Best practices for creating a home inventory

Years of accumulated belongings can be lost in an instant. Should you ever suffer such a tragedy, you'll be thankful you inventoried your belongings.

Jason Cipriani Contributing Writer, ZDNet
Jason Cipriani is based out of beautiful Colorado and has been covering mobile technology news and reviewing the latest gadgets for the last six years. His work can also be found on sister site CNET in the How To section, as well as across several more online publications.
Jason Cipriani
3 min read

Jason Cipriani/CNET

With the holidays here and more gadgets, belongings, and random items on the way, it's a good time to think about how to create an inventory of all your belongings. Creating an inventory makes the process of replacing items through your insurance company easier, in case you should you ever fall victim to a natural disaster or a break-in.

After talking to an insurance agent and scouring insurance company Web sites for best practices, here are the best tips for creating an itemized list of the possessions in your home.

Be thorough
The most important aspect of creating an inventory list is to be sure it's as thorough as possible. I know this may seem like a gigantic, time-consuming task, and the truth is that's an accurate assessment. When you truly sit down and think about it, you own a lot of stuff. Some of it you use on a daily basis, while the rest goes unnoticed. It's going to take time to make a list containing all of the items you own. The good news is, after you complete the initial list, updating it in the future won't be as time consuming.

The second most important part of creating an inventory is using a method that will outlast any natural disasters, fires, or burglaries. The best method will be to create a digital version of your inventory and store it in the cloud.

Allstate offers an old-fashioned method for keeping an inventory for those who insist on keeping a paper list of all the items in a house. The list breaks down each room, asks for serial numbers, estimated worth and so on. If you opt to go with this list, or a similar one, be sure to store the list off-site, in a safety deposit box or the like.

Go digital
My insurance agent, who happens to work for Allstate, recommended forgoing the paper list (no matter your provider), and going with a video. Lay out your most valuable possessions on the floor in each room, and take a video. Name each item as you record, ensuring everything is identifiable at a later time. When you're done recording, be sure to store the video file in a cloud service such as Dropbox, or even as a private video on Facebook.

Some insurance companies, like Allstate and State Farm, offer digital inventory solutions. The State Farm solution is limited to State Farm customers, while the Allstate solution is offered to anyone who takes the time to create a free account.

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

The service is called Digital Locker, and again, it's free to anyone. Using an iPhone or Android app you can snap photos of your belongings and upload them directly to the service.

With the app or Web site, you're able to upload three photos per item, and fill in any necessary information at a later date. It's a good idea to take a generic photo of the item, one of the serial number (if applicable), and another of the purchase receipt, should you still have it.

When insurance companies are looking to replace claimed items, the biggest hurdle is proving you actually owned the item in question. Video or digital photos stored somewhere off-site is the best way to do that. My agent stated receipts don't need to be recorded, as the video would prove I owned the item, but other companies such as Geico do recommend logging serial numbers and receipts.

Other things to consider when creating a home inventory:

  • Update your list, video, or pictures at least once a year.
  • When updating, indicate items you no longer have, while entering any new items.
  • A dedicated inventory app may not be needed. For some companies, a smartphone video is good enough.

If you have any questions on how your particular insurance company handles inventories, or its suggested methods, I recommend contacting your personal agent directly.