How do you define BETTER? When comparing two communities you will want to look at the builder and their warranty, how many units, the amenities, the HOA fees and what they cover, who manages the HOA, are there any litigations in the community, additional parking and other restrictions. Also, location within the community, is it an end unit, view, noise, etc. Does one unit have gas and the other electric, and can gas be added. Is there A/C and if so will you hear your neighbor's A/C? What is the insulation can you hear your neighbor. Why type of roofs, siding, etc as years down repairs for one could be more than the other.
My experience includes working with a developer and New Home sales. One newer community can be greatly different from another even though the floor plan is not so different. The quality of the finish work can vary.
As for appreciation no one can predict, in the Valley 6% per year was average but we will see what happens over the next few years as we recover from the finance crises.
There are areas in our valley that hold their values and appreciate faster than others. In your price range that would be Cambrian 95124 and parts of 95118. You should expect to find an older home/townhome verses newer like you are looking at. If you are comparing a single family home to an attached home in the same area, the single family home will most likely be more desirable. Provided there are not power lines, noise factors, lights, etc which affect it's value.
Let us know how it turns out.