Further out in the central valley (Tracy, Modesto, etc) you can get better cash flow, and you will get more of your return today in the form of positive cash flow. Future appreciation may not be as certain in outlying areas, but you can find arguments on both sides of that one.
One thing to be very aware of is the financial condition of the HOA for any condo you purchase. Some of the areas that have been decimated by foreclosures have condos with associations that are in terrible financial condition, and there is risk in that scenario. Many of these associations may see sharp increases in the HOA dues to make up for deferred maintenance and legal fees as a result of so many of the units being in default. As always, find an expert agent to help you.
Here is a link to good information on the San Ramon area in particular http://www.680homes.com/san-ramon-real-estate/
The 680 group at Alain PInel Realtors
The only time I recommend a condo for investment is if it's either on one of the best beaches in the world or if it's in an urban location that has high employment and limited housing. Otherwise, consider saving for a single family or multi-family property, you'll make more money.
If you are hooked on buying a condo, look into the resort areas in Hawaii.
Best of luck!
1. Prices are depressed a lot more than SFR's b/c of the financing on them right now, you can get better cash flow
2. Many times you can find condos in MUCH better locations than SFR's of comparable prices
3. The numbers are hard to get to work on rental SFR's anywhere in Coastal CA - you can't get enough rent to cash flow
4. If you research the HOA carefully you can minimize some risks, but there will always be risks
5. If you buy it cheap enough and can make it cash flow with the HOA dues, then it is not a big deal what the HOA is
6. Once the market stabilizes, there is a good chance lenders will loosen condo guidelines, b/c since SFR's are out of reach for most in Coastal CA, condos are the only affordable option for first time homebuyers
7. With condos you are not responsible for repairs on the exterior, roof, landscaping, etc...so there can be less maintenance costs than a SFR
Yes everything being equal of course a SFR is a better investment. But the problem is SFR's in decent locations are at WAY too high of a price point to make work as rentals unless you go far into the inland parts of CA from Sacramento down to the Inland Empire. But would you rather have a coastal condo close to where you live or a SFR rental 2+ hrs drive inland?
As far as getting the best return on investment. Santa Clara and San mateo counties have been showing great returns for my investors without risking too much of a decline in value.
Pretty much everywhere so long as the banks are discriminating against condo's. The issue is finding a condo where you can buy as an investor. Since the banks started pulling financing on condos on account of low owner occupany ratios boards have put restrictions in place and they are holding.
As mentioned below, condos are not a good investment. However, townhouses may be a good compromise between condos and single family homes. Single family homes are the very best investment. Get together with an agent and ask them to show you trends for condos, townhouses and differently priced homes in the markets you are looking. The statistics will speak for themselves.
If you like, I can send you a list of what's available if you have a price point in mind.
If you have 25% to put down (I don't know what that means in terms of cash money) you would be better off buying two or three single family homes with 10% down. You will actually earn more money. A lot more. Yes you can get an investment property with 10%.
Go to the blog post below to see what I am talking about. Then you can hit a link there to get a free book on real estate investing. Much of the rental market is driven by what Section 8 pays (even if you do not want Section 8 renters.) Antioch California is the sweet spot for investors right now. Contact me for more info if you are interested.
I recognize your name from before. I would consult the condo expert of the area. Tyler Moxley. You can messenge him on Trulia or contact him at http://www.MoxleyTeam.com.