I cannot, and will not, argue with Ernest T, but as an owner of 2 XLT's I can say that they are really a lot of fun, with pleanty of power and great stability. Also, where I come from - NW OH - early-mid 2000's XLT's sell for about $2,500 - $3,000 w/ a trailer, if they are in good shape and well cared for. If Ernest T would send some of those $1,500 XLT's this way I could sell them and we could make some $$$$$!
That's the rub, if you take Ernest T's advice and spend $4,500 on a 4-stroke, that's what you will get = one 4-stroke. If you take about the same amount of money, and you're lucky, you can buy two 2-strokes for the same amount of cash.
As to the $1,200 "piston repair," that could easily escalate to $2,000 - $3,000 depending on how much damage is found once a mechanic breaks into the engine. Piston repairs become carb repairs, which become crank repairs. However, a fairly total rebuild of the XLT by a mechanic will run you $2,500 - $3,000 in my area of the country, which is about as much as the ski is worth (around here). But a rebuild of a 4-stroke may run you as much or more. Having owned a 4-stroke sea doo, which puked on me with a broken timing chain @ 47 hours, I know that when a 4-stroke pukes the engine can be destroyed in a few seconds. Whether it costs $2,500 to rebuild a 2-stroke or to rebuild 4-stroke it still costs $2,500 (or $3,000). From my experience a 2-stroke is somewhat easier to work on than a 4-stroke, and depending on the problem, when a 4-stroke pukes you can expect to spend a lot of $$$$$.
I still believe that a well-maintaned 2-stroke, using synthetic oil, which has been "premptively troubleshot" will give you hours and hours of joy on the water, for a lower price than what you would pay for a 4-stroke. The XLT's troubles = oil lines popping off, power valves falling into the pistons, the cat/cons falling apart, are all well-known and can be guarded against.
My advice would be to keep looking. Compare 4-strokes in your price range with 2-strokes, but avoid buying anything that says that the engine was recently rebuilt (why and how), or that needs engine work, or that's been sitting for years. I would rather have a ski with more hours that has been regularly used and maintained than one that has low hours that has sat in a garage (or outside) for years. Try the skis ON THE WATER for at least 1/2 hour before making any commitment.
I would stick with Yamaha, as I am somewhat prejudiced.
Good luck with your search and keep us posted. Hope to see you in the water soon.
former sea doo owner, will never own one again