Question: We recently got a professional reserve study done. Our budget committee took the information and plugged it into a spreadsheet that will allow us to postpone the need for a professional study revision. The substitute study changes some of the assumptions, like reducing the recommended reserve contribution and the inflation rate. By doing this, we can lower our annual contributions significantly.
Our reserve study provider has recommended annual updates. What are the pros and cons of updating the reserve study? How would we update our substitute study and how long could we use it and still be confident that it was fairly accurate?
Answer: Artificially manipulating the reserve study numbers to reduce contributions for current members is a violation of the fiduciary duty the board has to all members, current and future. When it comes to paying for major repairs and replacements (the main purpose of a reserve study), there is no free lunch. Shorting reserves today will require making up the shortfall later, usually by special assessment. Special assessments are always unfair to some because they are being required to pay for something that should have been paid for by owners that sold and are long gone.
The other mistake frequently made with reserves is failing to fund each component fully. An example of full funding is a $10,000 component with a 10 year useful life should have $1000 per year reserved to be fully funded. Reserving less than $1000 a year will create a shortfall which must be made up later. But since reserves often include money for long life components like roofing, there is an illusion that there is more money than needed to pay for things in the short term. Boards that fall into the trap convince themselves that reducing reserves by a third, or a half, or two thirds is just as good as full funding. Huh? New math?
In fairness to all members, current and future, and to eliminate special assessments which are unfair to those that have to pay them, full funding of reserves is the only reasonable approach.
Annual updates are critical to keeping a reserve study accurate. The cost of an annual no site inspection update is usually nominal. A site inspection update is highly recommended at least every three years to verify the condition and useful lives of the components.
You should stay out of manipulating the reserve study yourselves. It has obviously been a self-serving exercise so far that is bound to result in a significant short fall. You paid for an objective and professional reserve study and you should follow the recommendations.