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Keep tabs on your own property

My heart goes out to those who have lost their homes this past week. I am a resident of the evacuated Rose Valley subdivision. I am typing this in a hotel room on the night of July 21, hoping like heck that the evacuation order will be lifted soon.

It’s just an inconvenience for me, though. Perhaps I’m naive, but I don’t think that my home is in any real danger. If I thought that my home was really in harm’s way, I would be beside myself with anxiety.

Yes I am insured, but a home and its contents are so much more than assets. There are so many memories attached to the physical space and the stuff that fills that space. At least, with insurance, the loss should not be a financial one. I say “should not” for a reason. Ready for the broken record? Insurance companies do not exist to protect you.

Their shareholders would not tolerate such a mission. Just like every other corporate entity, their purpose is to generate profits. How does an insurance company generate profits? It isn’t by being generous. If there is a way to avoid paying a claim, it will take advantage of it.

I am not being judgmental—it’s a business fact. You need to do more than pay insurance premiums to have your assets financially protected. You need to take steps to ensure the insurance company is not given any excuse to avoid following through on its obligations.

Imagine sitting down after a fire loss with a pen and paper, trying to visualize the contents of all the rooms in your house, as well as the contents of every drawer, cupboard and shelf, and the contents of the boxes in your garage. Then imagine trying to prove to the insurance company that each of those items existed, and that each item had a particular condition and value. How much easier would that job be if you had taken 15 minutes before the fire loss and gone through your house with a camcorder or camera?

Make sure you protect that footage. With new digital storage technology, this is easy. Consider subscribing to an online back-up service. Perhaps save a copy on a friend’s computer. Put a copy in your evacuation kit. Repeat the exercise every so often as a lot of stuff accumulates over the course of a few months. Put a reminder in the calendar on your cell phone so that you remember to take that 15 minutes of footage every quarter.

As a litigation lawyer, I know first-hand how important it is to carefully document your assets before a fire loss. I’ve worked on a nightmare case where an insurance company denied the existence of tens of thousands of dollars worth of contents. In that case, there had been another opportunity to carefully document the contents after the fire, because it was not a total fire loss and hundreds of damaged items were taken away by a restoration company that had been hired by the insurance company.

The damaged contents had disappeared along with the lists the restoration company had promised to make of the items it was removing. I’ve seen the angry frustration of good people who wanted nothing more than fair compensation for their loss. It’s a common theme in my practice, even though I no longer take on fire insurance claims.

Car crash claimants face exactly the same frustration. Does it make sense for all of us to take 15 minutes of video of our lives before a car crash injury, just like it makes sense to take 15 minutes of video of our home and contents before a fire loss? Unfortunately, video is not as compelling in that context because you can’t see pain, or a lack of pain, in a video clip any more than you can in an x-ray, CT scan or MRI.

Don’t wait. Take 15 minutes today to document your home and contents. It may be the most valuable 15 minutes you ever spend.

Published July 26, 2009 in the Kelowna Capital News