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Kellstrom-Ray Agency, Inc. celebrates 75 years

The independently-owned real estate firm was founded in1948

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July 25, 2023

DOOR COUNTY – Business longevity is no easy task.

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), around 66% of all new businesses make it to the two-year mark, and only half of all companies survive past five years.

Kellstrom-Ray Agency, Inc. – which has offices in Sister Bay and on Washington Island – has surpassed these numbers by decades.

The oldest, independently-owned real estate firm in all of Door County was founded in 1948 by the late Kermit and Marion Kellstrom.

In its longevity, the 75-year-old agency has changed leadership just three times – with Don and Kathy Ray purchasing it from Kermit and Marion Kellstrom and Heather Collins purchasing it from Don and Kathy Ray.

Collins – broker and current owner of Kellstrom-Ray Agency, Inc. – said she got her start in the real estate industry as a personal assistant with the original company 29 years ago – before becoming a fully-licensed agent.

There are many things about the industry Collins said personally appeal to her.

“(I enjoy) helping the buyers (through the process), bringing their dreams to fruition and seeing their excitement to be able to get to Door County,” she said.

Tenured knowledge
Collins said many of the Kellstrom-Ray agents in the office have been licensed for more than 40 years.

She said that solid history helps tee them up to be successful. 

“Not only have generations from the same family worked with generations of the owners of Kellstrom-Ray, but some of our agents have worked with the same clients many times throughout our careers,” she said. “This lends to (our) success as they remember the great past experience they have had with us.”

The allure of Door County, Collins said, makes selling real estate here a unique experience.

“It’s a different kind of excitement,” she said. “Up here, it is a little bit different given that this is primarily a second-home market. Some come up to Door County and don’t know what they want. Some come up looking for a condo and then end up buying land and building a home.”

Collins said a lot of the overall experience depends on how much homework clients have done before working with the Kellstrom-Ray Agency.

“Some people need a lot of input in terms of background and education about the area like Lake Michigan versus Green Bay,” she said.

Collins said she has seen significant changes in the buying and selling habits of clients over the years.

 “Years ago, when first starting, there was no internet and we would look up properties, mail out the MLS listings and clients would receive the information two weeks later,” she said. “Now, if you don’t answer a question promptly, they go somewhere else. The relationship isn’t developed as much as back then when we could assist them more. Plus, the marketing is so different now, too.”

Heather Collins

Given how unique the Door County residential real estate market is, Collins said one may expect the environment to be fiercely competitive.

Not the case, she said – describing the overall dynamic as friendly and cooperative. 

“That’s what you find in a small community,” she said. “A lot of our agents are born and raised up here and have lived here most of their lives. Everybody knows everybody – that can be hard sometimes, too, because clients don’t know who to work with.” 

However, overall, Collins said agencies have the same goal in mind.

“We want the seller to sell and be happy, and we want the buyer to buy and be happy,” she said. “Plus, we want the transaction to close efficiently so that it’s a win-win all the way around.”

COVID’s impact
Collins said, like many other businesses, whether considered essential or non-essential during the COVID-19 pandemic, Kellstrom-Ray Agency experienced some uncertain times.

“When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the first month or two… we were checking the phones to see if they were still working because they were so quiet,” she said. “Then the floodgates opened and the frenzy began. Everybody wanted to be in Door County. What used to be 10 listings for every buyer became 10 buyers for every listing. It was a classic situation of supply and demand.”

That frenetic pace, Collins said, may sound ideal for the real estate industry, however, it had its challenges. 

“It was both good and bad,” she said. “You’re working with the buyer, and they don’t win because there are many other offers and they don’t get their home or condo,” she said. “You don’t want to see that situation happen. There were so many factors out of our control during the pandemic.”

Rooted stability
Collins said the agency’s decades-long history provides a certain stability in a market that can be anything but stable.

In unstable times, she said, people look for rootedness. 

“The previous owners have great core values,” she said. “They gave back to the community and volunteered their time. Whether you donate your time or resources to an organization, people know and recognize and appreciate that. They want to pay back and take care of the community.”

The current Kellstrom-Ray team, Collins said, has created a “healthy spirit of collaboration.”

“We obviously know the area and know the history,” she said. “Some of us have ancestors that date back five generations to the founders of Ephraim or Washington Island. We consider ourselves a work family and help each other out. All of our agents are independent contractors who work well together managing life events like new babies, family emergencies or funerals. We cover for each other.”

Collins said the agency’s two prime locations also serve as beacons.

“One of our locations is in downtown Sister Bay, across from the marina and just north of Al Johnsons – two Door County landmarks that make it impossible to miss us,” she said. “People know us.”

In terms of challenges, Collins said the lack of listing inventory is the largest obstacle the Kellstrom-Ray Agency faces. 

“Inventory is down,” she said. “Every office has that challenge, too. In Door County, we are a little peninsula and are unique as we can’t expand. Many people have moved up here in the past couple of years. Many simply have nowhere to go as nothing is available.”

Collins said there is more to listing a house than driving a sign into a front yard.

“Seventy-five percent of those in Door County are from elsewhere, which is unique,” she said. “Our business is about real estate, but it goes well beyond that. There are many behind-the-scenes activities that take place before a closing – from the marketing, to the paperwork, to the negotiating.”

Purchasing real estate is something some people do only once in a lifetime, Collins said, stressing the importance of relationship building.

“There is a lot that goes into it,” she said. “We all want a seamless transaction and all sides to be happy at the end of the day.”

This business, Collins said, also requires some grit – especially when something comes up unexpectedly.

“Excellent communication skills and follow-up are some of the elements clients need,” she said. “Patience is another skill that serves this agency well… You get a little turbulence and some bumps in the road on some transactions and that’s where you have to work a little harder and be creative whether working with another agent or not. The key is to resolve the problem so everybody comes to the table, ready to close.”

This, Collins said, is something Kellstrom-Ray Agency does well. 

“Clients tell us that, too, as referrals are our biggest compliment,” she said.

For more information on Kellstrom-Ray Agency, visit

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