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Creating a video home inventory

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Brenda Wells


By Brenda Wells

Sunday, September 9, 2018

In 1988, a relative of mine was the victim of a very random and senseless crime: arson. I was only 20 at the time, but was already studying insurance and so I was fascinated by what happened in terms of the insurance claim afterwards.

I want to share with you a very valuable lesson I learned.

A stranger broke into my relative’s home and stole a lot of items. He did not wear gloves. After realizing his fingerprints were all over the place he decided to burn up all the evidence. Her house and all its contents were totally destroyed.

She had maybe $25,000 of contents coverage on her homeowner’s insurance policy. Did they just write her a check for that amount? No. Before she could get paid, she had to file her claim, and that required filling out claim forms to provide proof of loss. She had to list everything she lost.

The insurer was not trying to be difficult. The purpose of requiring proof of loss like this is to prevent or reduce fraudulent claims. The insurance company has a right to know exactly what it is paying for, but it’s still a royal pain in the neck after a tragedy like arson.

I remember her carrying around stacks of claim forms and trying to remember what she had. Her pantry items. Her clothing. Her cookware. Her freezer contents. Her collectibles. Everything. It was hard to remember everything in her home.

These types of tragedies happen every day, and so I want you to know that the best way to prepare for such a disaster is to create a home inventory video that shows exactly what is in the house. Also, gather up all your receipts for major item purchases such as televisions, jewelry, cameras and guns. If you don’t have receipts, see if you have the credit card statements for those purchases. Those are better than nothing.

Take a video camera and film every room of your house. Capture the contents of every drawer, cabinet and closet. Don’t forget the attic, storage shed, garage, and under the beds.

Narrate this video as you go, explaining any significant items, what you paid for them, where they came from, etc. For instance, you might say “This camera came from a pawn shop for $50, but a similar one like it today sells for $300 brand new” or “This leather jacket came from my uncle who bought it for me as a gift. It’s a Ralph Lauren brand garment.”

Read off the serial numbers on items that have a serial number. Zoom in on and pay attention to any special collections you have. For instance, if you love movies and have 1,000 DVDs, you’ll want to make sure they are all on your inventory video.

This video is critical for documenting what you have, and it makes your life a lot easier after a disaster. Instead of trying to remember every single thing you had before that tornado left your belongings strewn over a three county area, you can just watch the video and fill out claim forms. It’s a lot easier to list all the clothing you had if you have a video record of your closet and its contents.

Most of us don’t save receipts, but I recommend saving them on any item that costs more than $500. Scanning them in is probably the best option. Then you can just save your video file and one or more files of receipts. Make sure the files are kept somewhere outside of your house (a cloud drive, a safety deposit box, etc). They aren’t useful if they are destroyed in a disaster.

Dr. Brenda Wells, is the Robert F. Bird Distinguished Professor of risk and insurance at East Carolina University, as well as the director of the ECU Risk Management and Insurance Program. For information about the program or about the content of this article, contact her at wellsbr@ecu.edu or at 481-2777.