Losing your motorhome in a collision or fire can be devastating, but creating an inventory of its contents before such an occurrence helps to lessen the stress when reporting the loss to your insurance company.
By Heather Larson
Recently, while shopping at a camping supply store, I noticed a woman carrying a clipboard. In the kitchen utensil department, she stopped and jotted down some notes. Then she looked closely at the pots and pans. The woman wore jeans and a jacket, not a store uniform. My guess that she wasn’t an employee proved to be true when a sales associate approached her and politely asked what she was doing.
“We were in an accident with our motorhome,” said the woman, her voice trembling. “Everything in the living room and kitchen was destroyed. I’m trying to make a list of what, uh … we lost for the insurance company.”
For most of us, filing an insurance claim elevates our stress level. This woman was no exception. Her eyes filled with tears as she described the collision to the sales associate. Some of the stress could have been alleviated, however, if she had prepared an inventory of her possessions long before the collision occurred.
It’s much easier and more common to believe that nothing bad will ever happen to us. Insurance data indicate that most motorhome claims are the result of tire blowouts, awning and antenna damage, or from backing into something “” not necessarily incidents that would cause the insured to suffer a substantial loss. But motorhomers are not immune from more serious incidents, such as fire, traffic collisions, or theft. Regardless of whether you’re a full-timer or part-timer, if you lost some or all of the items you’ve collected over the years, it would take a significant amount of money to replace them. Wouldn’t you rather be prepared? It’s best to complete an inventory while you’re thinking clearly, not when you’re in the midst of a crisis.
What to include in an inventory
When compiling an inventory, Steve Brasier, product manager for Safeco Insurance, suggests that you include a description of each item, as well as the make or model, serial number, date purchased, and purchase price or replacement cost. If available, include receipts, cancelled checks, and any documents such as warranties, guarantees, or instruction manuals that go with the items.
Each insurance company has its own standard for documenting personal effects. Before you begin to take inventory, check with your insurance provider to ensure that you have all the information necessary to make a claim. In most cases, however, calling the company for direction is not vital. According to Susan Corscadden, director of marketing for RV Alliance America, C95, whatever you can do to better define what’s in your coach will help an insurance adjuster.
Begin by going room by room and listing your most valuable items first. Include any furniture, appliances, or electronics that were not original equipment in the motorhome, such as televisions, DVD players, computer equipment, antiques, and collections. Add the utensils in your drawers, the food staples and dishes in your cupboards, and the linens and clothes in your closets. As a general rule, items valued at less than $100 can be grouped under a miscellaneous category, such as “miscellaneous serving dishes” or “miscellaneous hobby equipment.” Don’t forget items kept in outside storage compartments, such as bicycles, bike racks, tools, outdoor furniture, and sports equipment.
“It is important to review your insurance policy and be clear on how much coverage is available for unique or high-value items such as antiques, computers, jewelry, collections, or sports equipment,” Ms. Corscadden noted.
She also suggested that you talk with your insurance provider about each unique item you own, including those with high sentimental value and those valued at more than $2,500, to determine which are covered under the base policy and which should be listed individually.
RV Alliance America has a very basic sample inventory worksheet on its Web site. To view the worksheet and print it from your home computer, visit www.rvaa.com/pworksheet.php3.
Mr. Brasier also advises motorhome owners to make a video or take photos of the inventoried items. Photograph every section of each room and make sure the pictures are clearly focused. Open the doors on entertainment units, closets, and cupboards and capture the items inside. Take separate photos of your most valuable objects, such as special collections, artwork, or jewelry.
If you make a videotape, verbally note the location of each item and the current date so you can match it to your written inventory list. If you photograph your possessions, record the date and the location of each item on the back of the picture. Try to get close enough with your video, 35-millimeter, or digital camera to record serial or model numbers.
Although a handwritten list of your possessions works for insurance claims, software programs to help you complete your motorhome inventory are available. Most software programs include a place to store photos. The following software can be used interchangeably for either household possessions or recreation vehicle possessions: Frostbow Home Inventory www.frostbow.com); Home Inventory www.thehomejournal.com); and Around the House www.bletsch.net).
Whenever you make a major purchase, such as a television or a computer, add it to your inventory list. Otherwise, you may not have insurance coverage for that item. It’s a good idea to revisit your personal effects inventory once a year to verify that you have adequate coverage, even if you haven’t made a major purchase within that year.
Once you complete the inventory, check your insurance coverage. Does your insurance cover replacement costs for the items listed, or will it only pay for the current value after depreciation? Do you have adequate coverage on jewelry, firearms, electronics, and special collections? Will your losses be covered in the event of a natural disaster such as a flood or an earthquake?
The amount of coverage for personal effects varies between insurance carriers. However, according to Alan W. Gilbert, president of Gilbert RV Insurance Inc., C6163, “If an RVer needs more personal effects coverage, the coverage may be increased to suit the customer’s needs.” Ms. Corscadden notes that the majority of RV specialty insurance carriers charge approximately $10 for every additional $1,000 of personal contents coverage. In any case, it would be wise to check with your insurance provider after you’ve completed your inventory to determine whether you have enough coverage or whether it needs to be increased.
Store inventory documents offsite
“Don’t keep your original inventory and supporting documents in your RV,” cautioned Monique Thibodeaux, marketing manager for RV Alliance America.
Ms. Thibodeaux suggests storing the original inventory, videotape, or photos at a friend’s or relative’s home or in a safety deposit box, and keeping a copy of the list in your motorhome. You don’t want to spend precious time creating an inventory only to have it disappear with your motorhome.
When a loss occurs, most people aren’t prepared to deal with it. One man, who wished to remain anonymous, took a full year to remember the full contents of his RV after it was stolen. His anxiety didn’t let up the entire time. So, why not take an hour or two now to complete an inventory of your motorhome? You may save yourself days or even months of anguish later.
“We all believe that accidents won’t happen to us,” said Mr. Gilbert. “It is human nature to procrastinate; to wait until the last minute even though we don’t know when that last minute will be. Then what should have been a low-stress relief turns into a needless ordeal.”