The 56-year-old engineer and his wife considered building new. But they opted for an existing house after weighing costs of transporting building materials from the mainland by ferry and the difficulty of finding a scenic lot on the rocky island that is capable of accommodating a sewage drainage field.
They're pleased with their modest lake-view summer cottage in the Lake Erie island village of Put-in-Bay.
But at $250,000, it was hardly a steal. "It's half as big as our primary home, but it cost almost twice as much," lamented the Monroe County, Michigan, man, who asked that his name not be used. The price was 47 percent more than the cottage last sold for seven years ago.
The reality, say real estate agents, is that there are few steals these days on Lake Erie island resorts like Put-in-Bay, Catawba Island, and Kelleys Island.
The median price of houses shot up 51 percent in five years to $208,250, according to Firelands Association of Realtors in Sandusky. That's appreciation of more than 10 percent a year.
This year, for the first time, the median house price - the point at which half the houses cost less and half cost more - in the three resorts topped $200,000.
In contrast, median prices nationally have risen an average of 5.6 percent the past five years to $170,800 in the first quarter of 2004, according to the National Association of Realtors.
On Catawba Island - which is actually a peninsula - well-heeled boaters from Toledo and Cleveland pay $1 million and more for the opportunity to spend summers on a body of water once considered dead and to rub elbows with each other at the tony Catawba Island Club.
On Put-in-Bay and South Bass Island, with their appeal to home buyers seeking an up-tempo lifestyle; Kelleys, known for its tranquility; and Johnson's Island, whose best-known tract is the cemetery for Confederate soldiers, few waterfront houses are available for under $300,000, real estate agents said.
As agent Steve Urge puts it: "Everybody wants lakefront, but they don't want to pay for it. Everybody who's got it is asking an arm and a leg for lakefront property."
In Put-in-Bay, where Mr. Urge lives and over which he presided as mayor for a dozen years in the 1980s and 1990s, homes on the lakefront - not to be confused with lake-view properties - fetch at least $350,000.
Few houses of any type sell for less than $200,000, Mr. Urge said. He sometimes steers people to Island Club Villas, where manufactured houses in what the former mayor describes as "the prettiest trailer park in Ohio" sell for $120,000 to $140,000.
But the development isn't for everybody.
Many of the houses, which sold for $40,000 to $60,000 when new, are rental units that can get noisy on weekends.
He is honest with house hunters, pointing out that South Bass Island's limestone shoreline has little sand, that many lots platted shortly as far back as World War I are too small to qualify as modern building sites and must be combined with adjoining land, and that obtaining the necessary permit for a septic system can be difficult on a rocky land mass with poor drainage.
Because of the difficulty of transporting building materials, many newer residences are manufactured houses, he explained.
U.S. Census Bureau figures show that South Bass Island had 1,264 houses in 2000, up 296 or 31 percent over the decade.
Other islands added even fewer homes in the last decade. Catawba grew 2 percent to 3,293, Kelleys 21 percent to 709 homes.
Put-in-Bay listings include a four-bedroom lakefront house on two acres that was built in 1868 and is for sale for $595,000, and a 30-year-old seven-bedroom, six-bathroom place with 2,800 square feet, offered for $986,000.
Properties for sale on Kelleys Island include a 94-year-old four-bedroom lakefront house on nine acres, listed at $650,000.
Although pricey, such houses do not approach amounts fetched by some properties.
The most expensive residence sold on Kelleys, Catawba, and Put-in-Bay last year went for $1.3 million. It included six bedrooms and six bathrooms spread over 4,100 square feet. Although the selling price was within $70,000 of the asking price, the home was on the market for nearly three years, according to the Firelands Association of Realtors.
Houses remained unsold for an average of six months last year, which was a five-year high.
"We've had a market that was a little slower to get re-started after Sept. 11," said real estate agent Tomi Johnson, who lists many high-end homes.
But the pace is picking up now, she added.
"I had three offers on one waterfront property last week. Depending on location and price, there is a very active market."
Despite brief interruptions, island properties have steadily appreciated, Ms. Johnson said. On Johnson's Island, site of a prisoner of war camp for Confederate soldiers during the Civil War, waterfront lots that sold for $19,500 in 1982 now fetch $170,000, she noted. The island has the advantage of being connected to Port Clinton by a causeway.
The priciest island properties are at Catawba, the sales agent said.
Ms. Johnson's listings include three houses in the Bluffs subdivision priced at more than $1 million. One is a cliff-side estate built in 1919, priced at $2.4 million.
Despite obvious disadvantages to buying on islands such as South Bass and Middle Bass, which are accessible only by boat or plane, there are advantages as well, said real estate executive Len Partin.
"Even if your home is 40 miles away, you feel you've been removed," he said. "There is a transition that comes with being on the water and moving yourself and your car by ferry or flying in."
Properties are most affordable on Middle Bass Island, Mr. Partin said. "It's the big sleeper," he said, noting that the island is benefiting from the state's purchase of the former Lonz Winery and plans to develop a 300-slip marina there.
"Some homes are in the $50,000 range, but in the main, they are in the $100,000-and-up range."
Contact Gary Pakulski at: email@example.com or 419-724-6082.