By Gary Porter, RS, PRA and David McDermott, AIA

Three relatively similar services are frequently provided to communities within the homeowners’ association industry. Because there is still some confusion over what each service represents, an Association can occasionally have expectations that far exceed the scope of a reserve study (the most superficial of the three services).

The three services are the reserve study, the insurance valuation (or appraisal), and the PCA( or property condition assessment, also known as the project condition assessment). In certain parts of the country, the reserve study is also typically referred to as an “engineering study,” which further adds to the confusion, as it implies a level of service not contemplated by a reserve study but more suggestive of a PCA.

What distinguishes these three separate services are their purpose, the methodology used in compiling the data, and the data presented in the final report.

The reserve study report is a budgetary tool based on a physical evaluation of the replaceable common area components of the Association. The purpose is to prepare a financial forecast( normally for a 30-year period) of future expenditures, and to understand the required reserve contributions to fund these future expenditures. In a condominium Association, replacement of the condominium structure itself is generally an excluded component, as it is considered to be a lifetime structure. However, painting of exterior walls, possible replacement of siding, ad roofing replacement would be included in the reserve study, as they represent the major replaceable components that are part of the condominium structure. The reserve study is based on future replacement costs.

The insurance appraisal report is a valuation service of all of the common area components of the Association. This list of common area components will necessarily include a number of items that are not considered in the reserve study. The purpose is to determine the overall insurable values of the property, to make sure that the Association is carrying adequate insurance. For purposes of the insurance valuation report for a condominium project, the condominium structure is the single highest cost item included within the study. Rather than evaluating each of the separate components of that building (ie, building envelope, roofing, mechanical equipment, etc.), the insurance valuation is generally based on a cost per square foot for replacement of the type of construction used in the project. The insurance valuation report looks at current replacement costs as the basis of the valuation.

The property condition assessment (PCA) report is an overall evaluation of the physical property that results in a report to help interested parties understand the condition of the property. The PCA report should generally include the following elements, presented in a clear and easily understood format:

  • Summary of the property’s visible components, including site development /landscaping, exterior envelope, structural elements, interior finishes, equipment and systems, and handicap accessibility compliance
  • Details of any physical defects or damage discovered during the property inspection
  • Identification of any maintenance deficiencies
  • Estimate of costs for correcting observed deficiencies
  • Quality of workmanship
  • Quality of construction materials used
  • Statement of the terms and conditions of the report

The PCA can be viewed as a blend of both the reserve study report and the insurance valuation report.

First, like the insurance appraisal report, it considers all components of the property, not just the replaceable components. But unlike the insurance appraisal report, it does not attempt to arrive at an overall valuation for replacement of the project. The PCA is based upon current costs.

Second, like the reserve study, it should identify physical defects or damages observed, and provide an estimate of the cost for correcting the deficiencies noted. The PCA does not use future costs. Contact names and numbers of vendors supplying systems maintenance and replacement are usually included in the PCA.

What are the benefits of a PCA? It provides an expert evaluation of the quality of construction and the integrity of the related building systems, and identifies necessary repair costs to bring the project to a normal condition. Readers of the PCA report are thus provided the information they need to make critical decisions. For commercial real estate transactions, the PCA is very important to lenders and investors related to the potential purchase of real estate. Insurance underwriters use the report for setting rates. Within the homeowners’ association industry, the PCA may often be a guide to determining the scope of future repairs and possible replacement with alternative products. In a more extreme example (and we've seen this happen more than once), it may help the Association board of directors determine whether a particular building is salvageable through repairs, or whether it should be torn down and replaced. We have seen 40-year-old clubhouses that were not adequately maintained razed and replaced with new, multi-million dollar clubhouses. In some associations, aesthetic values also weigh heavily on such decisions.

Providers of PCA services are generally architects, engineers, or contractors that have extensive construction knowledge. It is necessary for the provider of the service to have an understanding of the latest industry standards on structural components. Familiarity with construction products and materials and knowledge of mechanical equipment, fire protection (such as sprinkler / alarm systems), lighting, and other interior systems are also important.

While it is desirable for a reserve study provider to have that same level of knowledge, the reserve study is a budgetary tool and as such, is a more superficial analysis that does not require the same level of knowledge. The reserve study report should be a reflection of the Association’s maintenance plan. Therefore, far more reliance is placed upon the knowledge of the Association’s operating and reserve maintenance activities, as well as interaction with the vendors that supply those services.