Mike Ruter wants a vacation home on the Gulf of Mexico. He thought the waterfront property in Florida and Alabama was too pricey for him, so he looked to the west.
   "I don't know what I was expecting when I came to Mississippi, but what I saw wasn't what I was expecting," the Chicago businessman said. "The landscape and oak trees are incredible.
   "I like the area. When I was down there I thought it would be a good place for a vacation home."
   In the early summer, through the Internet, Ruter held e-mail conversations with an Ocean Springs real estate agent who lined up properties for him to see. Ruter flew in on July 8.
   The house he liked best was on Belle Fontaine Beach in Jackson County, but it was sold. He realized this little piece of paradise is a rarity on the Mississippi Coast because there is no roadway between the house and the saltwater. He told the agent to keep his eye open for anything that came available on Belle Fontaine.
   With that request confirmed, Ruter headed back to his job as managing director of a national staffing firm with an office in Chicago, and back to his wife and two children. He was forced to detour to New Orleans because the Gulfport-Biloxi Airport was closed because of Hurricane Dennis.
   Dennis veered east and didn't cause as much damage as originally feared. Belle Fontaine fared well. Then came Katrina and the Belle Fontaine homes disappeared.
   After the storm, the property at 6317 West Belle Fontaine Beach Road went on the market and Ruter took the leap. "So post-storm I purchased a lot on Belle Fontaine, sight unseen," said Ruter. "Generally speaking, it is one of the smarter things I did, getting a good price. Or... not so smart if codes and restrictions make it impossible to rebuild there.
   "I don't see that being the case, but you never know. We likely won't build our vacation home for a couple of years."
KAT BERGERON