Investing in real estate all depends on what kind of return you are expecting. For example, the money you would spend to invest in real estate is getting what interest and return elsewhere?
As far as investing in Contra Costa, generally the cities/areas that have good school districts, close to transportation and close to work are both more expensive, but get higher rental rates. For example, cities like Alamo, Danville, Walnut Creek, Lafayette, Moraga and Orinda all have great school districts, in relatively safe/low crime environments and usually yield one of the highest rental rates in the area. That being said, based on your price threshold for investment, you would be looking at buying a condo/townhome in those particular areas. Therefore, you have to factor in the added expense of monthly HOA dues to your bottomline. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as a lot of HOA's cover some general maintenance and other amenities that you might not have when owning a single family residence...
I suggest that you definitely cross reference all your searches with the crime statistics for the area. Also, when looking at condos/townhomes, make sure the local HOA's are not at their rental cap (meaning they will not allow for any more non-occupant owners).
I hope that helps, but let me know if you have any other questions, comments or concerns.
Brian Rochford, Realtor
Tom Rochford Real Estate Co.