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How to Make a Home Inventory Checklist in Case of a Catastrophic Loss

Recent events surrounding the theft and eventual recovery of our family basketball goal have me thinking more about home security. One issue that presented itself during that incident was that I did not have proof (like a model number or receipt) or identifying marks on the goal that it belonged to me. If I had that proof the police could have pursued the matter more aggressively.

home inventory checklist in case of lossDuring the ordeal I had a conversation with a friend of mine who used to be a detective. He mentioned a case he investigated where a man had his entire music collection stolen. Fortunately for him, he had written down the title and artist of every CD in his collection. He gave that list to my friend who, believe it or not, was able to track down the collection. Of course, he was aided in his search by the fact that the not-so-intelligent thief sold the entire collection at once…to one pawn shop.

Wasn’t too hard to link those to events together.

My friend went on to say he has made a home inventory checklist of everything of value in his home. In case of a catastrophic loss such as a house fire, he will be able to present his home inventory checklist to the insurance company showing concrete evidence of what he did own. Of course that won’t help him recover the sentimental items he lost but it will give him a better chance of recouping the fair market value to replace all the consumer products he lost.

So, guess what the kids and I started doing over Christmas break?

How to Make a Home Inventory Checklist

We haven’t entirely completed our project but these are the steps we are taking to make our home inventory checklist:

Step #1: Take wide-angle pictures and video of every room

Our first step was to record a broad look of the home. We took digital pictures and video of every room in our house. This included the closets, attic, garage and basement. We then took pictures and photos of the exterior of the house.

Step #2: Take close up pictures and video of valuable items

This next step for our home inventory checklist was more time consuming. After recording the big picture of our house, we zeroed in on specifics with close up shots. In this step we only took digital photos (no video). Here are the items we covered that I’d encourage you to take pictures of:

1. All electronics. This included televisions, desktop and notebook computers, handheld devices (phones, iPad, DSi, etc.), stereo system components, and gaming devices (PS3, Wi, etc.).

2. Kitchen and household appliances. We included here pictures of our stove, microwave, dishwasher, washer and dryer. We also took pictures of our water heater and heating and cooling units and air conditioners. You also would want to include any high dollar vacuum cleaners here as well.

3. Furniture. We didn’t capture all pieces of furniture here as some of that was seen in the wide angle video and pictures we took in step #1. However, we did take detailed pictures of the pricier items like our bedroom suite, our piano, our living room furniture, and entertainment system display case.

4. Expensive jewelry. There wasn’t much of this in our house but I did take a close up of my wife’s wedding ring and a few necklaces.

5. Tools. Of course you will want to record all those workshop tools. Don’t forget about other items that fit into this category like chainsaws, pressure washers, mowers and other lawn servicing equipment.

6. Collections. You have more collected around your house than you think and some of it has value.

Consider taking detailed photographs of bookshelves, computer and video game collections, and CD and DVD racks. Also record the guns in the gun safe, any antique furniture or other artifacts, and hobby collections such as stamps or baseball cards.

And don’t forget the kid’s toy collection. I wouldn’t take a picture of every toy but getting a general sense of what’s in the playroom would be useful.

7. Vehicles. You probably won’t have a hard time convincing the insurance company of the vehicle you owned. But if modifications such as an upgraded stereo or DVD system or custom body work was done to those vehicles I’d make a visual record of that.

Step #3: Write down identifying information

Our next step will be to write down accompanying information that we can connect with the photographs we took. We’ll create an Excel file to hold all this data.

The Excel file will include a description of the item, it’s brand name, serial number (if applicable) and the price paid for it (if we still have the receipt will scan or take a picture of that).

We won’t be able to find information for everything. So on some items we’ll give our best guess and make a note that the information coded for that item was a guess.

Our Excel file will also note all the home improvements we have made since living here and how much that improvement cost us.

Step #4: Securing the information

This first step with all this information is to of course store it on our computer and an external hard drive. However, that’s not going to provide security in case of a catastrophic event. Those items will most likely be destroyed and the information render not retrievable.

So we purchased two USB thumb drives. The information will be copied unto both drives. One drive will go into our fire safe located at our home. The other we’ll move offsite, most likely to my parent’s house.

If you don’t have trusted relatives nearby consider leaving a digital copy of the information in a bank safety deposit box.

Another option here for storing computer information could be to use a service like iDrive.

Step #5: Updating the info

Step 5 will be ongoing. What good is a home inventory checklist if you don’t plan to review and edit the list. I’m thinking it’s probably enough to do this once a year or as needed as new items are bought or we sell some of our current possessions.

