Re: CoHo Condo Fees
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Sun, 15 Mar 2015 07:20:43 -0700 (PDT)
> On Mar 13, 2015, at 11:38 PM, Katie Henry <katie-henry [at]> wrote:
> I wonder how early a reserve study could be conducted. In the real (non-coho) 
> world, reserve studies take place after the building is mostly completed and 
> occupied and a board has been chosen. I think it would be useful to break it 
> into two phases. Do the first part at, say, 75% complete, which would cover 
> the major structural/mechanical/electrical/plumbing elements, then do the 
> rest after move-in when all the furnishings and finishes are in place. This 
> would give the future residents better numbers for budgeting sooner in the 
> process. This probably doesn't make sense in the real world, since the 
> developer and construction company aren't going to want some outside guy 
> sniffing around the project pointing out defects. But in coho, you could do 
> it by hiring a construction advocate to monitor construction and also do the 
> reserve study, which is what we did, but just start the reserve study sooner.

Exactly. Also in a normal development the developer will not be the owner or 
resident. Even when a cohousing group is working with a developer they often 
have a more vested interest on the design and future functioning than in a 
commercial building. Cohousers are more idealistic and more DIY tendencies. A 
resident here calls it Yankee-Do.

During construction, you can collect the information necessary for the reserve 
study and for proper maintenance. We have "closeout binders" the architect left 
with all the manuals, invoices, instruction sheets, vendors, etc. for all our 
construction materials, equipment, and furnishings. It has been an invaluable 
resource, particularly after 15 years and we are replacing many things. 

It helps enormously to know what you have and where to find it, or how to avoid 
in the replacement. I used it last week to find the data on our windows. Who 
made them? Are they all the same? Are the CH windows different from the unit 

We have had two reserve studies done by a fabulous architect who itemized 
things so well we can use it to maintain facilities. We know what size or power 
mechanical things are and how many linear feet of wood fence of steel. How many 
sump pumps. Present cost, useful life, projected cost at replacement. 
Theoretically projected over 100 years. To be updated every 3-5 years.

It's incredibly useful to know all of that in a moment when sitting in a 
meeting or when in an emergency a plumber quotes a price for a sewage ejector 
pump and you have no idea whether that is reasonable or not.

Then we had a reserve study done where the guy went around taking pictures and 
used round figures based on previous studies and projected over 30 years.

By starting before you move in, rather than a year later, you can keep track of 
the detailed information. And will answer the question asked that started this 
discussion, a better idea of what your condo fees should be. Reserves are a 
very large part of those fees.

Most of us are used to either paying rent or making house payments. And saving 
for what we know we want to change. We take a second mortgage if there is a 
disaster. In a large multifamily building, more is required to protect capital 
investment (the value of the home) and not sink because no one can afford to 
pay for the new siding when 40,000 SF is found to be disintegrating after 20 
years instead of the projected 80.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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