A Reserve Study is the art and science of anticipating and preparing for major common area repair and replacement expenses. A Reserve Study allows the persons responsible for any property to offset the ongoing deterioration of the property’s components with Reserve Funds to ensure their timely repair or replacement. A well-crafted Reserve Funding plan will ensure that irregular Reserve expenses are offset by ongoing, regular Reserve contributions, avoiding the need for alternate forms of additional funding.
Special Assessment is a term used in Association-governed communities to describe a temporary, unplanned financial assessment levied upon the members of an Association on the basis of a membership vote. A special assessment can be a single lump sum demand by the Association, or collected in multiple payments.
Sometimes the need for a special assessment comes about due to misfortune (to meet a large insurance deductible or a non-insured loss), but most of the time Special Assessments are adopted to compensate for poor financial planning (i.e., failing to set aside sufficient funds in advance for predictable reserve expenses). Funding reserves through special assessments should be avoided because they unfairly penalize one unlucky set of Association owners at a particular point in time.
The Governing Documents of most Association-governed communities require the Board of Directors to set aside an “appropriate” amount of money on a regular basis to offset the ongoing deterioration of the common areas. But regardless of property type, all physical assets deteriorate with time and most of the “major” components at a property will require repair or replacement in a predictable manner. A credible, current Reserve Study makes it possible to prepare well in advance for these inevitable expenses, spreading out the reserve contributions evenly over time, rather than funding reserves through outside funding sources like special assessments, capital campaigns, or loans.
National Reserve Study Standards were established in 1998 by the Community Associations Institute (CAI) to provide consistent terminology, standardize the levels of Reserve Study services, create a common set of disclosures within the Reserve Study, and establish a Reserve Specialist (RS) credential program.
Reserve Specialist (RS) is a certification created by the Community Associations Institute to improve the quality of Reserve Studies. The RS designation is achieved through an application process that involves a 5 part review of each applicant’s:
Background (demonstrating minimum educational criteria)Experience (demonstrating minimum Reserve Study experience)Sample Work Product (demonstrating minimum reporting requirements)References (minimum of 5 clients)
Every Reserve Study provides three key pieces of information, useful for both annual budget planning and disclosure purposes. The results are part of National Reserve Study Standards:
What you are reserving for (also known as the Component List)Strength of the Reserve Fund (also known as Percent Funded)Recommended Funding Plan
Since a Reserve Study is a budget planning tool, most properties start the process by soliciting a Reserve Study proposal six or more months in advance of their Fiscal Year (FY) End. This gives the Leadership at the property a month or two to select a Reserve Specialist, a month or two to get the Reserve Study done, a month to review the completed report, and sufficient time to incorporate the funding recommendations into the budget for the upcoming Fiscal Year.
There are six factors that determine the cost of a Reserve Study:
Level of ServiceComplexity of PropertySize of Property (# units, # buildings, acreage, etal)Location of Property (for site inspection- based Reserve Studies)Time of Year (busy-season or off-season)*Turnaround Time
* Reserve Studies are prepared in advance of the Fiscal Year. Since most properties operate on a Dec 31 Fiscal Year End, “off-season”for Reserve Specialists generally means Jan-May while “busy-season” generally means Jun-Dec.
A Reserve Fund balance that is adequate for one Property is not necessarily adequate for another. But when a Property’s actual Reserves on hand are compared to its computed Reserve requirements, a relative measuring scale called “Percent Funded” is established. This relative Reserve Fund strength measurement is now part of National Reserve Study Standards and independent of the funding (i.e., cash flow, straight line, etc.) method used.
% Funded = Reserve Fund Balance (actual)/Fully Funded Balance (computed)
The Fully Funded Balance (FFB) is computed by multiplying the current replacement cost of each component by its fraction of life “used up” and summing them all together
% Funded = 100% (i.e., ideal) when the Reserve Fund Balance (actual) is equal to the Fully Funded Balance (computed)