Homeowners Insurance,  Insurance Claims

Personal Property 101

What is personal property?

Your home is filled with personal property (aka contents) some more important and expensive than others. Sustaining a loss to your personal property is just as heartbreaking as damage to your home can be. See my disclaimer, here.

  • You should know what personal property coverage is and what limits apply in certain circumstances. Just because you have insurance does not necessarily mean that you have coverage or adequate coverage.
  • Finding out if you have personal property coverage is effortless: you can call your agent and ask, or you can look at your insurance declarations page, which is the document that shows you an overview of your insurance coverage.
  • Most always contents coverage is listed as Coverage C or Personal Property. You will see your limit of coverage listed, and then the word “incl” should be under premium. If you do not see this on your policy (typically listed on the first page of the declarations pages), call your agent immediately and find out how to get coverage.  

Honestly, I would get coverage even if you think your stuff isn’t worth much. It really adds up, and you can get coverage based on an estimate you provide your agent. Always talk to your agent about what is best for you and your family!

Once you determine that you have coverage, there are some essential things you should know.

  • Contents or Personal Property is categorized as unscheduled and scheduled. Scheduled personal property is for expensive or unique items that will require prior notification to your agent before a claim occurs. Examples of the scheduled property would be your higher-end jewelry, such as your wedding ring, heirlooms, items that require appraisals such as artwork and antiques, and most definitely, guns.
  • If you sustain a significant loss, such as a fire loss and the scheduled personal property items are not appropriately listed on your policy, you could be at risk of not being adequately compensated.
  • In the event of a theft loss, you could be subjected to certain limits. Here is an example from an ISO HO 00 03 (HO-3) Policy:
The amounts lists are the maximum amount your insurance company would pay in the event those items were stolen.
  • Under your standard ISO HO 00 03 (HO-3) policy, contents/personal property is a named peril coverage meaning that the policy lists the exact perils that must occur for coverage to be afforded. The following example is found under Section: Perils insured against (pg. 8 of 22) in an HO 00 03 10/00- ISO policy. Policy example (this is not the full policy language):
You will see under 2. Windstorm or Hail that there is a special condition that must be met prior to coverage being afforded.

The next important thing to know about contents coverage is that the loss is settled as actual cash value (ACV) versus replacement cost value (RCV).

The difference between ACV and RCV is depreciation. All your contents depreciate over time (except your high-end jewelry, heirlooms, and antiques). If you have a garage sale today, you will not get what you originally paid for the items; thus, ACV. Replacement cost gives you exactly what it says- the replacement cost of your items.

  • To determine if you have RCV coverage, check out the endorsements section of your declarations page (typically on page 2 of the Dec pages). You should see “Personal Property Replacement Cost Coverage.” If you see that, then you are golden! If you don’t and you want RCV coverage, then call your agent to add.

Why File a Contents Claim?

Let’s talk about what can happen to your contents and why you would file a claim in the first place. Content losses can occur during water, fire, wind, theft, lightning, tree, or vehicle impact loss

During a significant loss, you may experience damage to your contents. Rest assured that claiming the loss of your contents along with damage to your home counts as one claim, not two. You will want to make sure that you get compensated for every single item damaged; it adds up fast!

You pay a premium for coverage to your contents so make sure you speak up and advise the adjuster of your loss.

It’s essential that before a loss, your home is well documented so you can prove that the items existed or their condition before a loss.

Document your contents!

Documenting your items is easy; take overall photographs of each room in your house and close-ups of the more valuable items. It’s always good to get a picture of serial numbers for those expensive electronics. You can keep a set of photographs in a folder on your desktop or email them to yourself and save on your account. That’ll make it quick and easy to send to the adjuster in the event of a claim.

Documenting with photographs is easy, but you may want to keep those receipts for the more valuable items handy. Scanning or photographing the receipts and saving them along with your overall photos is a good idea. Prepare yourself in the event of a loss, such as a fire where you may be emotionally drained and will not be able to remember everything you had before the loss. 

That scenario has occurred so many times in my experience, and it’s heartbreaking. You are losing money that is due to you when you cannot fully document your loss.

