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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Know Your Stuff, Home Inventory 3.0: a free program to aid in cataloging possessions
Article Type: Computer currency From: Journal of Consumer Marketing, Volume 25, Issue 3.
Edited by Dennis A. Pitta, University of Baltimore
The typical Computer currency column details the characteristics and benefits of hardware and software applicable to marketers. In contrast, we will focus on a program of value in our personal lives. The Internet currency piece in issue 2 of this volume details the characteristics and benefits of the Insurance Information Institute’s (III) web site and its unique offer of free software to help consumers to document the nature and scope of their home inventories for insurance purposes. When one thinks about the number of items a typical family in a developed economy owns it is impossible to remember the number, condition, serial number, as well as the original and replacement costs of everything. The few organized consumers with computer skills may use an Excel spreadsheet to list each item. Less organized consumers may use a ledger or sheets of paper as documentation. Most consumers have nothing that they can access to prove that they own what they own. In the case of a theft or disaster, they may reap less insurance coverage than they deserve since they cannot document the loss sufficiently.
Viewing the web site and learning the non-profit nature of the organization, prompted us to download a free copy and try it. The complete program name is: Know Your Stuff, Home Inventory 3.0 with Vault 24 Secure File Storage Technology (hereinafter called Home Inventory).
III states that this software will help users to create a room-by-room inventory of their home. Furthermore, the Institute points out that having an up-to-date home inventory will be helpful in three ways:
buying enough insurance to replace current possessions;
settling insurance claims faster; and
substantiating amounts for income tax casualty loss purposes.
The software suggests that after the inventory is finished, users should print out or save the inventory to a disk and store it for safekeeping. It also suggests giving a copy to a friend or family member to be stored away from the home address, so that the information will be available in an emergency.
Downloading the file from the III site is relatively speedy. Installation is downright fast. It took less than a minute to install the program, place a program icon on the desktop, and present a screen inviting the user to start the application.
Starting a new home inventory
Home inventory has a standard menu including a “new inventory” choice. The program supplies very basic and clear instructions. For example, to start a new inventory project, users are instructed to “click on the ‘New’ button at the top of the screen.” Doing so opens a wizard to guide users through the initial setup process.
When users choose to create a new inventory, they are forced to name the inventory and supply ownership information including name, property address, and telephone data. The program provides for users to enter up to five pictures of the property selected. The pictures can be exterior or interior and make communication with an agent or other party simpler. The next screen forces uses to identify their insurance company, policy number, insurance agent name, address and telephone number as well as the insurance company web site’s URL. When finished, users can review the data to insure its accuracy. That initial step represents more progress toward inventory control than most consumers accomplish.
The information is very useful and specific to cataloging possessions. One can imagine that in the event of an emergency, the information will allow prompt communication with the insurance company to speed claims processing.
The basic building block of Home Inventory is a room. Users can click on a “+Room” button to add a room. They can proceed room by room through their houses. The advice is to enter the names of each room and storage area in the house. That forms the inventory framework. One can delete a room using the “−Room” button, although it is difficult to imagine the need for doing so.
Immediately after they are named, each room is empty. Users are reminded that “You have not added any items to this room. If you would like to do so, please click on the ‘+Item’ button at the top of the screen.” The directions are certainly clear. Clicking on the “+Item” button reveals the program’s value. A number of windows allow easy choices. A screen appears bearing the room label, like Living Room. The room name is located in a pull down menu bearing all of the rooms a user has created. One may insert an image of an item in the room. There is a place for the image of a receipt or appraisal. Those two items together can establish the identity and value of the item. However, there are more choices for the item name and 27 different category descriptions in a pull down menu. Information items like date and place purchased, make and model, serial number and description are included. The most important piece of information is the number of items and replacement cost for each one round out the choices.
As users add more items in each room they can sort the items by cost: highest to lowest or lowest to highest. In addition, one can sort alphabetically or by purchase date.
Opening an existing home inventory
For users who have already started to create their home inventory and would like to open the file, the program instructs them to “click on the ‘Open’ button at the top of the screen.”
Searching the database
Perhaps the most important key allows item search. The search function requires an item name. In the case of multiple items, the search returns each one. Searching our test database was relatively speedy. In fairness, we must report that we entered only 25 items. They were actual property items that belonged to one of our technicians. It is possible that the search will slow when the database is very large but in a free program, the potential problem seems insignificant.
Home Inventory offers robust printing functionality. There are five useful printing options:
Household Summary, which includes household information, insurance information, additional financial information, a summary by room and a summary by category.
Detailed Inventory by Room, which includes detailed listing of items by room, thumbnail images, all details, the total number of items in the room and the total value of items in the room.
Detailed Inventory by Category, which includes a detailed listing by category, thumbnail images, all details, the total number of items in the room and the total value of items in the room.
Images, includes full-size images and item names and locations.
Receipts, includes full-size images of receipts and item names and locations.
The variety of printing options seems to meet all of the relevant insurance documentation needs one might have.
As mentioned in our companion Internet currency column, the program is linked with a Swiss-based databank providing geographical and electronic secure storage. Presumably the geographic security implies that tsunamis will not reach the altitude of the databank in Switzerland. Clicking on the program’s “Vault” button brings up a login screen requiring a user name and password. In addition, there is a statement to which users must agree:
Vault 24 is a third party storage service compatible with the Insurance Information Institute’s Know Your Stuff Home Inventory software. By clicking on the box below, you acknowledge that you wish to be connected to the Vault 24 Web site, and that the owner/operator of Vault 24 is solely responsible for the storage of your data as further described in our software license agreement.
After agreeing, users can create an account if they do not already have one. An internet link opens and brings the user to the Swiss-based web site. The first screen users see contains the statement:
Welcome to Vault 24, Secure Swiss Databank, a global data security resource for financial and inventory information. Vault 24 is designed to store critical information, such as Know Your Stuff Home Inventory files, on a secure server. This way, if your home is destroyed, you can access this information remotely 24/7.
The service seems ultra secure and offers three different levels of storage, each with a monthly fee. For those who need robust security, Vault 24 offers that and more. For the rest of us, storing the data at one or more distant locations offers redundancy and security.
Know Your Stuff, Home Inventory 3.0 with Vault 24 Secure File Storage Technology achieves its aim of aiding consumers in their use of insurance and protection of their property. It was created by a non-profit, industry association, and consumers should be grateful for what is a valuable gift.
Home Inventory provides a systematic method of verifying the value of personal possessions for insurance or tax purposes. It offers functionality that dwarfs alternatives like white-lined pads. In addition, is simpler to use than made from scratch spreadsheets. This is one piece of software that almost everyone should get.
System requirements: Home Inventory is available in both Windows and Apple operating systems.
Available from: The Insurance Information Institute (www.knowyourstuff.org).