Taking Inventory: NBC Bay Area Stories Inspire Entrepreneur

A North Bay Woman Responds to NBC Bay Area Responds

Steven Smulewitz and Susan Small spend their working hours going through other people's private belongings.

In every room of a home, they document every possession, keeping careful track of what they find.

Opening kitchen drawers and rooting through closets might sound like an unusual way to make a living. But for the brother-and-sister team, it's a new venture expanding on their expertise.

"We've been running a bookkeeping business for about 20 years now," Smulewitz said.

After the North Bay wildfires of 2017, Small came up with the idea for a new business: helping homeowners document their property. Small saw the series of NBC Bay Area reports explaining how many fire victims' insurance providers were requiring a detailed list of every item that burned.

"It just broke my heart," Small said.

If homeowners didn't provide a contents list, their insurance payment could be cut by thousands of dollars.

"It struck me, really deeply," Small said. "It was inspiring."

That inspiration led Small to create VideoSafe. Small and Smulewitz's company will create a proactive list of contents for you, generating a detailed report you can store in the cloud for safe-keeping.

NBC Bay Area followed along as VideoSafe did a top-to-bottom inventory of a client's San Rafael home, in detail. Besides bigger items, like furniture and appliances, the VideoSafe team documents harder-to-replace items such as a music collection.

"There are 1,118 music CDs in these cabinets," Smulewitz said as he catalogued the discs.

The amount you'll pay for a home inventory varies. Small and Smulewitz see their fee as an investment, aimed at getting the maximum insurance payment, should disaster strike.

"On average, it's a dollar per square foot," Small said. "That's worth it."

The insurance industry has told us inventory lists help prevent fraud, and make for faster payments overall. Small and Smulewitz noted other possible uses for a home inventory: estate planning and divorces.

You can do an inventory yourself, too. Several free smartphone apps can help, and your insurance provider may offer an app of its own.

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