Thursday, October 28, 2010

How to do a Home Inventory using your Camcorder or Digital Camera

By Ronald R. Reitz, CPPA
October 24, 2010

If your home and possessions were destroyed by a natural disaster, how easy would it be for you to remember every single item in your house? Would you be able to describe each and every possession your family had accumulated over the years, and then estimate what it would cost to replace each item today?

For most of us it would be an impossible task. However, after suffering a loss following a disaster, that is precisely what an insurance carrier will require you to do if you file a claim for recovery.

Following destruction of your property due to fire, flood, earthquake, windstorm or other disaster you will need to assist your carrier in calculating your loss in order to maximize your insurance claim. The insurance company will request an itemized inventory of all damaged and/or destroyed property. The list will need to include a description of the item, the age of the item, and the cost to replace it today.

You will even be required to separate your damaged property from your undamaged property. Have you ever considered where you could store all of your undamaged property?

After a disaster, you will have more important things to worry about than completing an inventory of lost items. The process of searching through all of your damaged things is not only a tedious one; it can be unpleasant and painful.

Quality Claims recommends an annual family meeting to sit together and compile, or update, an inventory of all of your possessions. For many people, a good time to do this is the beginning of each year, right after the holidays, when you may have lots of shiny new toys, electronics, jewelry and other gifts.

You will need to scan each room, identifying every item. To help with this, you can download free inventory list spreadsheets from the Quality Claims Management web site at If you are using a spreadsheet, you can check off the items one by one. It is a great time saver and helps you remember to include all of the little things you own.

A fun way to do accomplish this, and probably the easiest and quickest - is to use a video camera or camcorder to make a video record of your property. As you record the video, describe to the viewer what you are looking at.
  • Go room by room. Start in the master bedroom: open your closets and make a slow pan across your hanging clothes, shoes and other items you store there. While panning the closet contents you can elaborate with details like: "Here are five businesses suits, 12 pairs of pants and 12 blouses - worth about two thousand five hundred dollars". If you have any expensive or hard to replace items be sure to draw attention to them and record a clear image.
  • Open your drawers and lay smaller items like jewelry, watches, and personal items on your bed and photograph those. It is helpful to have your completed inventory list on hand with the detailed information about the items and prices. Ideally, one person should operate the camera while the other reads from the list.
  • Don't forget the garage or the kitchen. Make sure you pull out those treasured tools, pots and pans, holiday decorations, etc., and document them as well.
  • If you have outbuildings or have invested in landscaping, make sure it all is on video. Open up the shed and film or photograph anything inside of it.
  • There are several technical issues to consider: 1) Make sure there is enough light in the room so all of the items can be seen adequately and you are close enough to the video camera so your voice can be heard, 2) Make sure there is a tape, flash disk or other storage device in the camera, and 3) Remember to start with a fully-charged battery so you won’t have to stop mid way to recharge it.
  • Make it fun. Get the kids involved. Turn it into a family project. Make sure they help out when you are in their room shooting video of their furniture, toys, computers, cameras and other possessions. You might say "Santa got this computer last Christmas for Mary. It would probably cost us about $350 to replace it.”
  • When you are all done, watch the video yourself to make sure you have not missed anything, that the images are clear, and then MAKE COPIES. Burn a few copies to DVDs or onto removable flash or hard drives, and store them away in your safe deposit box, in a secure drawer at work, and maybe send a copy to a relative. You can also post it to an online data storage site. If you have filled out a written spreadsheet, keep copies offsite along with the video.
Some people are uncomfortable speaking on camera. Keep in mind - you are not trying to earn an award for film making. You are just making a documentary record of your possessions. If you make a mistake you can always re-record it. Hopefully, no one will ever have to watch this video again.

Here are a few more tips to make the process easier and more effective.

1. To research how much items cost to replace on your inventory list, you can “shop on line” to see what it would cost to purchase a similar item now.

2. Confirm that your homeowner’s insurance policy contains a replacement cost endorsement for your contents. It only costs a few extra dollars per year and is well worth it.

3. If you received a real estate appraisal when you bought your home, make a copy and keep it with your contents inventory information. An appraisal should contain a floor plan as well as descriptions of flooring, roofing, walls, countertops and other items attached to your home. This is critical information the adjuster will need.

4. Finally, if you have a loss, keep in mind that the insurance company will apply depreciation to each item based on the age of the item. The depreciation will reduce the amount of money they will pay you until those items are actually replaced. Once replaced, you will need to provide receipts proving you spent the replacement cost amount for the items in order to be reimbursed for the difference.


Ron Reitz is president of San Diego-based Quality Claims Management , a nationally licensed public insurance adjuster, providing hazard claim recovery services to investors, mortgage servicers, homeowners and businesses. Earlier, he pioneered the national hazard insurance claims business of GMAC-RFC (now GMAC-ResCap). A CPPA (Certified Professional Public Adjuster), Mr. Reitz is Past President of the California Association of Public Insurance Adjusters as well as an Officer of the National Association of Public Insurance Adjusters (He will be President in 2012). Contact Quality Claims Management at (866) 450-1183 or

Free downloadable inventory forms are at

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