Completing a home inventory

Written by the Square One team

Reviewed by Daniel Mirkovic

Updated July 16, 2024 | Published January 14, 2012

Why would you want to do a home inventory? Is it really important to have a list of all your possessions?

There are plenty of good reasons to inventory your stuff, but in particular, it helps you ensure that your home insurance coverage is adequate. In this article, we’ll cover how to do a home inventory, and why you need one.

A watch

The important points

  • Creating an inventory of everything you own can be tedious, but it’s extremely helpful for insurance purposes.
  • For most items, the inventory should include makes, models, serial numbers, and other key identifying information.
  • It’s possible to make a video inventory for those who prefer that over written documentation.

Why you need a household inventory

Creating a detailed list of everything you own sounds like a painful task. Why bother?

Ultimately, it comes down to home insurance. There are two reasons that you’ll be happy to have a home inventory:

  1. You’ll know exactly how much insurance you need

  2. Any future insurance claims you make will be much simpler

When you’ve got a catalogue of your stuff, you’ll find it very easy to figure out the limits and sublimits you’ll need to have on your home insurance policy. If you have a lot of specialty property, you’ll be much more organized with figuring out what it’s worth and whether you need it appraised.

If you ever need to make a claim, a home inventory helps you figure out exactly what was lost or damaged. Your adjuster will be able to offer your settlement faster and more accurately if you can present a detailed breakdown of your damaged property.

How to complete a household inventory

Whether you own or rent, your home insurance policy includes contents coverage. This coverage protects the moveable stuff that you own, like furniture, clothing, electronics, and so forth. Your home inventory will detail the property that falls under contents coverage.

After you’ve completed your initial home inventory, you should revisit it every once in a while. As you collect more stuff, it’s important to make sure your coverage limits are keeping pace. Particularly after Christmas or a birthday, you may suddenly need a higher contents coverage limit.

Before beginning your inventory, let’s start with the basics:

What is a home inventory checklist?

Laptop and other personal belongings on a brown couch

A home inventory list is a written or photo record of all of the items you own—especially those with a high dollar value—that you can use for insurance purposes in case of a fire, theft, or flood. When you file an insurance claim, you need to know which of your possessions are missing or damaged, as well as the value of those items. If you have the list, then it will alleviate some stress during a challenging time.

The inventory should include a description of each item (including make, model and serial number), the value of the item, and its approximate purchase date. If you have receipts, credit card statements relating to the purchase, or appraisal documents, you should attach them to the list as well.

Photos are important, but you don’t necessarily need to photograph every individual item. Perhaps you’ll want photos of high-value stuff like laptops or jewellery, but in most cases, snapping a few shots of each room will suffice.

The list will help you determine whether you have adequate insurance coverage and whether your policy covers all of your possessions. If you have particularly valuable items, then you may need to add a rider to your policy to ensure they are covered. A conversation with your insurance agent will answer those questions.

Physical or virtual home inventory

Plenty of people prefer to work with physical papers, but there are numerous advantages to making your home inventory digital.

Since your home inventory should include photos and additional documents like receipts, a physical folder can quickly grow to a cumbersome size. Plus, a stack of paper can only exist in one place (unlesss you make meticulous copies). Since part of the inventory’s purpose is helping you with claims, you’ll want it to survive any losses, like a fire or flood.

If you create digital versions of all your inventory documents and store them online with a service like Google Drive, Dropbox, or Microsoft OneDrive, you’ll be able to access it quickly from anywhere.

Now, let’s move on to actually creating the inventory list.

Creating your home inventory

To find out how much coverage you need, try our simple home inventory worksheet. It’s available as an Excel file that you can complete on your computer, or as a PDF file that you can print and complete by hand.

Creating a home inventory isn’t difficult; it simply requires a little time and attention. Follow this series of steps to ensure that your possessions are properly documented and insured.

  • Take a walk. Walk through each room in your house with your spreadsheet, tablet, camera, or video camera in hand. Snap at least four photos of each room, making sure to include every side of the room so that you capture all of your possessions.

  • Add commentary. If you are using a video camera, you can add commentary as you focus on individual items, identifying them as you move along.

  • Go over less-used areas. Be sure to include areas that you don’t often use, such as your basement, laundry room, garage, and storage shed. Items in out-of-the-way places can also be valuable or worth documenting. Also check your closets and your drawers to document items stored there. Clothing isn’t cheap to replace, for example, and some of your jewellery might have both actual and sentimental value.

  • Make a list. Once you have visual documentation of your possessions, enter all the relevant data on a spreadsheet or into a computer application designed for inventories of possessions. The written data provides an important cross-reference for the visual record, as well as key details about the monetary value of your possessions.

  • Talk to an agent. Once you’ve finished your list, discuss it with your insurance agent. They can tell you if any of your possessions require special coverage and will be able to see if you’ve missed anything obvious.

  • Keep your home inventory safe. After your list is completed and approved, store it in a safe place. If your inventory is physica, choose a place that is unlikely to be affected by the same fire or flood that could threaten your home. A safety deposit box at the bank is one such option.

Don’t put off the task of creating a home inventory, as tedious as it may sound. Do one room each day or even each weekend until you’re finished. No one expects disaster to strike them, but why be unprepared?

Remember, insurance is intended for large, catastrophic losses that affect a great deal of your personal property. If you don’t choose a limit of coverage that can replace everything you own, you may find yourself paying out of pocket to repair or replace property beyond the limit of coverage that you have chosen.

Speaking of limits of coverage, let’s quickly go over a few.

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Does my home insurance policy provide unlimited coverage for electronics?

Samsung smartphone

The value of new cell phones, tablets, computers, game consoles and 4K televisions adds up quickly, possibly exceeding the limit of coverage provided under your existing home insurance policy. If a loss were to occur, you would still be subject to the limit of coverage that your policy originally provided. You’d be stuck paying out-of-pocket for any new items that you forgot to include in your coverage.

What about new jewellery?

Most insurance policies have a strict limit on the total amount of coverage they provide for jewellery, and appraisals are often required in order to be fully protected. Forgetting to add new jewellery to your home insurance policy can be a serious mistake. Those strict coverage limits may leave you unprotected if the new jewellery were to be lost, stolen or damaged before you add it to your policy.

How about a new snowboard, skis, skates, or maybe a new bike?

Insurance policies often impose a strict limit on sporting equipment, especially bicycles. One high-end mountain or road bike can easily exceed this limit of coverage. We recommend that you add up all items, and check with your home insurance provider to find out if you’re over the sporting equipment limit. You may need to increase it in order to ensure that your coverage doesn’t fall short in the event of a loss.

Want to learn more? Visit our Home Insurance Basics resource centre for dozens of helpful articles to guide you through the ins and outs of home insurance. Or, get an online quote in under 5 minutes and find out how affordable personalized home insurance can be.

About the expert: Daniel Mirkovic

A co-founder of Square One with 25 years of experience in the insurance industry, Daniel was previously vice president of the insurance and travel divisions at the British Columbia Automobile Association. Daniel has a bachelor of commerce and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia. He holds a Canadian Accredited Insurance Broker (CAIB) designation and a general insurance license level 3 in BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario.


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