Personal Property Loss

Itemizing Your Personal Property: the World’s Most Awful Expense Report
If you’ve ever had to file an expense report at work, then you are familiar with this most tedious and time consuming exercise. Doing so after a natural disaster is going to be this exercise times a thousand and will definitely feel like salt in the wound.

Why the hell did this happen to you in the first place and why do you have to deal with this headache now? I don’t have an answer to that but I will tell you: you got this!

A way to cope with the extreme crappiness of this task is to approach it with dogged determination as such that the ROI of you spending the time the do this right is 100% there. Do not be tempted to short-cut this exercise — you’re only hurting yourself!

The name of the game with listing out your personal property is to get yourself well above your coverage cap on personal possessions. The reason being, if you’re well over it (i.e., the cap and then an additional 30% or more to account for depreciation), your insurance will just cut you a check for the full amount. This is incredibly valuable as this money is “no strings” and you can apply it however you need, as opposed to recouped money on your actual home, which actually goes to your mortgage lender, not you. And then you need to wrangle it free from your mortgage lender, which is likely to be a nightmare. (More on this in another post.)

If you’re unable to get over your personal possessions cap, keep trying and don’t submit your list to your insurance company yet or you’ll tip your hand to them too early. Think! What else are you forgetting? Most people are underinsured in this category so you should be able to hit that cap if you exhaustively detail every single thing you owned. Let it take months if it needs to. Better that than to forego the single biggest source of no-strings insurance money you can get.

If you don’t hit the cap, you are going to have to submit individual items for reimbursement one at a time as you replace them, which is a huge waste because you may very well prefer not to replace every single item and instead apply these funds to your rebuild budget. Also, if you’re being reimbursed for items one at a time, there is no incentive to be frugal or less consumerist the second time around, which is just wack.

Here are some tips to make the inventorying slightly less painful:

    • Refer to United Policyholders’ template spreadsheet and other inventorying tools. I wasted a colossal amount of time doing my inventory from scratch before I realized this existed.
    • Also ask your insurance company if they have a template or online tool they’d prefer you use so that you don’t find yourself having to re-input everything to adhere to their system.
    • Carry a notebook around with you to write down random things you remember as they come to you. Also have it by your bedside.
    • Create a spreadsheet for each room in your house as well as the exterior and mentally imagine going through each one, opening drawers, cabinets, closets and write down everything that you can remember.
    • This will be incredibly tedious and sad so break it up by doing an initial wave of things that were most valuable and/or important to you to make sure you’ve got those covered while your memory is fresh.
    • This is a really good project to tap friends or family who are asking about how they can help. Delegate a room to each one of them to help you list out items. They don’t need to know your house that well — most people have more or less the same types of basic household items.
    • Another trick is for you, or better yet, a friend or family member, to go to various types of stores and just walk the aisles to jog their memory about the types of things any average household would likely have:Target/grocery store for pantry and food items. You’d be surprised how much value is in this category alone, especially accounting for condiments like olive oils, vinegars, etc. You may find you have several thousand dollars in value to recoup here. Did you buy your spices at Whole Foods? That shit adds up! Put it in there, and don’t do the generic brand prices.
      • Bed, Bath + Beyond, Crate + Barrel or similar for kitchen/bath and household items. Better yet, use their official registry scanner to make a registry of items with prices.
      • Specialty items: ask friends who share common interests or have similar items — friends with kids the same age, friends who share your interest in sporting equipment or other hobbies, etc. Ask them to make lists of possessions they have in their house that are within that category and use that as a starting point to edit and build around, rather than starting from scratch.

I started this process almost immediately after the fires and didn’t officially finish it for about three months. The bulk of the work was in the beginning, and then I slowly added to it over the next few months as I remembered new categories of things, such as the attic contents, seasonal items or things that were buried deep within storage areas.

All of this effort may also be repurposed for other funding channels such as FEMA, nonprofit grants, etc. so keep your files.

Turn on a mindless movie, open a bottle of wine and just plow through. You can do it.

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