What is a Reserve Specialist in an HOA?
Common areas in a homeowner’s association (HOA) normally include plenty of machines and systems that need replacing every so often. Money set aside for this is known as a reserve fund.
The reserve specialist assesses the current conditions of these items. They estimate when replacement will be needed, and how much it’ll cost. This gives the HOA a roadmap for future funding and budget considerations.
Most states have some kind of law requiring that the HOAs have a system for reserve funding, even if they don’t specify a balance or amount. As GrandManors notes, it’s a great idea for the HOA to have funds in reserve even when there’s no legal requirement.
As a member of the Board, you don’t want to have to deal with angry residents when replacement time arrives, and there’s no money allocated for it. Without a reserve fund, the HOA would have to collect extra money from its homeowners. Causing relationships and property values to go down in the community.
Obviously, you want to prevent this from occurring as best you can. Regularly hiring a specialist to assess your situation can help you ensure that enough money will be available when necessary.
Some states, such as California, require the homeowner’s association to have a reserve study completed each year. The study analyzes the capital items of the association. It provides a timeline for estimated useful life and the cost of replacement.
Even if your state doesn’t require it, this is a very useful tool for managing your association’s budget. The study allows the HOA to plan how much money should be set aside for reserves. The “percent funded” metric shows how much of the estimated replacements will be covered by the reserve fund.
The Board can then project how much needs to be contributed to the fund for the year.
As Association Bridge LLC says, there are really two parts to the study. One is the physical analysis, which evaluates the remaining useful life of an item. The financial analysis is the second, where the reserve specialist who analyzes the community goes into financial detail.
This person is the one who will perform your reserve study. You want an expert who will be pretty accurate in their estimates of time and money. It’s not possible to determine the future costs of things with total accuracy.
A professional, certified specialist provides you a detailed report that your HOA can use to map out funding for the future. Without a reasonable estimate, you might still end up with an underfunded pool of reserve money. Per Association Reserves, you might need to take out loans or special assessments in order to address any shortfalls.
In order to be certified, the specialist has to meet certain standards of experience, education, work product, and have good references. The designation is issued by Community Associations Institute, which guides HOA Boards all across the country.
They will help your Board put together a funding plan, with charts and illustrations for the multi-year projections. Everyone on the Board needs to understand why the money should be set aside.
It’s important to remember your reserve specialist won’t be performing engineering analysis. They don’t open up the walls or dig through to the pipes.
Setting Up For Success
Given the scope of their work, there are some costs they might not be able to estimate. Especially if your specialist can’t see the issues, such as waterproofing under patios and parking lots. If you can provide them with this information upfront, they can give you a much more accurate estimate.
You’ll get a better estimate by communicating with your specialist about upcoming plans as well. For example, if you have wooden exterior items that require painting every few years to maintain the curb appeal of the association, you might want to replace them with lower-maintenance materials. This will cost more upfront. However, you’ll save money in the long run. If that’s your plan, let the specialist know.
Thinking strategically, you could bundle upcoming repairs at once. Doing everything at the same time reduces the costs. You don’t have to get everyone out there twice! You’ll need to inform your specialist, so they can properly account for it in the funding plan.
The more your reserve specialist knows about your property, the better!
Once the specialist completes the study, the association can then begin collecting bids for the work. A project manager could be your best bet for overseeing these major projects in a timely fashion.
Even if your state doesn’t require them, having a reserve study done prevents your association (and homeowners) from potentially nasty surprises down the line. There are certified reserve specialists who can give you reasonably accurate estimates for replacement time and cost.
The more information you can give the specialist, especially for systems they may not be able to see, the better the estimate. This allows you to plan the funding, so you may be able to avoid special assessments or taking out loans.