The person looking had checked out Beaufort and Pine Knoll Shores and had found nothing that they liked.
They wanted to know whether or not they were being realistic looking for a home in this area in the $200-$300K range.
The following was my answer. I have added some links and corrections.
As to $200-300K being realistic, it depends.
Nice single family stick built homes are available in our area from $170K up. You can be in a water access neighborhood like ours for around $300K. Having water behind your house costs more. Our neighborhood has a pool, boat ramp, clubhouse, boardwalk-day dock, and boat storage. You can get in water access neighborhoods without quite as many amenities for under $300K. It just depends on what you want. Houses over on the beach are more expensive and usually smaller and often older.
The selection on the beach would be very limited in the under $300K range. Right now there are around ten or eleven homes in the Emerald Isle area listed in the under $300K range. The least expensive would be around $265K.
However on the mainland within a few miles of the beach you would find over fifty homes in the under $300K range.
It is easy to live in the Cape Carteret area and still have great access to the beaches and get a lot more home for your dollar. Also insurance and taxes are less.
If you live in the town of Cape Carteret proper, good water access is part of being a town resident. There are number of parks along the water, most have parking. The parking is reserved just for residents. Paying a $50 per year fee as a Cape Carteret resident gives you access to the Cape Carteret boat ramp.
In the North Starhill area of Cape Carteret, you could buy a new home for between $275K-$280K with single floor living, granite, stainless steel appliances, 2,200-2,300 square ft and backing up on Wildlife Trust lands.
The same $275K in Emerald Isle would get you 1,200 square ft and a home that is probably 25 years old. You pay for being over on the beach.
Most homes in the area are under 10 miles from the beach. The area with the homes backing up on the National Forest in North Starhill would a little over five miles from the beaches.
Beach access is so easy that we get a little picky. I will often skip the larger beach access areas for a quieter more private beach.
This evening for example my wife and I left home after five PM and drove up the beach to Third Street Beach. It is only 15 miles from our home. At that point up the beach, you are only ten miles from the Atlantic Beach bridge.
Third St. has a small parking lot and when we pulled in this evening, there were no other cars. From these pictures that I took you can see how "crowded the beach was. You could barely make out people in the distance. We were still home in time to grill some chicken for dinner before it got dark. When we got back, I even toyed with the idea of dropping the boat in the water to catch the sunset, but there were no clouds, and I knew a good sunset would be hard to capture without some clouds to tone down the sun.
Basically it boils down to making some choices of what works for you. You can find a very nice home in your price range that is close to the beach. If you want to be over on the beach, hitting that price range would be much more challenging and you would end up with a lot less home.
A nice seven or eight year old home about the same size as one of those 20+ years old $275K beach cottages would cost you around $175K seven or eight miles from the beach.
You might say the beach premium in that size range is about $100K. You also might have a hard time finding a home over in the beach area in your price range in a neighborhood with year around residents. It can get very quiet over there in the winter time.
We don't mind a little driving to get to the beach, and we also really enjoy being on the river where kayaking and boating is a lot of fun. Almost all the tourist traffic is already over except for a little spurt on Labor Day weekend. Basically from now until the second or third week of June, the beaches mostly belong to the year round residents. We share them with the fishermen in the fall but that's it. While there are times I would love to have a home a few blocks from the beach, the economics of it just did not make sense for us. We ran into something similar in Beaufort. I love the place, but finding a place where I could even see the water much less be on it did not make financial sense for us.
If you are back in the area, I would be glad to give you one of my area tours.