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Counting Your Blessings: Home Inventory Is Key For Hurricane Preparedness

Supply checklist

North Carolinians have been clearing grocery shelves and stocking up on clean water in anticipation of Hurricane Florence. However the insurance industry says if you want to really prepare for the worst, you need to take stock of what you've already got at home.

You don't have to feel too bad if you haven't taken an inventory of all your earthly possessions. Cathy Nguyn put it off, too.

"Sad enough I was in the insurance industry. I've been in it for 12 years, and I did my home inventory probably four years ago?" she laughed. "I think there was a major storm coming that triggered me to do it. And before that, there really hadn't been anything, so I just never really thought of it. But it's silly. I tell people all the time to do it."

Nguyn is a broker at Surevest Insurance Group in Raleigh. She's helped clients submit home insurance claims to start putting their lives back together after a disaster like a house fire.

But North Carolina Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey explained that insurance is a businesses, so policy holders need to be prepared. "(An) insurance company is not going to pay unless you've got proof. You have to have proof of loss," he said.

Causey said a home inventory is a simple enough idea: Go through your house and your garage or shed and document anything you'd miss if it were destroyed. That includes everything from big ticket items like electronics, appliances, fire arms and jewelry, down to the contents of your sock drawer and medicine cabinet.

"Go room to room write down the brand name, description estimated value date of purchase," Causey advised, adding that there's a lot of advice about home inventories on his department's website. "The more work that's done ahead of time, the easier it's gonna be when it comes time to file those claims."

A list of property is fine, but photos, serial numbers and purchase receipts are even better. Professional organizer Geralin Thomas has the home inventory down to a science. She owns Metropolitan Organizing in Cary. She recommended taking systematic photographs of each room.

  • Pick a point in the room and work your way around clockwise. Start at floor level, then the middle section. Top section. Ceilings
  • Open drawers, cabinets, closets.  Under kitchen and bathroom sinks, linen closet, pantry, kitchen cabinets, office, media or game rooms, garage, attic, basement
  • Turn over rugs and artwork and take a photo of tags, makers, sizes, materials, labels
  • Make sure you create a "safe box" for your jewelry, firearms, meds, eyeglasses - a cooler with ID inside and out.
  • Take a photo of the serial numbers on TVs, VIN number on cars, motorcycles, bikes, golf carts  - everything you can think of.
  • If you have the receipts – put them in a waterproof bag (date, size, amount paid)
  • Put ID collars on your pets - especially cats!
  • Store photos in the cloud
  • Have you had a tetanus shot? Digitize your medical or immunization records.

At the very least, insurance broker Cathy Nguyn recommended recording a video tour of your whole house, and saving it to the cloud, just in case.
"At a time of a loss when you're so emotion and really exhausted, coming up with a list is tiring and as difficult as it is already, then having to try and job your memory for everything that was in there makes it even more difficult. So having inventory just makes it so much easier for you for your insurance company, you've got everything you need at your fingertips."

Nguyn said the faster you submit a complete claim, the sooner you can get a fresh start.

In an email, the Property Casualty Insurers Association of Americaurged homeowners to review property insurance policy, especially the "declarations" page. That's where you can find out whether your policy pays replacement costs, or actual cash value for a covered loss. PCI also recommended keeping receipts of repairs done on the house. And to simplify things, the association recommended keeping the name, address and claims-reporting telephone number of your insurer handy.

Rebecca Martinez produces podcasts at WUNC. She’s been at the station since 2013, when she produced Morning Edition and reported for newscasts and radio features. Rebecca also serves on WUNC’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accountability (IDEA) Committee.
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