Buying your First Home in Door County (or anywhere else)

Real Estate Agent with The Kellstrom Ray Agency, Inc. (Est. 1948)

There is something so incredible about buying your first home--the incredible freedom of choice and answering to yourself (not a landlord).  All the big firsts: your first family dinner/barbecue.  Your first fire outside with family and friends.  Your first swing set or trampoline for the kiddos.  Your first decorating for the holidays (any holiday!). Putting up a bird feeder and greeting "your" birds.  Not having to get permission to get a new pet or to paint your trim (and painting it any color you want!).

I remember buying my first home as if it were yesterday.  Actually, we bought a vacant lot and then built our first home (a process we repeated a few years ago).  We did this because there was very little affordable inventory in the area for first-time home buyers--similar to our market today (although land is now much more costly than it was then). I will never forget the excitement of moving into the first home that was really and truly my own!

I was in my mid-20s and interest rates were even higher than they are right now (ouch, that aged me).  Renting was really no longer an option as we had just had our second daughter and it was time to have a space (and a yard) that we could call our own.  That was such an exciting time.  I came from a legal background after college, so the contract paperwork didn't scare me (and there was a LOT of paperwork)--but the bank work was daunting.  I can see how someone might find these experiences a very intimidating process, so I think it helps me to think back on my own experiences when I work with my own first-time home buyers--there is certainly a LOT to learn.  I had my first appraisal, and it was the first time I realized just how important a credit score was (other than for getting a credit card or a new car).  Working with our agent to buy the land had its ups and downs--the first thing we discovered was that the property was represented by its advertising  to have electricity--and it did not.  However, it did have sewer and water---a rarity in northern Door County.  And then the Seller made good on extending electricity to the site, so we felt so, so lucky.

Will your first home need improvements or repairs?

Will you budget for services or do minor things, like painting, yourself?

Door County First Home Buyers

The road we lived on, just outside of Sister Bay, wasn't even paved when we bought and built there (that would take a few years for the Town of Liberty Grove to complete, after more houses were built).  I loved that location and now only live three miles away from where I built my first home over 20 years ago.  Door County is a wonderful place; I've called it home for a very long time, and I love to introduce others to our communities.  

When you're buying your first home (whether it is in Door County or not), you have to remember some things, and a good agent or broker should help you.

1.  Consider utilities.  We had public sewer and water when we built, and we considered ourselves very fortunate, but those costs have increased dramatically in our community over the past 3-5 years.  In retrospect, for a build in Door County, a private system may cost more up front but cost you far less in the long run, especially if you have extensive landscaping.  What about internet?  Will it be sufficient where you are living for what you want to do (not all areas of Door County have broadband or fiber as for this writing (yet))?  Remember that these costs go up, not down, so keep these monthly costs in mind as a part of your budget.  

2.  Consider your credit.  Surprise credit issues do not only happen to first-time home buyers!  I had some very savvy buyers that had multiple homes, but had just purchased a new car AFTER applying for a mortgage.  That is a BIG credit NO:  hold off on any big purchases until AFTER your closing in order to avoid credit surprises.

3.  Consider learning about and obtaining more information on housing resources.  The Door County Board of REALTORS holds a semi-annual seminar for first-time home buyers in conjunction with our lenders and other partners, including WHEDA (the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority).  Also, remember that there are also programs where you don't need 20% down (private mortgage insurance may come into play) and other resources.  Ask your agent to give sources for more information on assistance for first-time homebuyers.  

4.  Don't forget little extras, like budgeting for repairs, insurance and other things.  This is another area where a skilled agent or broker can help with negotiation.  Even in a tight market, they'll discuss the pros and cons of home inspections, appraisal contingencies and other items that you should have a working knowledge of as a home buyer.  The last few years have seen many of these contingencies dropped in a super-hot housing market, but sometimes it is better NOT to get that first house (even if you think it's your dream house) if it's going to turn into a money pit that you cannot afford after a few years.

5.  Your agent or broker can give suggestions about local lenders with experience for all stages of the Buying process.  Don't immediately go online to just anyone, and remember--a hard credit pull will have an impact on your credit, so discuss your situation with a lender before you do ANY application where they will be pulling your credit.  

My first time buying a home is something I remember with a lot of pride and joy.  We moved in just before Christmas and it was so much fun to have a big tree in our new house (coming from a 2 bedroom apartment with 4 people).  Spring was a different matter--lots of mud, because they can't landscape in winter.  The first thing we had to do was plant grass!  We did our own landscaping over the years, and that would help me develop a lifetime hobby of loving to garden and watch things grow.  Also, remember that other than the City of Sturgeon Bay, Door County is mostly comprised of rural towns and villages.  I can help you know the differences between each one.  We got lucky to find an improved lot for our first home--if you want to build your first Door County home, we will discuss the infrastructure of each town and village and what services are available in which areas. 


