The first step of shopping for a renters insurance policy is finding out how much stuff you own and what that stuff is worth — and that means doing a home inventory.
Buying renters insurance is pretty straightforward: pick your coverage, buy your policy, and your stuff is protected from most cases of theft, loss, or damage.
There’s only one part of the buying process that requires any work on your part, and that’s the home inventory, the list of everything you own, along with photos, values, and receipts or appraisals if you have them, that you’ll use to buy renters insurance and make a claim if you need to.
But don’t fear! Making a home inventory doesn’t have to be a whole thing — you can even use an app to make it even more simple.
Read on to find out:
The home inventory is crucial during two steps in the renters insurance process: before you buy, and if you ever need to make a claim.
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.
When shopping for renters insurance, you’ll get quotes based in part on the amount of personal property coverage, so you need to know that number. Most people underestimate the cost of their stuff, which is why the home inventory is so important. It helps you figure out exactly what you have and exactly how much it costs. The last thing you want is to buy $10,000 of coverage only to find out you had $20,000 worth of stuff.
Most renters insurance policies also have additional coverage limits on certain property categories. For instance, if you have a policy that covers $20,000 in personal property, there may be a limit that only $2,000 of that can be electronics, or only $1,500 can be jewelry. You need to know what your stuff is worth so you know if you need to buy extra coverage (you can purchase something called a rider or floater to up your coverage amounts on certain categories of property).
After you have renters insurance, a home inventory smooths out the claim process by helping you keep track of your stuff, helping you keep track of the value of your stuff, and providing evidence for your insurer.
Keep track of your stuff. Just like the value of your stuff is more than you realize, the sheer quantity of your stuff is likely more than you could guess at, too. In the event of a total loss — like if there’s a fire that decimates your apartment and all of your possessions — you could have a really hard time recalling everything you need to make a claim for. A home inventory fixes that.
Keep track of your stuff’s value. An inventory also helps you track the value of your items. The value of the item 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, but either one works best when you know the true value of the item.
Keep track of the receipts (literal and figurative). Finally, a home inventory gives you proof of ownership if there’s any issue with your claim. Claims on generic items work 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 easy. Here are the steps:
Go room to room in your home take a pic each item that you’d want cash for if your apartment burned down (this is going to be a lot of items!)
Shoot basic photos of each item, plus close-up photos of serial numbers (or write them down)
It's also a good idea to shoot an accompanying video walk-through. Just be sure to stop briefly at each item so that the video is easy to follow and your items are identifiable.
If you know the original cost of the item, jot that down.
If you don’t, look up what it would cost to buy an identical or similar item today.
If you have them, record them. If you don’t have them, it’s probably okay, except for really expensive things like jewelry or art — you may need proof of value (your insurance company can give you more directions here, once you pick one).
We’re guessing you’ve done this on your phone, so just make sure to save it to the cloud. In case you’ve taken Polaroids and made a hand-written list, make a copy and keep it at work or at a friend’s house. Or go ahead and put that on the cloud, too.
You should regularly update your inventory so that it's always accurate. Some people recommend doing a refresh every six months — you could calendar it! At the very least, make it habit to take pics of new big-ticket items and store them on the cloud.
For some people, taking pics and making a list is the way to go. Others will prefer something more streamlined. If that’s you, you’re in luck: there are many apps for creating home inventories. A lot of home inventory apps out there are very similar and will do what you need. Here are two popular options, one free and one paid.
Best for: Renters who want a free 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.
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 perfectly serviceable. 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.
Best for: Renters willing to pay for extra perks
Sortly allows you to organize your stuff by rooms and categories. You can upload up to 8 photos per item, perfect for adding barcodes and receipts, and there’s also a searchable notes section. And if you upgrade to Sortly Plus ($4.99/mo.), you get several extra features, including a barcode scanner, which could save you time adding new purchases.
Yes, you can totally skip the home inventory, especially as a step before buying insurance. We don’t recommend it, because it helps you know how much insurance to buy and helps you make a claim. But you don’t have to have an inventory in order to buy a policy; no one is going to make you upload one.
In fact, if you get a renters insurance quote from Policygenius, you can even use our personal property calculator to estimate the value of your stuff, no inventory needed.
Logan Sachon is the co-founder of The Billfold, a groundbreaking personal finance site for millennials that was named one of Time's 25 Best Blogs of 2012. Her work has been published in New York Magazine, Glamour, The Guardian, BuzzFeed and more.