Renters insurance is pretty straightforward: Buy your policy, and your stuff is protected from most cases of theft, loss, or damage.
Most importantly, renters insurance is cheap enough – usually under $20 a month – and simple enough that it doesn’t make sense to not have it. In fact, there’s really only one task that really takes effort on your part.
A home inventory.
A home inventory lets you take stock of your belongings (literally) so you don’t run into any headaches or issues when you need to make a claim on an item. And since it’s 2017, there’s an app for that.
Here are three apps you can use to make creating a home inventory for your renters insurance as simple as snapping a phew pictures with your smartphone.
Why you need a home inventory
A home inventory helps smooth the renters insurance claim process in a few key ways: helping you keep track of your stuff, helping you keep track of the value of your stuff, and providing evidence for your insurer.
You might not think you have a lot of stuff, but it’s probably more than you realize. If there’s an incident – a pipe bursts and you can clearly see the damage done, or you come to find a TV missing that you’re pretty sure was handing on that wall when you left for work – it’s easy enough to know what you need to make a claim for. On the other hand, if there’s a fire that tragically takes all of your possessions, you’ll have a hard time recalling everything you need to make a claim for.
An inventory also helps you track the value of your items. This is important for your policy, because you’ll probably have a limit on what’s covered. The last thing you want is to buy $10,000 of coverage only to find out you had $20,000 worth of stuff.
It’s also important to keep track of value because the type of policy you have determines the cost of replacement. If you have an actual cash value policy, your insurer will pay based on the current value of your item(s), which takes depreciation into account. A replacement cost value policy pays for the full cost to repair or replace your item(s). That can be a big difference in the value of the claim.
Finally, a home inventory gives you proof of ownership if there’s any issue with your claim. Claims on generic items works more or less on the honor system – you probably won’t be called out for saying you had a laptop – but it’s nice to have proof if you need it. For rare or especially expensive items, cataloging it is a must. Pictures help making a claim that much easier.
Creating a home inventory is a crucial renters insurance tool, and using an app to make a digital home inventory is even better. These inventories live in the cloud, which means there’s no chance that it’s stolen or damaged along with the rest of your stuff.
What to look for in a home inventory app
A home inventory is pretty basic. A picture, a price, and a few reference notes are all you really need. To that end, there are a lot of inventory apps out there, but a lot of them are very, very similar. Most do the bare minimum of what you’ll need.
You won’t go wrong with any number of apps, but below are some that offer an extra level of value. All of these are free, and all are available on desktop (via a website), iOS, and Android, so you’ll never find yourself without access.
Best for: Renters who want a comprehensive inventory
Encircle is a great app because it goes above and beyond a standard inventory app while still managing to remain simple.
One of the more onerous parts of creating a home inventory is pricing. How much is that computer mouse you bought three years ago? Thirty dollars? Time to head to Google to find out.
Not with Encircle. Encircle pulls everything into the app itself. After you take a picture of an item, you give it a name – "computer mouse," to stay with our previous example – and any other details, like serial number or warranty information. The "Find Replacement" option lets you choose from nearly 20 of the top retailers, or perform your own Google search, and highlights prices of potential replacements. That gives you a simple way to set replacement costs using actual prices rather than guessing.
It’s also incredibly easy to generate documents within the Encircle app. For example, if you have a PDF copy of your renters insurance policy, you can upload it so it’s with your inventory. Even better, you can then generate a PDF or spreadsheet report that includes your inventory, complete with images of room and all of your items, and your policy (or any other documents) all in one document.
Finally, Encircle has an equally-as-useful website if you want to use something other than their app. You can add or edit items there, and you can switch between a "room" view that separates your residence by room, or a simple spreadsheet view for a more thorough look.
Encircle takes everything you need from a home inventory app and turns it up to 11. If you’re looking for an easy way to make a comprehensive inventory, Encircle is a great place to start.
Allstate Digital Locker
Best for: Allstate customers
While anyone can use the Allstate Digital Locker app for free, Allstate customers are the ones who will really find that added bit of value. There’s just something nice about keeping everything in one place, without a third party in the middle. You can link your Allstate account to your Digital Locker so there’s no need to remember an additional login, and you can easily move between Digital Locker and other Allstate apps.
It would be nice if there was a little more connection between your Allstate account and your Digital Locker. For instance, while you can manually add details of your Allstate agent, there’s no way to automatically pull in agent or policy details so they’re readily available. (Allstate has confirmed to us that while it’s currently manual, the company is "working on further integration on [their] roadmap for the app.")
Still, no matter who you are, Allstate’s Digital Locker app is a perfectly serviceable app. It will do what you need it to do, and even has some cool additional features like being able to take a picture of a room and then tagging items, rather than having to take pictures of each individual item.
There are a couple of limitations. Unlike other apps, Digital Locker only supports a single property, which means you’ll have to use the tagging system to differentiate between "Beach House" and "Apartment"; manageable, but a little unwieldy. The aforementioned full room tagging, where you can take a picture of a room and call out individual items, is one of my favorite features, but it also only appears to be available through the web-based desktop version of the Digital Locker, not the apps. Again, this isn’t a huge roadblock, but it is a little clunkier than it needs to be.
Overall, the Allstate Digital Locker app is a solid home inventory app, especially if you’re an Allstate customer trying to consolidate their apps and logins. With a little more polish, the Digital Locker will be able to provide premium value for everyone.
Know Your Stuff
Best for: Renters who want a stripped-down experience
Know Your Stuff, from the Insurance Information Institute, is a no-frills inventory app that’s the most straightforward recommendation on this list. Do you want to:
- Take pictures of your stuff,
- Add the price and other relevant item details, and
- Note which policy it’s included on?
Then Know Your Stuff is perfect. The policy inclusion is useful, because you can note which policy a certain item falls under (maybe you have a floater covering a specific piece of jewelry?), and you can get some mildly interesting stats of items per room, dollar value per room, and dollar value by category, but Know Your Stuff doesn’t offer any other bells and whistles.
If you’re looking for more, look elsewhere, but there’s a lot to be said about this stripped-down experience. Maybe you don’t think the integration with an insurer needed, and you find too many options overwhelming. Know Your Stuff is easy to use, easy to understand, and won’t bog you down with unnecessary extras.
Bonus: Evernote or OneNote
Best for: Renters who want flexibility
Want an app that isn’t a home inventory app? A note-taking app app like Evernote or OneNote will do the trick.
Evernote and OneNote are digital notebooks. They live in the cloud, meaning they can be accessed from any computer or mobile device, and your notes go wherever you do. That gives you the flexibility to write however you want: lists, full paragraphs, tables, or exclusively in images.
A note-taking app won’t give you the same structure that a note tailored for inventory creation will, but that can be useful for some people. You can tailor your system to fit your needs rather than be forced to into an app that doesn’t work for you.
To learn more about the features, benefits, and drawbacks of popular note-taking apps, see our Evernote and OneNote head-to-head review here.
If you want to go even more low-tech (but still digital), a spreadsheet will work in a pinch. If you want to incorporate images that might take a little more legwork, but the rest of the information you need is easy to include.
A home inventory isn’t a complicated thing, but it is important. Considering how easy it is to create one – and how much easier it can make filing a renters insurance claim – there’s no reason not to have one. And with the ability to make and edit your inventory on the go with your mobile device, that’s one fewer excuse you have for delaying.