In my years of working with restoration companies in the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Australia, one of the most common threads tying them together is that they all want to maximize their efficiencies, minimize their liabilities and offer savings to insurers.

However - there is a wide range of options for how companies can perform their inventory of contents. Some use handwritten inventories with a few photos, some use a digital photo inventory system and others use inventory software.

The benefit of having a photographic record of all items taken from a home or business should be obvious - to limit your liabilities. It is an uncomfortable situation to be accused of damaging or losing contents in our care, custody and control. How reassuring though when we have documentation that shows that the damage was pre-existing.

Here’s a real-life example of how photo documentation can save you time, money and your reputation. A few weeks after a client implemented a digital photo inventory system in his company, he called us with a situation. He was performing a partial pack-out on a water loss project when his company received a call that a house in which they had done water mitigation a few days earlier had caught fire overnight, and they were being held responsible.

It seems as though someone had leaned a painting up against the gas fireplace. The fireplace had an automatic timer and when it switched on, the painting caught fire and caused extensive soot damage throughout the home.

My client had done exactly what he had been taught, which was to take photos during the initial walk through and each day as they entered the jobsite. On examining their photos, one of the initial-walk-through shots showed the room with the fireplace. The photo clearly showed the painting leaning against the fireplace prior to the crew beginning any work in that area of the house.

As my client put it, “Relief doesn’t even begin to describe how we felt.” Without documentation, contractors have no options but to pay when those situations arise. Fortunately we have inventory systems which provide us with the documentation we need if we use it correctly. So what should you be looking for in an inventory system?

The purpose of an accurate inventory system is to:
  1. Document - pre-existing condition of contents, location and how they were positioned, etc.
  2. Track – from the home to your warehouse (or if they were left at the jobsite), where they are placed in the warehouse, and during pack back.
  3. Evaluate – whether contents are restorable or non-restorable, and the cost to clean vs. cost of replacement.

If a system accomplishes these three things, you will also want to consider:
  1. Do you want the system to fit your employees or your employees to fit the system? Consider factors such the native language of your technicians, life experience, any limitations of vocabulary and spelling; can they readily deploy the system you choose?
  2. Costs. Some contractors regularly get push back from adjusters regarding the costs associated with pack outs. Will the system you choose allow you to control the time involved?
  3. What is your budget? Factor in both the hard costs – hardware, software, etc. – and soft costs – training, the learning curve, implementation in the field.
  4. Does it contribute to an accurate writing of the scope? The parties involved in an insurance claim – the insured, the insurer and the restoration contractor – should all have an interest in an accurate inventory of restorable and non-restorable contents. Gauging that interest level is a consideration in determining how to proceed with an inventory.
Restoration contractors should want to provide as accurate an inventory as possible given the conditions and policy provisions on a loss. Homeowners, under the guidance of the contractor, should realize the benefit of having documentation of their possessions. With that in mind, evaluate the various inventory systems available to contractors today, and feel confident in determining which is the best fit for your company.