This is part three of six in a series of articles about what you need to do before, during, and after a wildfire.
Let’s say that you were evacuated from your home due to an impending wildfire. You had prepared your home the best you could to ward off the threat of fire, your evacuation plan was performed to perfection, and your family is safely secured at a location away from the fires.
This happened to me and my family years ago when we lived in Carlsbad. We were able to flee our neighborhood and make it to the safety of a friend’s home away from the fire but we failed in so many ways. We didn’t have a go-bag ready in case of fire nor did we have an evacuation plan. Luckily, my whole family was home, we grabbed the dog and some important papers (and my daughter grabbed her prom dress), and took off.
We left some irreplaceable items behind and didn’t have food, water, clothing, or any of the items I outlined in my “Creating a Go-Bag” article.
A few houses burned to the ground in our neighborhood but fortunately, our home was spared. Other than the stench of smoke that we had to endure for a few days, we got lucky.
But what if our house did burn down? Could I remember all of our personal possessions? Would we get a fair return from our insurance company based on our collective memories of what we owned? And without proof, would the insurance company believe us when we told them what we lost? Losing our house would be horrible but getting short-changed for replacing our belongings would hurt as well. This is why it’s important for you to create a home inventory!
So, what do we do?
First, you need to take the time and put forth the effort to walk through your home and list all of your property that has value. I’m not saying that you need to count 10 cans of soup, 3 cereal boxes, 1 jar of peanut butter, etc. but write down the make and model of your larger items such as your home entertainment systems, furniture, appliances, musical instruments, collections of any type, and any other belongings that have value.
Follow this up with grabbing your smartphone and making a video, room by room, of your home and while doing so, don’t be shy about narrating everything that you are filming. Remember, the more detailed your inventory, the more useful it will be in the event of a claim. For the big-ticket items, write down the serial numbers. And don’t forget the closets! Not only will you better your chance of receiving the proper funds to make you whole again but the claims process should be quicker and smoother.
Next, keep your inventory in a safe place off-site or digitally in the cloud. This will ensure that it doesn’t get lost or stolen and you certainly don’t want it to burn up in the fire!
Third, you need to update your home inventory on a regular basis. Handing the insurance company a home inventory your created many years ago won’t help you in getting compensated for the new technology you’ve accumulated, new furniture, TVs, etc. This is also a good time to delete the stuff from the list that you no longer own.
Special care should be taken if you own valuable items. Pieces of art that were purchased years ago may have increased in value. Are they insured properly? Certain items such as collections (guns, coins, jewelry, stamps, musical instruments, art and antiques, cameras) are covered only up to a stated sub-limit which may be a fraction of what the items are actually worth. Scheduling your precious items on your homeowner’s policy is an idea you should discuss with your agent. This may require an appraisal or some form of paperwork proving the value of the item but the effort and extra expense is worth it in the event of a loss. Another idea you may want to consider is placing expensive valuables that you don’t use or wear into a safe deposit box or storing your guns in a fireproof vault (although a friend of mine who lost his house in the Carlsbad fire lost his entire gun collection when the fireproof vault melted in the inferno).
So, the bottom line is that this takes some time and effort on your part but is well worth it in the event of a fire. The time and effort you put in vs. the proper payout by the insurance company is really a smart thing to do.