Don’t rely on the adjuster to know everything that is damaged and what the costs are. Contents losses can be tremendous and sometimes require a contents restoration company.

Download the free Personal Property Inventory Form.

Example of how to fill out the personal property inventory form. Have the form ready for the adjuster!

Restoration companies and how they help.

In the event of significant losses such as fire and water, the insurance company may ask you if you would like a contents restoration company to come and inventory the damage.

They will take photographs of every single damaged item, document whether it can be cleaned, repaired, or must be replaced, and then either charge a fee for restoring or advise of the replacement cost.

I highly recommend allowing a restoration company to do the work for you and the adjuster. The only thing I would avoid is having them restore very sentimental items. A specialist may be required.

Not all restoration companies are the same. You really need to find one that is reputable. If you have a significant loss that will exceed your deductible, there is really no reason not to have a restoration company come out to assist.

You will hear horror stories as with any contractor, but if you speak up about what upsets you, you should be fine.

What you should do immediately following a loss.

When you experience a loss, taking your own photographs is a must. Do not rely on anyone else but yourself, always. You will want to have that backup in case the adjuster makes an error. I would take those photographs immediately, and document what is damaged before you forget, or someone starts moving items.

  • Inspect each damaged item yourself and make piles of what you think can be cleaned immediately or what needs additional attention. Whatever you do- DO NOT THROW ANYTHING AWAY UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES except food. Throw away the nasty food, please; after you photograph, of course!
  • Just because your old clothes got wet does not mean they are ruined and must be thrown away. I cannot tell you how many times this has occurred.

It is not the responsibility of the adjuster to figure out what you threw away.

  • If you want a correct appraisal of your damaged contents, then help yourself and the adjuster and keep those items for payment consideration.
  • Once you have sorted your piles or contents, let’s start cleaning what can be cleaned. Write down that you cleaned the items and for how long. Example: Mr. and/ Mrs. Insured cleaned clothing and accessories for 3 hours on 01/01/20. You may be able to receive compensation for your time.
  • If you need something dry cleaned, photograph it then take it to the dry cleaners immediately. The adjuster will appreciate your documentation and your duty to mitigate the loss. You would save your receipt to provide to the adjuster for payment. 
  • Please note that this is under the assumption that your claim is covered. If your claim is not covered, you will not receive any compensation. In that case, you might as well get it cleaned immediately to avoid replacing items that could be cleaned.
  • For the items that you believe cannot be cleaned or restored, start writing a list of the items followed by the year purchased and the cost to buy that same item today or what you originally paid for the item. Once the items are documented and photographed, you still hold on to the items! I would keep the damaged contents until you receive a check in the mail.

In the event of a theft loss.

In the event of a theft loss where the items are no longer present on your property and have been stolen, you will need to file a police report for your claim to be processed.

You must claim every single item stolen to the police to be compensated by your insurance company. If the official police report does not match what is reported to the insurance company, then you will be at risk of not receiving compensation.

Every insurance company is different; however, I would not risk the time it’ll take going back in forth and have the police report as accurate as possible for the adjuster.

Having photographs and serial numbers documented will save you in the event of a theft loss where you are unable to remember the details. You will be surprised how many insureds follow up with us multiple times because they forgot about something.

Do yourself a favor and be prepared! You are losing money when you cannot remember or appropriately document your loss.

Total losses do happen.

During total losses such as fire losses, your insurance company, depending on state laws and what is stated in your policy, may be required to pay full policy limits. In that case, you will most likely not have to provide documentation of every single item. You would be appreciated to show the adjuster how your home was before the fire and what was in it.

Be prepared today!

I hope this post has really motivated you and helped you understand the importance of documenting your contents before something happens. You will be relieved in the event of a loss that you are already prepared, and that burden will be lifted. Experiencing a loss can be tremendously emotional, and I want you to feel empowered!

Contact me with any questions! Please note that I cannot provide you with advice on how to handle a current insurance claim. You must speak directly with your assigned insurance adjuster or agent.

CREDIT: All insurance policy snips are from Insurance Services Office, Inc., 1999.

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