The newspapers need a story. Us agents all have different experiences - wether we're working with buyers/sellers/banks/etc.
To generalize about this market is to misunderstand it - there are various segments of this market - the REO market is acting very different than the distress sale or the traditional seller. And there are very different activity levels based on price points. The investors want one thing, the first-time buyer seems to be looking for something else.
And you're right, you need to find a house that's right for you. And the price on that house might be coming down still, or it may be one that's getting multiple offers. You won't know until you determine your criteria, start looking and tracking those specific properties. It takes some time and some effort, someting a journalist on a 5pm deadline doesn't have.
If you want 3500sqft in great shape, 3 years or newer, with a bonus room and a pool - get ready to bid. If you want to stay under $350,000 and are able to do some cosmetic work, you can take your pick. If you've got 20% down you can probably be less aggressive and still get the house you want. If you're 5% down FHA it's going to be a little different story.
But you're right, your situation is unique. Find an agent who will work with you to determine what the market is like in your price range, what values are like for the specific kind of house you're looking for. Determine how long you're going to be there, and what the financing is going to be like. (A 1% increase in your interest rate will probably have a more significant impact on your monthly payment than another 5% drop in the price. Which is more likely to happen between now and the end of the year?)
Lots of folks think the bottom is forming out here, but for you, it may be wise to wait a bit.
As I live in Brentwood I may be a bit bias however, if I did have a choice of the four I would pick Brentwood. Pittsburg is a city that will have little additional new housing however, speaking economically, Pittsburg will not get to the level of Brentwood on per capita income and therefore does not draw the same types of business as does Brentwood. Brentwood continues to have a strong economic pace due to our per capita income levels in the mid $80K. Currently there is construction underway of a major retail center that will include names like Banana Republic, GAP, REI, Victoria Secret and restaurant chains like PF Changs and so on. As far as values...the majority of brokers see that we have hit the bottom of the market and are seeing a turn. We are seeing (in specific price ranges) multiple offers on properties and the buyers are coming in. Our pending sales in February (approx 95) hit a level we have not seen since 2005 and the level of pending homes in March is now at 134. Discovery Bay is a community unto itself and has no impact on Brentwood as a whole. Discovery Bay is more about a lifestyle and not about the community as a whole. As far as flooding, weak soil, etc., I have only seen one small flood in one neighborhood in the time that I have lived here and that was due to the fact that the creek had not been clean of brush and plants before the rains came. A natural hazards disclosure (which is part of every transaction) will tell you where there are issues of flooding, geologic and fire hazards. With soil, California as a whole will have certain areas with soil issues. I grew up in Sunnyvale and I had friends that lived in Los Altos Hills and during the rains of 1982, there were mudslides there and bad ones in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Most of Brentwood, except for the west side is flat land. The hills are very well managed by the city, but if there are any issues you can contact an associate of mine in the City Engineering Dept that can assist you with any questions.
I hope that I did not overwhelm you too much, but you can always contact me with any other questions.