On the morning of Nov. 24, 2007, Brad Stanley and his wife Anita watched as their home in Malibu, Calif., burned to the ground. They were not alone. More than 50 other homes were destroyed in the wildfire. With everything they owned now gone, the family had to start to process of documenting their losses to file for an insurance claim.
"I was under the impression that I had insurance and they would just cut me a check," he recalls. Not so fast. Even for homeowners with good insurance policies, a claim is only as strong as the inventory list. The Stanleys realized that their own records simply were not accurate enough to cover the true cost of what they had lost.
Filing an insurance claim after a disaster hits your home requires a very detailed list of all your belongings. This includes not only big-ticket receipts, but smaller things that are often overlooked, such as cutlery in the kitchen, bedsheets or the clothes in your dresser. All these items add up in the thousands of dollars as part of what your insurance claim will pay.
With thousands of homes devastated this spring by natural disaster, the importance of record-keeping has never been more important.
Tag Your Belongings in Photos
As Stanley struggled get a complete picture of what had been in his home (shown above, before and after the fire), he felt that there could be an easier, faster and more thorough way to inventory household belongings. Existing online tools, it turned out, weren't much more than glorified spreadsheets.
Drawing on his background in Web programming, Stanley created DocuHome.com, which allows home owners to upload room photos, and tag furniture and other belongings much like tagging friends on Facebook. The tags are then collected into an inventory spreadsheet, where homeowners can enter values or any other notes about the item.
This information is stored on remote servers, which have the same security that banks use for online transactions, and can be accessed from anywhere. After the flood or the fire, homeowners can rest assured that the inventory list remains safe.
A basic pen-and-paper list stored in a safe deposit box can suffice as an inventory, but home purchases often happen more frequently than updates to the list. Digital records or software are another method but, they also require more administrative oversight than homeowners realistically devote to the task. There also is the added risk that the home disaster destroys the computer where the records are stored.
DocuHome is the first and only visual inventory system that incorporates tagged photos and stores all the information online. Stanley says that in the process of creating an inventory, homeowners might discover that they need more insurance than they are currently holding. He says that one of the hard-learned lessons from his experience was that his Malibu home was "heavily underinsured."
"There is really no way to be properly insured until you know the contents of your home," Stanley says.
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