A New Tool to Create A Personal Property Inventory When Everything Is Gone

By Sean M. Scott

Personal resiliency begins at home by planning for recovery
Each year communities across our nation endure a wide range of natural and man-made disasters that cause multitudes of individuals and families to lose their homes and personal property. Whether it is a major disaster like a tornado, wildfire, or hurricane, or a smaller more everyday event like a house fire or pipe burst, disasters frequently occur and when one does, you will need to be able to answer the most common post-disaster question - "What do I do now?"

When first responders leave the scene of a disaster the survivors are typically left on their own to face the daunting task of navigating through the recovery process. For those who have lost their home or who have been displaced, this can be the beginning of a nightmare, especially if they haven't prepared or planned for recovery in advance. The days, weeks, and months that follow a disaster require planning, perseverance, and a lot of patience. Otherwise, the state of chaos created by a disaster, coupled with the lack of knowledge of what to do in the aftermath, can easily transform a disaster survivor into a disaster victim.

What about all my stuff?
One element of the recovery process that is rarely spoken about but tends to be one of the most difficult tasks a disaster survivor will face is creating an inventory of all the personal belongings that have been damaged or destroyed. Let's say your home was hit by a tornado and as you come out of the storm cellar all you see is a bare concrete slab with a toilet left standing in the middle. Your yard is strewn with debris from your neighbors down the street and you have no idea where your 20 plus years of accumulation went, except for the pair of underwear hanging in the tree across the street. So you call your insurance company and a couple days later your adjuster shows up and tells you that in order for you to receive the full benefits of your insurance coverage, you will need to provide a detailed inventory of everything you owned, including a detailed description of each item, its age, replacement cost, and any supporting documentation you might have in the form of photos or receipts. You are then given a stack of blank inventory sheets and a pen and told that you only have a limited amount of time to turn it in. So now what do you do? Imagine trying to remember everything you had in your home when you have no photos, receipts, or recollection. On one hand you don't want to commit insurance fraud by claiming items in your inventory that you are not sure you had and on the other hand you have a considerable amount of replacement coverage in the policy you purchased to cover everything that was lost. Here is where the challenge begins. In order for you to embark on this undertaking, you will need to have a clear frame of mind, lots of time, and plenty of support (most of which may be in short supply). One way to accomplish this task is to try and visualize what you had room by room and ask friends or family members if they have photos that may have been taken in your home during a holiday gathering, party, or family get-together. Oftentimes photos like these can reveal furnishings, decor, or other items in the background that will help jog your memory. Looking through store catalogs or on-line can also help, but again all this can be very time consuming and usually won't be very effective in getting you the level of detail you will need to get the full benefits of your insurance. Consider for a moment if you only needed to inventory the contents in your kitchen. If you are like most, you might jot down the obvious items like appliances, silverware, utensils, cookware, and cutlery and figure the smaller items just aren't worth the time and energy to deal with. But what about the food that was in the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry, the wine, vitamins, supplements, spices, cookbooks, cleaning supplies under the sink, hand utensils, stuff in the junk drawer, CD's, phone chargers, batteries, gift cards, paper products, pet supplies, tools, and so forth? You paid a lot of hard earned money for these items and these little things add up quick. The challenge here is the time it takes to try and remember all of what you had and then detailing all the smaller items when you have so many other pressing matters that consume your time. But look at it this way, if you were walking down the street and saw a bunch of $5's, $10's, and $20 dollar bills laying around, wouldn't you take the time to pick them up? Of course you would. The bottom line is this: If you want to fully recover the maximum benefits of your insurance and expedite the recovery process so you can rebuild your life, then you have to take the time to get the details down on paper and use the tools available to you that will help you accomplish this task. Now you might be asking yourself, isn't there an easier way? The answer is yes.

A free inventory tool that can really make a difference
After witnessing the aftermath of the wildfires that swept through Southern California in 2003 and then again in 2007, which combined destroyed roughly 6,000 homes and damaged countless others, it became apparent that people who had lost their homes needed a tool to help them navigate the recovery process and compile accurate inventories. Many people became overwhelmed by the enormity of creating an inventory and simply gave up and opted to settle with their insurance companies for far less than what their losses were and the policy limits they had, only to recall months later things they wished they had remembered earlier on. So, necessity became the Mother of Invention and I embarked on a mission to create a resource that I knew would meet this need for future disaster survivors. As a result, The Personal Property Memory Jogger & Home Inventory Tool was born. The Personal Property Memory Jogger is a pre-populated Excel spreadsheet that contains close to 6,000 of the most commonly found household items broken down into a room-by-room format. Once downloaded, you have the option to delete items that may not apply to you and/or add items that may not already appear in the database. This resource is a godsend for disaster survivors and is available free-of-charge at this link.

As a disaster preparedness tool, The Personal Property Memory Jogger can be used before a disaster to create an inventory of all the personal property you own. By doing this, you will not only have a detailed list of your belongings, but you will also be able to figure an accurate replacement value that will help you determine whether or not you have enough insurance to cover everything if it was lost. Now if you or someone you know has gone through a disaster or even suffered a property loss through a theft, you have access to a great tool that will help you recover and become far more resilient to disasters in the future.

If you would like to see the vast array of free disaster preparedness and recovery resources, visit www.theredguidetorecovery.com.

About the Author

Sean Scott is the Author and Publisher of The Red Guide to Recovery - Resource Handbook for Disaster Survivors and CEO of Heritage Publishing & Communications, Ltd. The Red Guide to Recovery and The Personal Property Memory Jogger & Home Inventory Tool are both used as post-disaster recovery resources by fire departments, emergency management agencies, and first responders across the U.S. If you would like to contact Sean, he can be reached at (858)-349-2262 or by e-mail at sean@theredguidetorecovery.com.