Door County Fixer-Uppers

I would be so honored to help you first your first new home!  I have been lucky enought to help many first-time home buyers in my career.  Home ownership has consistently been the path to financial stability and the American Dream, and I want to help.  Whether you're buying your first Door County home or your third, I can help.  Like your first boyfriend or girlfriend, your first car and your first real kiss, you will ALWAYS remember your first home purchase.  Visit to view current Door County homes for sale with me and the entire MLS, and I'd be delighted to help you on your buying-your-first home journey.  

Buying your First Home in Door County (or anywhere)Door County Homes with Fire Pits


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All information is deemed reliable as of date of publication only and is subject to change without notice.


Thank you for reading this Door County real estate blog!  MaryKay Shumway, ABR®, CRS®, Realtor® loves to laugh and her passion is working with people that love the Door Peninsula.  She is a full-time real estate Broker, a mother and a stepmother, loves dogs and serves as a senior Broker Associate at the Kellstrom-Ray Agency, Inc. in beautiful Sister Bay, Wisconsin.  MaryKay represents listings throughout the Door County peninsula and also represents many Buyers annually that want to purchase the perfect property to make Door County a part of their lives.  CONTACT MARYKAY ABOUT YOUR DOOR COUNTY PROPERTY QUESTIONS TODAY.

MaryKay Shumway has been an extremely consistent multi-million dollar MLS producer for over twenty years, as well as the top producing broker for The Kellstrom-Ray Agency, Inc. since she joined the firm in late 2015.  Representing both listing clients and buyer clients and cusomters full time, MaryKay is extremely active in the Door County community with nonprofit groups, the Door County Board of Realtors and in local governmental affairs.  A member of the Door County Board of Realtors Honors Society from 2005-2021 and now recipient of Excellence in Professionalism honors since 2022, she is a former Door County Realtor of the Year, a former member of The Real Estate Group's Chairman's Circle from 2010-2015, and a former member of the Coldwell Banker International Diamond Society for 2014 & 15.  She has served as President and President-Elect of the Door County Board of Realtors.  MaryKay is a top MLS producer and has held the position of top producer at The Kellstrom-Ray Agency, Inc. since 2016.

Contact MaryKay today.  "As a multi-million dollar producer and senior associate at The Kellstrom-Ray Agency selling Door County real estate, I focus my balance on both  featured listings in Door County and representing Buyer Clients looking for the perfect Door County Property.  I turn Door County vacations into Door County traditions by helping you own your own Door County real estate, and I represent exceptional properties in all price points on the Bay of Green Bay, Lake Michigan, and all inland lakes and properties in between. Local experience with GLOBAL connections.  Call, text or e-mail me today."

Comments (6)

Kathy Streib
Cypress, TX
Home Stager/Redesign

Hi MaryKay- thank you so much for participating in this month's challenge. Your experience in buying your first home is a huge help when working with your own buyers!!!

Apr 05, 2023 07:42 PM
Endre Barath, Jr.
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties - Beverly Hills, CA
Realtor - Los Angeles Home Sales 310.486.1002

Wow now what a story and yes we are aging ourselves when we say what interest rates were like..... may I say I bought my first home in 1984:)Endre

Apr 05, 2023 10:45 PM
Carol Williams
Although I'm retired, I love sharing my knowledge and learning from other real estate industry professionals. - Wenatchee, WA
Retired Agent / Broker / Prop. Mgr, Wenatchee, WA

Hi MaryKay,
I can't believe how many people go out and buy a car or furniture after pre-approval but before closing. Big No-No, indeed. Having a legal background was a big plus with all that paperwork.

Thanks so much for participating in our challenge!

Apr 06, 2023 04:00 AM
Michael Jacobs
Pasadena, CA
Los Angeles Pasadena 818.516.4393

Hello Mary Kay - even for those who may be well-prepared all kinds of things can (and do) happen.  After all, it's a "first" in many different ways.  

Apr 07, 2023 04:24 AM
Ed (Edward) Silva, 203-206-0754
Mapleridge Realty, CT 203-206-0754 - Waterbury, CT
Central CT Real Estate Broker Serving all equally

Building a home is exceptional and doing it as a first takes it to a different level. Nice story

Apr 10, 2023 07:17 AM
Pat Starnes-Front Gate Realty
Front Gate Real Estate - Brandon, MS
601-991-2900 Office; 601-278-4513 Cell

This is an excellent introduction for first time home buyers and a great entry for the challenge. Your photos are so beautiful! I love the Adirondack chairs by the fire at sunset. All you need is a glass of wine and perhaps a blanket.

Apr 23, 2023 06:12 PM