With 25 years of experience in the mortgage industry, David Ruoff founded the Dave Ruoff Mortgage Co. in 1984 in Fort Wayne.
Over the years, the family-owned company, renamed Ruoff Mortgage, has expanded from that one location to 67 branches across Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, and Florida. It has been named the number one mortgage lender in Indiana and a six-time honoree of Inc. 5000’s Fastest Growing Private Companies in America list, employing more than 900 people in 2020
Despite the uncertainty of a global pandemic, Ruoff’s business continues to boom, and it could have big effects on Fort Wayne’s future in the form of a new corporate headquarters, as well as the rollout of generational wealth-building strategies.
Mark Music, David Ruoff's son-in-law and the company’s current CEO, says Ruoff Mortgage is on track to more than double its revenue from 2019 to 2020. As a result, Ruoff has hired nearly 300 employees this year alone at its corporate and branch offices, and there are plans to add about 200 more jobs in their online Consumer Direct division. Mark Music, CEO of Ruoff Mortgage
This rapid expansion is causing leaders like Music to re-evaluate the company’s longstanding plans to build its new corporate headquarters in downtown Fort Wayne due to space needs. Music says Ruoff plans to have a presence at Fort Wayne’s Electric Works campus, which is undergoing redevelopment, but the company is also pursuing other locations to accommodate its growth. For the time being, Music declines to say where these locations might be.
What he will say is the past two years have been terrific for his team. In 2019, Ruoff grossed more than $142 million in topline revenue, loaning out $2.765 billion. In 2020, the company will gross an estimated $340 million, loaning an estimated $5.4 billion.
“We felt that we would do better this year, but we didn’t have a clue that it was going to move the way it has moved,” he says.
One large factor contributing to the company’s success in 2020 is Fort Wayne and the nation’s booming housing market, which have only grown hotter during the pandemic. A large contributing factor to the hot housing market is historically low interest rates, which Music says started dropping in 2019 and continued to plunge during the pandemic.
“Anytime interest rates are lower, homes are more affordable,” he says. “The opportunity to refinance an existing loan is suddenly more attractive.”
Interest rates at historic lows also allow home buyers the opportunity to afford higher-priced homes than they could otherwise afford on their current income, Music adds.
“All other things being equal, it is a net positive for demand because typically a higher-priced home is also a ‘nicer’ home,” he says.
Ruoff originally planned to open its new corporate headquarters in downtown Fort Wayne, but it's now considering other options for its growing team.
But an influx of first-time homebuyers is also adding to the competition. During the past 12 to 15 years, millennials between the ages of 20 to 35 have pursued homeownership at historic low rates, Music says. That means, far fewer homes were built during that same time period. Now that aging millennials want to pursue homeownership at more traditional rates, it’s contributing to fierce competition for homes.
“Suddenly, the buying power associated with low interest rates that previously empowered homebuyers to acquire nicer homes is now used more to outbid competitive buyers,” he says. “This dilutes the affordability benefit created by lower interest rates.”
Looking back on 2020, Music believes the success of Ruoff Home Mortgage amidst a global pandemic is not merely connected to the dollars and cents of the industry. Instead, he feels it is directly tied to Ruoff’s culture, which is centered on customer satisfaction and employee engagement.
“We realize that the number one priority is really the employee experience,” Music says. “Employee satisfaction is the most critical driver. You can’t deliver phenomenal customer experiences if your people aren’t happy.”
Throughout a home buying and refinancing frenzy, Music and his team have been finding ways to celebrate wins with their staff. Several years ago, they began measuring customer satisfaction using a third-party survey. Music says the company has since used these surveys as a way to both hold employees accountable and to recognize those who are exceeding expectations.
“When people do well, they want to be recognized,” he says. “We also understand that there are a lot of other aspects to work life that are critical. Pay is very important for people, but they also want to know that the work they are doing is meaningful. We know where homeownership rates are higher, those communities tend to thrive and do better.”
As a result, Music and his team are on a mission to coach people in the Fort Wayne community on financial literacy and educate them on the value of homeownership. Part of this goal involves developing programs that will help potential homebuyers understand what needs to be done to position themselves to purchase a home, which can be foundational to building generational wealth.
“Homeownership is that fundamental, foundational sort of piece that is necessary for communities to thrive and do really well,” he says. “You get to create a foundation; you get to put some roots in the ground, and it’s a pretty significant net positive for families.”
These programs will start in Fort Wayne and expand to other cities throughout the Midwest.
“There’s nothing that brings more joy than seeing the pride that someone has when they get into their first home,” Music says.