DennisBeaverMarch 28, 2009 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver

“Several months ago our house was destroyed in a fire. Before this, we had no idea of the emotional damage a fire can cause, not to mention the monumental task of putting together an insurance claim,” Wendy, a Ventura reader wrote in an e-mail.

“While the insurance company was very good about promptly helping us find a contractor to re-build the structure, our claim for loss of contents is dragging on. The problem we face is proving what was in the house. Fortunately we had a replacement coverage policy, but the challenge is in convincing the claims adjuster that we owned the things we claim to have been lost in the fire.”

“We have read your column for years, and feel that a real service could be done if you write about this issue. Very few people ever think of how to properly document their possessions in a home or business. This was something my husband and I had discussed, but never got around to doing.”

Wendy and her husband are not alone in thinking about doing a home inventory … even some of the nations greatest legal minds (me, for example) are just as guilty. But not any longer, as I learned recently. Using a digital still camera is one way, but that will take you forever. Far easier and more complete is to make a digital home inventory video.

If you are like a lot of people, a bit intimidated by overly complex digital camcorders — and the hassle of downloading to your computer — there’s a new one on the market that’s incredibly simple to operate, which I had a chance to test recently.

“Your reader is in the same situation as so many people who go through a hurricane or tornado. Their structure and contents are completely destroyed or strewn all over the place. Trying to remember exactly what was in the dwelling — furnishings, clothing, appliances, home electronics — how old they were, brand, condition, it is a monumental task,” Ray Stone of Travelers Insurance told me when we discussed my reader’s question.

Ray is vice president of Catastrophe Operations, at Travelers headquarters in Hartford, Conn. He is a 35-year veteran of what the Travelers refers to as catastrophe management.

“You are in a state of shock. If no one is hurt, you have just lost your home — the most important investment of your life — plus all those things which gave meaning to life in that home. It is a tragedy beyond words, and if you add to that possible loss of life or injury, then putting together a home inventory at that time can simply be well beyond what many people are emotionally able to do,” he points out.

However, there is more to a home inventory video than merely walking through the house taking pictures. “Using today’s technology permits capturing better detail than in the past, but even the best video camera in the world is no substitute for thinking through what to shoot before you begin,” Scott Kabat, director of marketing at Pure Digital Technologies in San Francisco maintains.

His company manufactures an amazing little video camera called the Flip Mino HD, half the size of a deck of cards and incredibly easy to use.

Travelers Ray Stone pointed out that, “merely standing in a doorway, taking a fuzzy photo may not help a great deal; capturing the details of what you own is your goal, and then saving it in a safe place. But for many people, some video cameras are far too complicated to use.”

Kabat agrees with that statement, adding, “Market research has shown that traditional camcorders tend to be complicated to use, and often, once you shoot that video, it is difficult to share online or archive it. The more difficult to store, or burn to a DVD, we have found that consumers simply are overwhelmed.”

Customers told researchers they wanted a point and shoot video camera — push one button — later connect it to your computer, and within minutes, it’s all downloaded — with the software in the camera. That’s what our Flip Mino line of pocket videos does.”

It does indeed. In less than an hour I was able to shoot exterior and detailed contents video of my office, download it to my computer with one mouse click and burn a DVD with another.

Both Ray at Travelers and Scott from Pure Digital Technologies offered these suggestions on how to best create your home inventory:

(1) Take photos in four directions, from each corner of the room, so that all items visible are captured. To minimize hand shake, consider using a tripod.

(2) You need clear, good resolution, the highest your camera allows, and plenty light. HD video is a good choice.

(3) Methodically go room to room, orally describing everything in the room, opening drawers, closets, item by item in as much detail as possible.

(4) While it is not necessary to take photos of each item of clothing, this can’t hurt. But do have detailed shots of expensive clothing items, such as furs, jewelry, purses, suits, expensive scarves.

(5) It is important to have family members in those videos. This establishes validity — that it actually is your residence. It’s a good idea to take a video of the outside of the property, and to walk the grounds, camera running, describing everything you see.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.