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Take a Home Inventory

Save yourself from insurance headaches with an itemized list of your personal property

Merrell started by photographing all the artwork and furniture in his living room. He uploaded the photos, and then added information such as description, purchase date and serial numbers for each item. “I like taking the photos first so I can refer to them as I add the data,” he says.

The little things can add up. So photograph the inside of your medicine cabinet and arrange your bed so you can see the various components—box spring, mattress, linens and pillows. Count your dishes and silverware and itemize small kitchen appliances and cookware.

One way to get the entire family involved: Use a video camera. “Have one person be the director-cameraman and another the actor who opens the drawers, shows the items and narrates,” Drexler suggests.

Once you have your information, enter it into your chosen software program. For inherited items include as much information as possible, such as “this was Grandma’s hardwood rocking chair that she inherited from her grandmother.” Scan receipts, price tags, warranties and appraisals into your computer. No scanner? Shoeboxed will digitize 100 paper receipts into images you can download to your home inventory program. There's a 14 day free trial period and rates range from $9.95 to $49.95 per month based on a subscriber's needs.

An alternative: desktop storage

For those nervous about keeping their inventory online, one option is Quicken Home Inventory Manager ($29.99). Others include Computerize Your Assets ($29.95) and Cover Your Assets ($49.99). All perform just like the Web-based systems but reside on your own desktop, so you have to take an extra step to ensure you can access your records.

As Hurricane Ike victims discovered, even the most complete home inventory is worthless if you can’t get to it. At a minimum, copy your files to a CD and give them to a friend or relative in another location or e-mail the file to yourself. You might also check into an offsite backup service. Quicken’s runs from $9.99 for up to 100 MB to $149.99 per year for 10 GB. The backup service from Cover Your Assets costs $99 a year, with discounts for multiyear plans.

Don’t worry about completing your entire inventory in one day. Spread the task over a series of weekends or 30-minute stints. Once you have your stuff cataloged, be sure to add new items as you acquire them.

Even if you never need to file a claim, home inventory software pays. According to Salvatore, a majority of homeowners are underinsured. “A complete home inventory can help you purchase the right amount of insurance,” she says. Edgar likes the fact that she is creating not only an inventory of her possessions but a record for her children and grandchildren. “It gives them an idea of what’s what and its history, should they ever need to know,” she says.

Laura Daily is a Denver-based writer

Published August 2009. Portions updated September 2013

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