On my way to an appraisal at a country house this week, I took in the beautiful views of the rivers and valleys below the Blue Ridge. As my car swooped around the curve of a road lined with ancient oaks, a hand-lettered sign loomed up unexpectedly .
“ROBBERY HERE! REWARD: CALL ___-____.”
Rural Virginia is known for bucolic horse farms and charming historic villages. It’s also home to a generous sprinkling of spectacular estates. But the house that was robbed was not one of these. It was a modest farmhouse in a small, closeknit town, standing in plain sight of its neighbors. The owners could very well be among those people I so often hear saying, “We’re normal folks. We wouldn’t have anything worth stealing.”
Maybe you’ve said this yourself. If so, let’s do a little exercise. Close your eyes and picture your living room. Now name every single thing in that room. Can you do it? How much is each item worth? How would you describe it to the police if it were stolen? How would you replace it?
Now do the same thing for every room of your house. Did you remember the basement? The play room? The tool shed? The attic?
We’ve gotten used to talking about how bad the economy is. Yet the reality is that on the whole modern America is still one of the wealthiest, most acquisitive societies in the history of the world. Our homes are essentially warehouses of electronics, jewelry, silver, furniture, collectibles, gadgets, clothing, all of which has monetary value.
So please, write it down. It’s not difficult to create an inventory yourself, but it is time consuming (I’ll show you how in a future post). I hear from a lot of people too that they have trouble starting because they don’t know terminology, much less how to determine values. Just remember if you get stuck, there are specialists who can help. In most cases an experienced appraiser can craft a more thorough and accurate inventory for less than $1,000 depending on the size of your house. Or they can make an annotated video inventory for around half that.
If that sounds like a lot, consider this:
The average engagement ring costs $4000
The average 32″ flat screen tv costs $500
The average cost of a couch from discount retailer Ikea is $600
Adequate insurance recovery for just a few of these basic items can easily make up the cost of investing in an accurate inventory; and if your personal property is above average, protecting yourself against undocumented loss is even more important.
I recently watched a first time homeowner calculate the cost of furnishing his new house from scratch. Furnishings for his modest suburban starter home came in at $75,000, not including the kitchen and not including clothes, toys, art, collectibles, jewelry or home electronics. That’s just furniture, non-kitchen appliances, and general decor.
He probably doesn’t think of himself as someone who has anything worth stealing either. But going through this exercise made him realize how quickly values begin to add up, even when the property is ‘ordinary.’ And unlike most people, at least now he has a list.
One final note. Any expert on art theft will tell you that most heists turn out to be inside jobs. This is true of home burglaries too. When you’re done making your mental list of all the things in your house, take a minute to review all the people who have been in your house in the last year. Maid service, baby sitter, repair man, delivery man, extermintor, cable guy, plumber, painter.
My intention is not to made you fearful of honest tradespeople or worry obsessively about property loss. It is to help you realize why it pays to have a clear and well documented idea of what you have and what it’s worth.