Burglarized! 4 Home Insurance Tips I Wish I Had Known

By Christian Hudspeth
December 06, 2011

You know those people who keep every store receipt and instruction manual nicely tucked away in a drawer or filing cabinet? 

Turns out, they've had the right idea all along.

Why do I bring this up? Because I learned it the hard way -- after I was burglarized.

Just last month, I went home for lunch break only to find my front door pried open with the lights left on. I stepped into our living room and looked to my right only to notice that our flat screen TV and our favorite video game systems were gone. Those, and an $1,800 Apple (NYSE: AAPL) MacBook Pro -- which we'll surely miss.

I'm an optimist, so at first I denied what was happening -- surely there had to be a logical explanation. Maybe my fiancée was furious about something I did and overreacted, taking all of our favorite things and moving out to her parent's house. Perhaps in her rage she simply forgot to shut the door? 

Then I came back to reality. I had been robbed. It's something that happens in alarm system commercials, but not something you'd ever think would actually happen to you.

So I want to share with you the four tips -- applicable to those with homeowners or renters insurance -- I wish I’d known before I was forced to make a personal belongings claim:

Home Insurance Tip #1: Have Enough Personal Belonging Coverage 

One good thing that came from this incident: It made me very glad that I paid my annoying renter's insurance premium every month.  

Many apartment complexes require tenants to buy renters' insurance after signing a lease to cover your apartment's belongings in case of a fire or burglary. Don't worry, it's fairly inexpensive and worth having when things go awry.

Depending on your neighborhood, you could find a renters' insurance policy for as little as $10 a month to cover $10,000 to $20,000 worth of personal belongings.

Homeowners can follow this advice as well: Don't sell yourself short if you need more personal belongings coverage. Think of all your computers, laptops, TVs, expensive electronics, jewelry, camera and music equipment, artwork and collectibles. How much are they all worth? That amount -- plus a little extra just in case -- is the amount of personal belonging coverage you should have. 

Home Insurance Tip #2: Make a Most-Valuable-Item List Right Now

Think of all the gadgets, trinkets and collectibles you own and start typing up your "most-valuable-items" list on a word document. Next to each item that you write down, list the amount you paid for the item. 

If it's an electronic device of any sort, write down the serial number (usually found either in the instruction manual or in small print next to a barcode or "SN" label on the device).

When it's completed, attach the document to an email and send it to yourself. Label the email something inconspicuous, like "Christmas 2009." Store the email in a new email folder for safekeeping.

There's a reason for all of this and it's not to waste your time. This list will help you in two ways:

1) In case your things are damaged or stolen, you'll be able to refer to the list to see which of your valuables are still there and which are not. 

2) You'll need to refer to the list if you file your insurance claim after a loss – it shows what might need to be replaced/repaired. The serial numbers are also valuable when filing a claim, as they let the insurance company know that you did actually buy the product and you aren't just making an early Christmas wish-list. 

[Be prepared for natural disasters: 7 Steps to Getting Your Home Insurance Claim Paid Fast]

Home Insurance Tip #3: Gather "Proof" of Purchase – Photos, Receipts and Instruction Manuals

When I filed my claim the day after the incident, I was asked by the insurance representative to list the items that I "claimed" to be stolen. Luckily, I had our list (like the one above) of things we knew were stolen before I called -- simple enough.

But as we were wrapping up the report, the representative asked me to provide "proof" that I owned the items. Proof? The items were stolen, how could I prove I had them in the first place?

  • Keep your receipts from now on; they show identifiable serial numbers, proof of purchase and the item's original value. 
     
  • Instruction manuals, as I learned, also act as proof of purchase, as they contain identifiable serial numbers for each of your items. Keep these in a shoebox or filing cabinet -- yes, you'll be like one of those super-organized people mentioned earlier, but it's for good reason. 
     
  • Finally, take digital photos of all of your pricey items, from electronics to furniture, and email them to yourself. If you just save the photos on your computer and that gets stolen, you’re out of luck. If you're less tech-savvy, physical photos stored in a drawer will work fine as well.

#-ad_banner_2-# Home Insurance Tip #4: Caught Unprepared? Other Ways to Find Proof of Purchase

I know. I used to toss many of my receipts too, before I learned. But lacking proof that you owned an item will make an insurance company hesitant to dole out a big claims check. 

In case you've already been burglarized or are otherwise unprepared (like we were), here are some last-minute places to find proof of purchase:

1) Check your email -- An online shopper can use "confirmation" emails as proof.

2) Look at your PayPal history -- Each transaction will show purchase information. 

3) Dig through drawers for old instruction manuals and product warranties.

4) Find photographs with the missing items shown -- a picture with you sitting on a couch that was stolen helps your case for a claim as well.

Think of any piece of evidence to support your claim that you owned that stolen item. The more evidence, the stronger your case and the more likely you are to receive a claims check for the amount you need to replace your items.

[Are you fully covered for other things that could go wrong? 5 Ways to Guarantee Your Home is Properly Insured]

The Investing Answer: Dealing with home or renters' insurance seems like a lot of hassle, but it's worth every penny when the unexpected happens. I'm glad the insurance company makes it this hard to claim a loss. If it were easy to do, there would be a lot more insurance-claim fraud -- and that would cause insurance premiums to be much higher for the rest of us.

Readers! We want to hear from you! Do you have any useful tips you would like to share on how to keep your home or apartment burglar proof? Any additional home insurance claims tips you'd like to share? Post your comments below!