Home Insurance

How to make an inventory list for home insurance

By: Renee Sylvestre-Williams on January 17, 2024
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This article has been updated from a previous version. 

It feels like our lives are run by lists. There are shopping lists, to-do lists, grocery lists, and bucket lists — just to name a few. Some lists are fun (like a “What to pack for Cuba” list) and others, not so much (say, a “Things I need to sort to file my taxes” list).   

There are also lists you need for your insurance, or more specifically, a home inventory that you can present to your home insurance company in case something terrible happens. Because if your home floods or burns down, you’re going to have to prove to your home insurance company you actually owned the things you lost so you can make a claim. How do you create this kind of list? And what do you put on it? 

Related: One third of homeowners worried about extreme weather damage 

A home inventory may not be the most exciting kind of list to make but if you’re paying for home insurance, it’s necessary. Here are some tips for creating an inventory that will meet your home insurance provider’s requirements.  

What constitutes a good home inventory checklist?  

“Home insurance claims are primarily driven by property damage, or break-ins and thefts,” says Farahana Jobanputra, former director of smart home and cyber security at AmTrust North America.   

She says that a good home inventory checklist is a detailed list of your possessions, including receipts, descriptions, pictures, and/or videos of each listed valuable. When it comes to the more valuable items, the more paperwork the better.  

“In the case of collector’s items, artwork, or jewelry, it is recommended that homeowners also include appraisals,” says Jobanputra. “It is important to include as much detail as possible, including manufacturer, model and product name, serial numbers, model numbers, and any detail to validate a unique identity to the item.”  

That’s because there are often price differences between the same type of item. A “60-inch television” has a wide price range depending on whether the television is a top-of-the-line purchase or the store’s house brand.  

While it’s harder to account for everyday background items in your home, their commonplace nature doesn’t diminish their importance when making your list. The Insurance Bureau of Canada also suggests including the following items on your inventory:    

  • Books  
  • Musical instruments  
  • Shelves  
  • Rugs  
  • Mirrors  
  • Fragrances  
  • Pots and pans  

Related: Tenant insurance safeguard your stuff – and your peace of mind 

How to format your home inventory checklist  

What’s the best way to itemize your home inventory? There are several options, each with its own set of pros and cons:    

Create a video inventory. This provides visual proof of your contents, including the make and model of each item. One drawback of this approach, however, is that it can be a long video, so unless you are time-stamping the video, you might be fast-forwarding a while trying to get to a specific item you need to make a claim for.  

Use an inventory app. There are dozens of inventory apps like My Stuff Personal Organizer, Sortly, and Magic Home Inventory, that allow you to photograph, detail, and itemize your inventory. While these apps are set up for inventory, they may require you to pay for a monthly subscription, especially if you use up all the space that’s given to you in the free version of the app.  

Excel or Google files. This is the most basic option but it’s also completely free. The con is it’s the most labour intensive, as you have to make an inventory template from scratch.    

Make sure your home inventory list is detailed  

Whatever method works for you (and you can even use a combination of all three), Jobanputra recommends providing as much detail and context as possible when creating your inventory, because that will strengthen your home insurance claim.  

“Photographs should be labelled, dated, and include detail on any customizations or aspects which add value,” she says. “The homeowner should include photos and/or videos of each room, including inside closets, storage buildings, attic, basement, and garage. When making structural or cosmetic improvements to the home, it’s also a good idea to include photos before, during, and after the improvements are made, not to mention any permits awarded for the authorized work.”  

Other tips to remember when you make a home inventory list:  

Value items at full price: When listing any item. don’t list the sale price of an item or the price you paid for it as a gift. Instead, list the full value of the item.  

For example, an antique table might have been purchased at a garage sale for $50, but its replacement value could be $500.  

Include policy details: Include your policy number(s) and insurance company’s contact information so that you don’t have to search for them when filing a claim, making the process smoother and faster.  

Keep copies of important documents: This includes receipts, appraisals, warranties, proof of purchase, and serial numbers like mentioned above. Ideally, store everything in a safety deposit box or other secure place away from the house. 

Update your list regularly: Update all copies of your inventory to make sure it accounts for any new purchases. 

Break down your list by room: Starting a list from scratch can be a daunting task. Break down the list by room to make it easier to track. 

Enlist help for valuation: For unique, antique, or high-value items, consider getting a professional appraisal. This can ensure that the value of these items is accurately reflected in your insurance coverage. 

Document home improvements: If you’ve made significant improvements to your home, such as a remodel or an addition, make sure to document these changes (in addition to notifying your home insurance company when you make them). Include the cost of the work and any increase in the home’s value. 

Consider seasonal items: Don’t forget to include items that are only used seasonally, like holiday decorations or gardening equipment. These items may be out of sight, out of mind for most of the year, but they can add up to significant value. 

Related: Will a GoFundMe gift affect your home insurance claim payout? 

Actual cash value vs. Replacement cost 

When insuring your home and belongings, the difference between actual cash value and replacement cost can significantly impact your coverage and the payout you receive in the event of a claim. 

Actual cash value (ACV): ACV refers to the value of an item, including depreciation. In other words, it’s what your item is worth today, not what it was worth when you bought it.  

For example, if you bought a television five years ago for $1,000, it’s not worth that much today. If it were stolen or damaged, an insurance policy based on ACV would pay out the depreciated value, which could be significantly less than the original purchase price. 

Replacement cost: On the other hand, replacement cost is the amount it would cost to replace an item at today’s prices. If that same television were stolen or damaged, an insurance policy based on replacement cost would pay out enough to buy a similar television at today’s prices. This means you’d likely receive more from a replacement cost policy than an ACV policy for the same item. 

When choosing between ACV and replacement cost for your home inventory, consider the age and condition of your items. If most of your belongings are newer or in good condition, replacement cost might be the better option. However, if many of your items are older and have depreciated significantly, ACV might be more cost-effective. 

Read more: Replacement value is central to home insurance pricing. Here’s why 

Where to store your home inventory list  

Once you’ve made or updated your home inventory list, you should keep a copy at home on your computer and in a fire-proof safe.  

Jobanputra says that you should also make additional copies to keep with a trusted family member or friend who doesn’t live with you. In addition, digital copies should be stored on a cloud drive, such as Dropbox, which can be accessed anywhere.  

Finally, copies should be filed with your insurance agent, lawyer, and/or with your financial advisor.  

Creating a home inventory can take a while, especially if you own a lot of items. Should anything happen, however, you’ll be glad that you’re prepared and won’t have to figure out what you lost while you’re busy filing a claim. 

Read next: Who covers the theft of items from your car? 

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