I trust you understand that what you're doing entails real risk, including the risk that the value of the property you purchase now could always decline in the future. You need deep pockets--ample capital--to pursue this kind of strategy, because unexpected expenses happen, and losses happen, and it's not for the faint of heart.
That said, it is possible to buy properties with cap rates of 6% up to even 10%+ in the best case scenario, in rental properties with stable or possibly increasing values. I know, because I've done it. Areas I like right now include suburban Detroit (stable suburbs popular with renters) and Atlanta (city of only), residential only (not office space, which is seriously overbuilt, especially in Atlanta, unless your time horizon is very long indeed!).
"Areas most affected by the crisis" is not necessarily the most profitable formula. There are cities in the USA that were barely touched by the housing bubble that continue to make excellent investments. However, you can get in with less money in areas that were hard hit.
I echo everything Tom says--find yourself a local real estate agent who really knows investment property. In fact, you want an agent just like Tom! If I were you I would call him, especially since you already know how things work in Florida. Geographic diversity is not necessarily effective in reducing risk, as everyone discovered when the real estate bubble burst.
As Tom says, research must be done or you might get burned, as happened to many investors who rushed into excellent markets a few years back, but made foolish property decisions because they were greedy and in too much of a hurry.
For example, consider Tom's note about pet ownership. You personally may not like pets, but whether you know it or not, dog ownership is on the rise in the USA (for a long list of reasons), and landlords/property managers who know how to manage the (minimal but real) risks of pets have a competitive advantage. That's just one example of thinking like an investor.
If you insist on buying a clunker (bad investment), the agent has to sell it to you. We can try to explain things to you but if you won't listen, we will just do what you tell us to do. I've heard a few cautionary stories from agents. The investor-buyers acted foolishly so it's hard for me to feel too sorry for them.
An area can be a good investment, but you're not buying the whole town, you're buying one building at a time. And that building must have strong fundamentals if the investment is going to be successful for you.
Stay loyal to that good agent, because remember the agent only gets paid if you buy something she or he shows you. You can be excited and eager in your search, but try to stay methodical and keep your emotions in check. This is real estate, not a souffle.
Don't try to cut the agent who is helping you buy out of a deal to save some money (in cases where you don't sign a buyer broker agreement, in which case you can't do that). It's not nice, and it's not smart business for you. Because agents who like investing always know where the best deals are now, they will look out for their clients, investors are often repeat customers, and agents have long memories!
Licensed Real Estate Salesperson
Charles Rutenberg LLC
New York, NY 10022