Home Inventory: How Detailed?
June 25, 2009 7:46 PM   Subscribe

How detailed does my home inventory need to be for insurance purposes?

I have a co-op apartment and insurance for the contents. In compiling a home inventory, do I need to list every pot, plate, pillowcase and spoon? These items aren't worth much and I don't have receipts for a lot of them, but if my building burns to the ground I'll still have to replace every last one. It seems like insurance companies would probably pay for stuff like this in a lump sum, but I don't know anyone who's had to file a claim for a total loss, so I can't be sure. Would the company pay out itemized reimbursements for major items like TVs, air conditioners, artworks, etc., and then a bulk sum to replace basic items like dishes and towels? Or does every item need to be listed?
posted by Lauram to Work & Money (10 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
It's been a while since I had renters insurance, but my recollection was that it specified an 'assumed value' of the contents of our apartment. I do know that for home insurance related to property they want you to list items or collections of significant value, but not every last thing. So, if you have a large collection of DVDs, vintage vinyl, clothes, etc. you may want to record it in some way. Likewise with any jewelry or art items. I think our agent recommended any single items worth more than $2,500. In the end we made sure they were aware of my game collection and determined there wasn't much else to report. Of course, I've never had to make a claim, so information from someone who actually lost it all and how the inventory played into recovering expenses would help.

Also, be clear on whether you are insured for value or for replacement cost. The former will be depreciated based on use, the second what it would actually cost you to go out and replace the item with something comparable bought new. For some items this can be very significant.
posted by meinvt at 8:14 PM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

The first question is do you have "regular" coverage, or replacement cost? With both coverages, your initial inventory makes up the basis for their initial payment, so the more detailed it is, they more accurately they will price things out. If you list "5 pairs jeans", and they were $100 designer pants, you're aren't going to be too happy when they only offer you the equivalent of 5 pairs of generics from Target. You do not need receipts or serial numbers, though some plans offer discounts for having some items registered against theft.

The other important thing to realize is that while they will make a certain lump sum up front, it will be for the depreciated values only. You can get more payments if you have Replacement Cost, but you still have to spend your own money up front, and then submit claims for reimbursement, where you match up the item you are requesting for, with the equivalent item on the inventory sheet.

Also note that unless you get a specific rider, artwork is likely not covered in any but the most minimal manner, same with media collections, computers, cameras, etc. Don't assume something is covered, check and see, cause it probably isn't without an extra cost.
posted by nomisxid at 8:15 PM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

You've got the right of it. Basically, anything over a few hundred bucks you should itemize, with receipt if possible, but manufacturer and S/N if not. You can either keep this list somewhere safe, i.e. a safety deposit box, or look into submitting it to your insurance company ahead of time.

As for the rest of it, just estimate. Claims adjusters look at these things all day, so they'll know if your inventory falls outside the norm. They've got a pretty good idea about what a normal household is worth.

But they don't do itemized payments most of the time. You'll get a lump sum, representing all your covered losses (minus deductible, etc.). You'll do a little negotiation with your adjuster before this is paid out, so he can get an idea for where you were situated, and having a list pre-made helps a lot, but I wouldn't worry terribly much about things worth less than $250.
posted by valkyryn at 8:17 PM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

nomisxid is absolutely right about the distinction between replacement cost and depreciated value. Also about the fact that renters/homeowners policies exclude--and cover--more than most people think. For example, though your computer will be covered, any data you have on there, which may be of significant value to you, will not be. But in the same vein, if you have something stolen out of your car, it may well be covered, because most P&C policies cover your property anywhere in the world.

In sum: read your policy. Carefully. It's a pain in the ass, but it's the only way you're going to know exactly what you're getting into.
posted by valkyryn at 8:20 PM on June 25, 2009

seconding meinvt, if you REALLY want to be protected, make SURE you have replacement value coverage and take the time to do a decent inventory. Video and digipix are good, and you can store it online. Most of your value will be in a small number of items.

I had an office fire that took out most of my technology equipment. I had exquisite records of the hardware, including dates of purchase, costs, sources of the items, estimates of the replacement costs, and it still took me 6 weeks to pull it all together in a coherent pile. It made my life easier and made the claim process easier, too. Because these assets were a personal collection of hardware, I had abundant photos of some of the more arcane ones. My good fortune! (Some days you're the bug and other days you're the windshield.)

Unless you have a huge pile of assets, one good morning should be enough to do an adequate job.
posted by FauxScot at 8:23 PM on June 25, 2009

I just recently asked our insurance agent the same question. He suggested that I take photos of all our rooms/collected stuff, saying that in the event of a loss there is usually a lot that people never itemized that they can still claim, but obviously everyone's policy is different.
posted by snowymorninblues at 11:14 PM on June 25, 2009

I have been told that an easy way to do this is to walk around the place with a video camera and narrate as you go along. This will cover most of your stuff, and it's a whole lot faster to take a quick video of, say, your bed and linen closet, than to record every pillowcase and set of sheets you own. From there, you can record details and photographs for particularly valuable items. I am not an insurance agent/adjuster, YMMV.
posted by zachlipton at 11:43 PM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

I just went through this, and I wish I had had zachlipton's advice when I did.

I took photos instead of a video and it was a PITA (pain in the aaaaa...bazooka).

I also just called the insurance company and–what do you know!–I did NOT have a replacement renter's insurance rider.

I'm one of those people that has very little stuff, but the stuff I do have is expensive and hard to replace.

With depreciated coverage (bad!), I was basically paying for insurance for nothing, as my $5000 PC would get reimbursed at $100 (or whatever the adjusted thinks a $5000 purchased 3 years ago is worth today), my $8000 Cannondale, who knows. $1000! $500?

I have a replacement rider now (and it did not cost much more) and I can breath more easily.

Thanks all!
posted by foooooogasm at 7:49 AM on June 26, 2009

About the photos, the reason I did photos is because I was unpacking (new apartment).

I think this is a great time to document your belongings, because it's when you come into contact without absolutely everything you own.

Ex. How often do you put the expensive cookware into that top cabinet and not touch it for 3 years, forgetting you even own it?

Once I organized all of the photos, I uploaded them to Flickr!, into a private account that only I can see.

You'd be surprised how often people document their belongings (and backup their hard drives, etc.), and then store the documents/backups in the same building or residence as the originals.

Offsite backup!

Safety deposit box, dearies!
posted by foooooogasm at 7:53 AM on June 26, 2009

We were burglarized years ago, and when I gave them the itemized list of everything that was gone, sweating over supplying receipts and everything I was told after the fact by the claims adjuster that for anything below a certain threshold [don't recall what it was, maybe $200 or so]they'd just take my word for it that I owned it. I imagine if a guy claimed to have lost 50 $199 cameras they might look askance, but for reasonable onesy-twosy items that was my experience.
posted by chazlarson at 9:32 PM on June 27, 2009

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