Click on the profile of agents in the city or cities you are interested in. Then read some of their responses to consumer questions. Pick some one who has written knowledgeably about the real estate subjects you care about.
As an Exclusive Buyer's Agent I live and work in Sacramento, but I also own property (23 single family homes and one 4-plex) spread over 5 states. I'm not going to reccomend neighborhoods to you yet because that's the last thing you need to know. First you need to know how to analyze an investment no matter what neighborhood it's in.
The key to owning investment property is balancing cash flow with leverage. Every rental should have positive cash flow. Period. Never waver from this. You need to be able to hold the property without it being a burden to you through all the ups and downs of the real estate cycles. That's why I did not loose any of my properties in the last down turn when so many other properties went to foreclosure.
My philosophy is you buy for cash flow and appreciation is the "icing on the cake".
Of course you can get positive cash flow by just paying all cash for a property. This is a good idea in a DOWN market. If you think prices will decline you DON'T want to leverage your investment. If you think the market is going to go UP, then you want to leverage as much as possible (still keeping a positive cash flow) so you magnify your return on investment (ROI).
Paying all cash is also good idea in a market like today. Prices are stating to go up and there are mutiple offers on any decent property. It's hard to get your offer accepted when competing with the all cash buyers. This seems counter intuitive to what I just said about leverage, but it's not. You'll buy "all cash" but refinance (leverage) the property after the seasoning period required by your lender. This will cost you a slight increase in interest rate but it's worth it.
Make sure you know how to analyze your investments with REAL numbers before buying, enjoy the cash on cash return you get (while your tenant helps you pay down the mortgage), then sell in the future when the value of your investment has gone up (or hold for long term cash flow).
Once you've got a Realtor who can help you analyze a property no matter what neighborhood it's in, then you reasearch into WHERE to buy. It might be in Sacramento, which I think is a good idea now, but it could be some other part of the country with better cash flow and and a better apprciation potential. Start with the macro economics, looing into how the overall comunity is doing (job growth, price of rents vs owning, etc) then focus in on the best neighborhoods for short or long term holds depending on your investment strategy.
One last thing. Work with an Exclusive Buyer's Agent. You need to have someone on your side with YOUR interests as their primary concern. There are many good agents out there who will ethically be able to handle a "dual agency" situation, but why take the chance. Read the Agency Disclosure form and choose a Buyer's Agent who has "A fiduciary duty of utmost, care, integrity, honesty and loyalty in dealings with the Buyer."
Good luck, enjoy your search as you build your investment porfolio.
I am located in elk grove, and I can help you find investment properties in the south sacramento region as well as other desirable regions. As Jim said, click on the links he posted, you will see previous answers that may prove useful to you. Let me know if I can help. James Tan 916 230 5250.