Preparing a Home Inventory in Case Your Property Gets Damaged or Stolen

Plan ahead to deal with police, insurance companies, and more.

If your home is struck by a burglary, fire, flood, earthquake, or other disaster, one of the first questions you will be asked is, "What property was lost, destroyed, or stolen?" It's almost impossible to pull up such information out of your brain on a good day -- and it's twice as hard in the aftermath of a traumatic event.

This is one of those tasks that is easy to say one will do "tomorrow." But do it today. Being able to pull out an up-to-date home inventory will make it hugely easier to deal with police and your insurance company.

Fortunately, making a home inventory isn't onerous, and might actually prompt you to prevent the loss itself. As you inventory your possessions, you'll become more aware of their vulnerability, and can take steps to secure them.

Start by walking through your house with a pad of paper and a still or video camera. Jot down a list of any items worth more than $50 or so and take pictures of them. Go room by room, and don't forget the garage, attic, and basement. Be sure to include jewelry, clothing and shoes, stamp or coin collections, CD and record collections, silver, tools, and electronic equipment.

Then take a little time to formalize your inventory. Insurance companies often supply inventory forms, or you can access free software from the Insurance Information Institute.

Key Information to Record in Your Inventory

Include in your inventory the following information about each item:

  • A complete description. Record the make, model, and serial number, if any; this will help you justify the estimated value of the item to your insurance company. You may want to mark expensive items with an ID number such as your driver's license number. (Electric engraving pens cost about $50.) The ID and serial numbers help police identify stolen goods.
  • Location. This will help you identify what you've lost if only one area, such as the garage, is hit.
  • Purchase price, current value, and replacement cost. For most items, your best estimate will do. For antiques or other difficult-to-price items, such as a stamp collection, jewelry, or art, you may need a professional appraisal, and the items may need to be listed specifically on the insurance policy (a "rider").
  • Location of supporting materials. Write down where you can find your ownership documents, receipts, owner's manuals, and repair bills.

Keep your written and photographic inventory in a safe place, such as a fire-resistant file cabinet, the freezer, or a safe deposit box. Keep at least one copy away from home. If you take a long vacation, give a copy to a friend or neighbor. That way, if your house is broken into while you're gone, your friend can determine what's missing and report it to the police.

For more information on homeowners' insurance, see the Insurance Information Institute's website at, or, a highly rated commercial site that provides actual quotes.

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