Some Comfort in a Time of Distress

I’ve known a few people in my life who have been through a catastrophic event and lost everything. I pray that never happens to me. I can only imagine the emotional challenge to pull yourself back from such a situation.

In the emotional turmoil at least there would be less uncertainty about replacing my valuables. I wouldn’t want a long, drawn out fight with the insurance company while my heart was broken over losing all my things. With this documentation now in place I would hopefully be able to resolve my claim in a timely manner and receive the funds I need to put my life back together.

A final benefit to doing this I just realized while finishing the writing for this post…I’ll have a visual record of all that I did own so the memory of me using those items will stay intact. That’s important because our family history is tied to these items…playing Minecraft with the kids, watching Sunday night football while eating popcorn on the sofa, teaching the kids how to cook and mow the yard, etc. The visual record of the item will help keep the memory of the activities associated with that item alive.

And if I live through a catastrophic event my guess is that I’ll want to cherish those memories more than any item I lost in the tragedy.

Questions: Do you have a home inventory checklist that would serve as concrete proof of what you own? Have you known anyone who filed a claim with an insurance company only to have difficulty receiving funds? What else could I add to my home inventory checklist? Any other steps I need to take?

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Next Post: How Long Do Common Household Items Last?

Prior Post: The Fastest Things You Can Do to Improve Your Home’s Value

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  1. JACKIE K says

    I am seventy, no children in the area, and am working on my will (which is signed) and other necessary information. Will be using this record to put in a “book” (flash drive) to be used when I pass or have to go to a nursing home (hope not) for my executor/power of attorney to use – either as an inventory for my estate or a guide to dispensing/selling of property. Thank you for the suggestions.

  2. This is a very important reminder. We just recently updated our insurance coverage, but without documentation that coverage isn’t going to really cover it. Going to add this to my to-do list now.

    • I’ve heard too many stories of people who struggle to receive funds from an insurance company. I want some proof in my back pocket just in case something like this happens.

  3. Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank says

    Brian, you have a very good point, I never thought of that! I’d take an inventory of my possessions right away, just in case and to be ready.

  4. Such simple and good advice, Brian. I’ll be walking through the house taking some video tomorrow. Thanks.

  5. This is a very good idea and I have never done this. The only time I take inventory is when I am moving from one country to another. I do agree that it is important to be prepared for any disaster.

  6. Great tips, Brian. This is something many us of don’t do and it can make a huge difference if we do suffer through a catastrophic loss. We’ve done it with some things, but probably not as detailed as we could, so it’s something we need to add to the list.

  7. As a cyclist, I’d like to add that everyone should have the serial number of their bikes. If your bike is stolen it’s FAR easier to locate and identify. Sometimes there’s no way to id a bike without the serial number. They are often underneath where the pedals attach, but you can also google your bike brand/model to find out where they put the serial # or go to your local bike shop.

    Also, I would consider making a hard copy of your data, at least the 10 most important pictures and store at the office or family/friend’s house.

    Great blog! And timely for me. We’re about to remodel and I’m thinking it would be good to document the current house. As you pointed out, we’ll want to save the memories. Also, in case anything gets stolen during the remodel. I know the likelihood of thieves during a remodel is higher. Thanks for the reminder!

    • That’s a good addition Tara…high dollar bikes should definitely be included. The more I think about this the more I think the memories component is a big deal. Pictures draw out so many great emotions and memories. I’d want to keep those coming back to me.

  8. This is the one thing I always forget with renter’s insurance. But in the end, you don’t get anything if you don’t record it. Just a waste of money.

  9. This is actually an awesome reminder that I need to do this myself. We know what big ticket items are in our home, but we don’t actually have an actual record of them and pictures are a great way to keep track of everything.

    • At the least do pictures that can identify items. That’s the quickest part of this process. Serial numbers and physical documentation can come later (cause it’s a lot more time consuming.)

  10. I’m probably very weak in this area and if I got robbed tomorrow or had some other thing happen, I would be starting from scratch. Granted I probably don’t have as many expensive things as the next person, but what I do have is important for my livelihood, like my computer stuff. I couldn’t do my job without it! I really need to get on this!

    • I’d just start prioritizing what’s most important and work your way backwards from there. At least maybe you could get those computer related items reimbursed quickly if you had to make a claim.

  11. Great tips Brian. A lot of hard work up front, but peace of mind once it’s complete.

  12. That’s a fabulous idea. We always think that disasters won’t happen to us, but that isn’t being realistic. That’s something we should really do.

    • You are right Yvette. “It will always happen to someone else” is what we usually think. That line of thinking doesn’t demonstrate wise planning.

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