Colorado wildfires reinforce need for household inventories

Colorado wildfires reinforce need for household inventories

09 September 2012

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USA– Admit it. Many of you, despite good intentions, haven’t gotten around to putting together an inventory of your household possessions.

From the devastation left by Colorado’s summer of wildfires, a new awareness is rising of the need for an inventory of home contents.

Do it now, insurance experts say. Don’t procrastinate. The next fire, tornado, burglary or other unimaginable disaster will strike without warning.

“It’s a chore to do that. I’d rather play golf or even weed the garden,” said Chuck Fowler, whose Colorado Springs home burned to the ground in the Waldo Canyon wildfire.

Fowler had no inventory — an omission that he deeply regrets as he struggles to create a comprehensive list of thousands of possessions in order to file a property-insurance claim.

“Doing this after the fact is the most difficult, emotional experience I’ve ever had to endure,” he said. “I have to relive all the memories, cupboard by cupboard, closet by closet.”

Compiling an inventory can be done in a document, or with a camera or video recorder. The more detail, the better. Include descriptions, serial numbers and, if possible, dates and prices of purchased items. Then, keep copies in secure, remote locations.

Most insurance companies have online or printed information to help homeowners get started. There also are fee-based vendors who conduct household inventories.

“Creating a home inventory can seem overwhelming. And people don’t even want to think about the unthinkable happening,” said Carole Walker, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association.

But having an inventory “is one of the most important things you can do to be financially prepared and help take the heartache and headaches out of the claims process,” Walker said.

The Waldo Canyon and High Park fires destroyed more than 600 homes, making the summer of 2012 the most destructive wildfire season in Colorado history.

Complaints about the vexing requirements to itemize possessions for insurance reimbursement have dominated public meetings held by fire victims.

“Being required to list all personal contents is inhumane after a disaster of this magnitude,” said High Park homeowner Dale Snyder at a recent meeting in Fort Collins to air insurance complaints. “It is next to impossible to remember what we’ve collected over 45 years.”

Creating inventory lists before a disaster helps mitigate the emotional burden and eases the claims process, insurance experts say.

Yet most people don’t do it. A 2012 survey by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners showed that 59 percent of consumers have no inventories.

Larry Howell, a Fort Collins-based Allstate Insurance agent, had six customers whose homes were destroyed in the High Park fire. None had inventories.

Allstate adjusters are helping the homeowners construct lists of possessions, and Howell believes they will end up with full compensation.

But the process is painful.

“I’ve had people tearing up and crying in the office,” Howell said. “If you have not done your homework as requested, it’s grueling. It’s a very difficult, traumatic thing.”

Highlands Ranch retiree Ed McCallin said the shock of seeing losses caused by this summer’s wildfires is spurring him to create an inventory.

“I’ve always had it in the back of my mind, but I’ve never done it,” he said. “I don’t have a lot (of possessions) compared to some people. But what I do have, I want to make sure it’s all documented.”

Record everything

Compiling an inventory is a big job, but don’t despair. Eliminate distractions, and be methodical.

• With a notebook or camera, go from room to room, opening drawers and closets, recording every item: clothing, jewelry, furniture, appliances, artwork. Include attics, basements and garages.

• Record serial numbers of appliances and electronics.

• For expensive items, note the make and model, the store where purchased and the approximate date.

• Photograph or photocopy receipts of valuable items.

• Make digital copies of lists, photos and videos. Store them on a cloud server or physically in a secure, remote location such as a safe deposit box.

Compiling a list of household possessions

Resources for creating inventories:

• Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association,

• The Insurance Information Institute’s free online home-inventory software,

• Various insurance-company sites such as and

• Companies providing storage of digital information such as

• The trade association for vendors that provide inventory services,




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