The 7 rules for protecting your valuables BEFORE disaster strikes
Most homeowners think about their homeowners insurance only once: When it is an obstacle between them and closing on a property. Few pause to consider their options or the extent of their coverage and many instinctively select the cheapest policy available to them.
Rarely do consumers understand the thoroughness of the documentation they will need to recover their belongings if disaster strikes, or what degree of compensation they can expect. As a result, there is a staggering lack of awareness among homeowners of how to adequately protect their property and help their insurers in the process.
As owner of TWS Home Inventory, inventorying was a need I first recognized in my community, Colorado Springs, following the Waldo Canyon Fire. Natural disaster and property theft knows no bounds, however. TWS has since expanded nationally to fulfill this universal
A complete home inventory benefits homeowners and insurers by supplying both parties with the tools to make better, more informed insurance decisions. I encourage my clients across the country to share a copy of their inventories with their insurers and quite often they discover their current policy doesn’t meet their actual insurance needs. This means that insurers are often not getting the premiums they need to properly insure their customers’ homes.
In this environment, it is important to consider how homeowners inventory their homes. Here are some tips to share with your customers so they know how to protect their property.
Do something, and do it now.
Some homeowners, when they are given 15 minutes to evacuate their homes, do a scattershot inventory, snapping photographs of their flat-screen televisions and largest, most obvious valuables. Don’t wait until disaster strikes! Many homeowners simply don’t know where they keep their valuables in their homes. A home inventory reminds consumers where they keep their most prized possessions and ensures a complete picture of their value. Moreover, many homeowners who intend to conduct a home inventory procrastinate to complete what many find is a two or three-weekend project. The time and effort spent putting together a home inventory will pay off.
Pay special attention to antiques and collections.
One consequence of poor homeowner understanding of insurance coverage is that objects with a lot of sentimental or monetary value are often inadequately protected. Homeowners should know what riders and appraisals they will need to insure their antiques and collections. These objects deserve special care. Appraisals from experts will help insurers compensate customers fairly for their losses, especially when a collection of expensive bakeware or rare books does not fit into an appraiser’s broader profile of the homeowner or the value of the other objects in his or her home.
It all adds up.
Homeowners should calculate the value of the belongings in their inventory piece-by-piece. Few consumers know the value of their entire wardrobes but most could sit down in their closets to count the number of shirts they own, then multiply that number by an average purchase price per item. The sum value of many people’s closet could easily surpass the value of a home entertainment system or an expensive computer. Homeowners should inventory both the big things and the little things in their homes.
Record the serial numbers of electronics.
One in every 36 American homes will be burglarized this year. Electronics like computers, tablets, televisions and game systems are some of the most common burglary targets, but they are difficult to impossible to recover from police when victims don’t know their serial numbers. Recording the serial numbers of electronic devices kept at home can help police connect stolen goods with their rightful owners.
Don’t forget your garage.
This may seem silly, but many homeowners forget to document their garages when putting together an inventory of their homes. Garages are often the most valuable room per square foot in a house; they are where many homeowners store their expensive power tools, outdoor furniture and antiques. Consumers conducting inventories of their homes should note the objects in their garage as they would note the objects in any other room in their house.
Store your inventory files outside your home.
Today digital files are the way many insurers and homeowners prefer to store home inventory information. They can be easily copied and don’t take up the space of a binder or file cabinet. Even so, digital home inventories are just as vulnerable to loss as are analog ones when they are kept in the home. A natural disaster can destroy everything, including a flash drive or a computer. Consumers should store these files offsite, preferably in a security deposit box.
Consider a third-party service.
The DIY status quo of home inventory underserves insurers. Consumer fraud is rampant and it harms everyone. The Insurance Information Institute (III) found that questionable claims of homeowners insurance fraud increased nearly 45% between 2011 and 2013. Many insurers have noticed an increased incidence of fraud in connection to a proportionately increased number of natural disasters. Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Justice Department created the National Center for Disaster Fraud, which has prosecuted 1,360 individuals in cases related to Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma. Third-party services like TWS Home Inventory give consumers more efficient and convenient options for home inventory and they facilitate the claims process by providing insurers with more and better information about the property in question.
Carrie Mitchell is the owner and founder of Together We Stand (TWS) Home Inventory & Asset Management Group LLC in Colorado Springs