Your Reserve Study...Needs HELP < CLICK TO EXPAND 👆 >

Mister Rogers taught us long ago about what’s real and what’s pretend.  Most reserve studies pretend to be accurate and homeowners pay the price.  Expand this section and click through to read Reserve Judgment.

Special assessments to fund failing infrastructure offer a reality check, but why do associations ignore obvious errors for decades at a time?  Reserve Judgment from CIC Info Byes Issue #64 highlights one reason reserve studies aren’t accurate and The Myth of “Full Funding” includes 10 more.

Below is a snapshot of a reserve study for a condominium in Seattle, WA.  

2021 data are as presented by the reserve study firm.  2023 data updated by a brief SMAARTE Group reserve study tune-up.

​EXAMPLE Reserve Study Component Comparison - SMAARTE Group

Reserve funding, reserve studies and property infrastructure go hand-in-hand.

A Reserve Study amortizes funding expenses over time so that current owners are not unfairly burdened with the responsibility to pay for the maintenance, repair and replacement of components (regardless of cost) that have a useful life beyond one year.  Why debate the fairness factor?  If component XYZ needs to be maintained, repaired and/or replaced every 2 years to 100 years, plan for it in your reserve study to amortize costs over the presumptive useful life of every component.  READ: Reserve Funding Strategies

WHAT belongs in a reserve study?  

Start with your state statutes, but remember that there are certain guiding principles (see above) that make sense for every community.  Three out of four four Washington State CIC statutes dictate that reserve studies should or must (!) include components with a cost exceeding 1% of the association's annual budget:

A reserve component list, including any reserve component, the replacement cost of which exceeds one percent (1%) of the annual budget of the association, excluding contributions to the reserves for that reserve component.  If one of these reserve components is not included in the reserve study, the study should/must explain the basis for its exclusion.  The study must also include quantities and estimates for the useful life of each reserve component, the remaining useful life of each reserve component, and current major replacement costs for each reserve component ... AND MORE

In preparing a reserve study, the association shall estimate the anticipated major maintenance, repair, and replacement costs, whose infrequent and significant nature make them impractical to be included in an annual budget.

DEFINED: WHAT AREN'T reserve expenses?

DEFINED: WHAT ARE reserve expenses?

N.B. The expense does not have to be "predictable." For example, generators and common piping are often omitted from reserve studies.  The fact that there is a lack of consensus about when or if these items will reliably require inspection, maintenance, repair and/or replacement does not obviate them from being included in a reserve study.  Failure to include common piping has resulted in many multi-million dollar special assessments.

N.B.  The expense does not have to be "significant" or more than 1% of your annual operating budget.  "Significant" and "material" and other such words become discretionary judgements unless they are clearly defined by statute or your governing documents.  Quarrels have been had over less.  

20 items that are 0.5% of your operating budget add up to 10%.  10x $3,000 items = $30,000.  Oh, and is that 1% in current dollar terms or inflated 20 years from now?  Oh and what if your estimate of the replacement cost is off by 1,000%?

How are you tracking the need to maintain, repair and replace something every 5 to 10 years if the component isn't listed in your reserve study?  And how are future owners expected to budget for it?

For all the reasons above and more, put every less than annual expense to maintain, repair and replace components in your reserve study.  This is the ONLY way to ensure: 1) continuity for reasonable, reliable, tracking and 2) equity of reserving for expenses over time.

Common expenses are defined by statute and your declaration / CC&Rs and generally benefit more than one unit.

Reserve Study Critical Reminder for WA State CICs

Is your CIC located in WA state?  Please read this reserve study critical reminder.

Have you transformed your reserve study into a living document?

READ: The Prevention Plan

Over 10 States REQUIRE Reserve Studies and/or Reserve Funding

$$$ How can your CIC spend your reserve funds? $$$

Start with your state statutesThree different Washington State CIC statutes provide the language below.  Reserve funds are intended to be expended specifically for maintenance, repair and replacement activities, NOT for capital improvements (BUT you can often borrow from your reserve funds with a specified repayment schedule).  Reserve studies do not contemplate capital improvements as part of their over-time funding and expense algorithms.

WA: RCW 64.34.384 + RCW 64.90.540

An association may withdraw funds from the association's reserve account to pay for unforeseen or unbudgeted costs that are unrelated to replacement costs of the reserve components. Any such withdrawal must be recorded in the minute books of the association. The board must give notice of any such withdrawal to each unit owner and adopt a repayment schedule not to exceed twenty-four months unless the board determines that repayment within twenty-four months would impose an unreasonable burden on the unit owners.

The board must provide to unit owners along with the annual budget adopted in accordance with RCW 64.90.525 (a) notice of any such withdrawal, (b) a statement of the current deficiency in reserve funding expressed on a per unit basis, and (c) the repayment plan.

Payment for major maintenance, repair, or replacement of the reserve components out of cycle with the reserve study projections or not included in the reserve study may be made from the reserve account without meeting the notification or repayment requirements under this section.

CA Civil Code §5510 and §5515

The board may withdraw funds from the reserve account without satisfying the notification of repayment requirements under this section to pay for replacement costs of reserve components not included in the reserve study.

Florida Condominium Act - 718.112(2)(f)(3)

Reserve funds and any interest accruing thereon shall remain in the reserve account or accounts, and may be used only for authorized reserve expenditures unless their use for other purposes is approved in advance by a majority vote at a duly called meeting of the association...

Why would an association use reserve funds for items not contemplated in the reserve study?  

Do you have volunteers involved in your reserve study update process?

Volunteer participation is absolutely essential!  In Washington State, reserve study vendors are statutorily indemnified from being held accountable for providing inaccurate information.  CICs with volunteer involvement have consistently expressed more confidence in the information their reserve studies contain.  40% of CICs have volunteers who dedicate time annually to their reserve study updates.  View the 2021 CIC Reserve Questionnaire.

Many nonsensical comments over the years contend that"reserve studies are just tools" as a way to justify woefully inaccurate data related to cost and useful life.  Having to complete a project 5 years early or at 10% to over 1,000% more cost is material in many cases.  

If your CIC's major component replacement costs $5MM instead of $3MM (or if you've excluded that component from your reserve calculations) most organizations don't have the additional $2MM capital available to make it work.  Special assessments can be avoided by applying proper planning and additional effort from reasonable people looking at the data.  It does not require a certification or degree or expertise in any specific field to make a measurable difference in your reserve study.   View the difference below from 2013 to 2021.

VIEW Decision-Making 101

Impact of Volunteer Involvement on a Reserve Study

Impact of volunteer involvement on a reserve study


Reserve Study Lessons Learned (RSWG) - 2021
Reserve Study Calculator

Predicting the future isn't easy, but this reserve calculator with industry-standard calculations does most of the hard work for you!


N.B. This reserve calculator is not a replacement for hiring a reserve study vendor.  |  File > Save As > Download a Copy  |  Requires Excel 2016+

>>> If you're interested in a more robust reserve tool, please check out UPlanIt by Association Reserves. <<<

Reserve Calculator
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