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It’s human nature to keep thoughts of devastating fires, storms and theft furthest from our minds. But if disaster strikes, are you prepared? Having a detailed property inventory is the first step to ensuring that you will not only survive a damage loss, but that you will be made whole again.

So why is it that doing a property inventory is the last thing on our ‘to do’ list? Is it that taking inventory of our lives is too close to home? A property inventory is crucial not only to determine adequate amounts of insurance coverage prior to a loss, but it will also expedite the claims process after a loss has occurred.

Establishing adequate insurance coverage for the contents within your home is the driving force behind the decision to conduct a personal property inventory. Having an up-to-date inventory not only establishes your net worth of tangible property, it also helps you to adjust your insurance coverage accordingly. You may even discover that after your assets are valued you are under-insured, or better yet, over-insured, and paying too high an insurance premium.

However, there is another reason you may consider conducting an inventory. Perhaps you are relocating, scaling down or starting to consider which items to bequeath to loved ones. Whatever your goals, knowing the value of your property is the first step to making an informed decision.

Developing an Inventory/Appraisal

There are two common types of property inventories: written and pictorial. The ideal inventory combines both types of inventories, including a detailed written and enumerated inventory that is supported by photographs of the property. There are many different software options out there to help with the inventory process, however it is essential that you have a value to go along with the description.

After the Inventory/Appraisal

After you have developed your inventory or received your appraisal it is important to store a backup copy at an off-premise location, such as a safe deposit box or with a trusted relative. You should also provide a copy of your inventory/appraisal to your insurance agent and use this document to review your current content coverage to make any necessary adjustments. In many instances, the valuable items, including antiques, silver, Oriental carpets and jewelry may not be covered under your general homeowners insurance. Specialty items often require special coverage beyond the basic contents coverage. This additional insurance coverage is referred to as a rider or floater and provides the policyholder with extra protection beyond the provisions contained in a standard insurance agreement.

Updating the Inventory

The property inventory should be updated every six months to one year. The appraisal is required by the insurance industry to be updated every three years for adequate insurance coverage. If you are in the process of re-furnishing your home or collecting, be sure to continuously collect receipts from new purchases and keep them entered in a database.

Tips for Pictorial Inventories

  • Take wide-angle photographs or a video of entire rooms.
  • Take individual, close-up shots of expensive items.
  • Zoom in on important labels and special features such as signatures of paintings, underside of an antique vase, close-up image of the reverse of an Oriental carpet to illustrate the foundation weave, and the secondary construction of antique furniture, i.e., the drawer frame.
  • Take photos of the interior of cabinets, and drawers to illustrate the contents.
  • Label each photo with the description, item name and date.

Although it is always important to document the big ticket items, such as artwork and antique furniture, don’t forget that the small items such as decorative art and silver can really add up. At some point in our lives there comes a time when we need to take stock of all the personal artifacts we have inherited and/or accumulated along the way. Don’t wait until it’s too late, for you never really know what you have until you have lost it.

The above article was written by Martine M. White of Bernards Appraisal Associates, LLC, in Gladstone, New Jersey. Ms. White is a Senior Certified Appraiser of Antiques & Decorative Arts with the American Society of Appraisers and the Appraisers Association of America. Ms. White has been appraising personal property in the Metropolitan area since 1988. Martine and her associates specialize in appraising fine art, antique furniture, Oriental carpets, silver and jewelry. Martine can be reached at 908.234.1153.