So, I’ve been developing my own home inventory.

Break Out the Camera

The fastest way to document the stuff in your house or apartment is to grab your digital camera and start shooting. Getting a shot of any major items in your home is a good way to prove that you really own the item in question, and if you have jewelry or family heirlooms that you have insured, a simple description probably won’t suffice. Insurers actually recommend that you use photographs in such cases.

Name, Rank and Serial Number

When it comes to replacing big electronics (think appliances and entertainment systems), the easiest way to know exactly what you want is to use the model name of the piece of equipment, along with a serial number. Just pop open a spreadsheet in Excel or the software of your choice and make a list of the big items in your home. On my list, I’ve got our home computers, the television and its associated gadgets. We’re in an apartment, so I’m not worried about the kitchen appliances — those are the landlord’s responsibility.

Protecting Your Inventory

I know that in an emergency, I may not have time to go through my filing cabinet looking for a copy of my home inventory. I do have hard copy in my files, but I’m not relying on it. I just emailed myself a copy. Now, I know you probably want to remind me that I may not have email access right after a natural disaster. Instead, I’m relying on the fact that my Gmail account is accessible from anywhere. My mom, half a continent away, should be able to print out my list, if necessary. I’m also making plans for leaving print copies in a couple of places, like the glove box of my car. There’s also the option of saving your inventory on a thumb drive — which is especially useful if you have many photos in your inventory. My only concern is that those little drives are so easy to lose.

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Guest's picture
Roy

Before you go too far down the road of creating your own home inventory, I would suggest that you check out the free home inventory program provided by the Insurance Information Institute. The software is called "Know Your Stuff" and here is the opening for the program in a Google search that provides a pretty good description:
"Once you have completed your inventory, it is easy to keep your information up to date. New: Know Your Stuff, Home Inventory 3.0 with Vault 24 secure file..."

You can find this download at http://www.knowyourstuff.org/download.html

Creating your own inventory is intuitive - you name/create a room and then load items with descriptions and images. There are entries for date of purchase, cost of purchase, scanned image of sales receipts, valuation for replacement, and an image of the item. After the inventory is compiled you can print off a copy for your personal records. We burned CDs with the inventory software and the household inventory and have one at our insurance agent's office and copies with our children for safekeeping. Our insurance agent was not aware of this free program until we gave him our copy. He now recommends it to others.

Nice post.

Guest's picture
Guest

sweet site, thanks Roy!

Guest's picture
Barbara

I've thought about doing this for awhile but I've always wondered about what to do for large/expensive pieces of stuff that I didn't keep the receipts for. I don't mean to sound lazy, but how beneficial is it to go to all the trouble of inventorying everything with no proof of when you bought it or it's current value? Can a picture really convey the true value to an insurance agent?

Guest's picture

Also when you make these list keep in mind you have to have the insurance to cover it to have it reimbursed. Most insurances like we think do not cover contents. Seperate policies for jewlery and electronics but furniture is not covered. A lesson learned by many after hurricane season.

Guest's picture
Karlyn

Another key step to take when preparing for an emergency is to create a list of all your key information - emergency contacts, medical history, lists of insurance and other financial accounts. In a personal emergency it's hard to remember all those details. At AxcessPoints.com we've made this easy. If you'd like free access, just send me an email - karlyn@axcesspoints.com. I'll send you a secret code that will give you full access for free. Oh one more cool tool, we'll calculate what you should have in your emergency kit - and help you track it.

Guest's picture
Laura

One thing we learned from Katrina - of all the things people lost, I think what broke their hearts the most was losing decades of family photos. Scan them, make a disk to take with you if you ever have to evacuate, and as an additional backup, send a few copies of the disk to relatives out of state who will enjoy having the photos in any event.

Guest's picture
Guest

Just a thought, but wouldn't having a copy of everything you own of value in a car or some random place make you a target for house theft? I'm not so sure about keeping such information in the glove compartment of a car, knowing someone has expensive jewelry and a nice stereo seems like an invitation for a robber...

Guest's picture
Guest

If you are concerned about having all that data on an easily lost flash drive...you might be interested in the portable version of TrueCrypt that can be installed on the root of a flash drive and used to encrypt all the data on the drive that you wouldn't want anybody to mess around with.

then you just have to remember the password

http://lifehacker.com/software/thumb-drive/onthefly-encryption-for-your-...

Thursday Bram's picture

I am concerned about the safety of keeping copies of my home inventory, personally, but there are very few foolproof options out there. I do like the thought of an encrypted flash drive, and may go that route.

Guest's picture
Guest

Our home was recently destroyed in a fire and we suffered a complete loss. No one can really comprehend how much everything you have ever owned actually costs. Making an inventory and adding those numbers up to ensure that you are properly insured is critical. We use the photo method described to get photos of serial numbers, etc. You won't remember the title of every book on your bookshelf, or what brand of coffee maker you owned during a stressful situation. Having it all photographed does the "remembering" for you. I have since bought a portable hard-drive to back my computer up to, and "in case of fire" I just have to grab this one tiny box (and my cat). We lost all important papers (social security cards, passports, tax returns, receipts, etc.) not to mention photos, credit/debit cards, etc. Get a fire AND water-proof safe to put these items in. When there is a fire there is also a flood (the fire department floods your house with water) so plan for both happening at the same time - what isn't burned will be flooded. Keep lists of pharmacy phone numbers (you'll need to replace your daily meds right away), utility phone numbers, and other important information (no one actually remembers their insurance policy number) in your Gmail or with a friend/family member. Other important phone numbers to note that you'll have to contact fairly quickly: your child's (or your) school, your boss, your insurance agent, your health insurance company, a local vet and/or boarding facility, a local hotel, your bank. It seems harsh to think of these things, but you will be very grateful if you suffer such a loss. Hopefully with a little preparation you can get back on your feet again as quickly (and painlessly) as possible.

Guest's picture
david

Hi,
Take a look at easystockalerts.com. It allows you to get the news before it even appears on the web. It's like having a Bloomberg terminal at your desk, but only better! No spam, just very useful, actionable investment ideas.

Guest's picture
IlyceGlink

This is great advice. Not everyone thinks to keep record of their valuables, but maybe it's better to be prepared and safe than sorry.

There's also insurance policies that can protect you valuables in case of natural disaster. You can find out more here: http://insurance.equifax.com/2010/07/natural-disaster-insurance-claims-w...