I got started in REI in the early 90s, mostly with VA repos. At that time, the vendee financing was very attractive, and the deals were not bad. (But really they were all about the financing.)
I have always had a buy and hold mentality but Southern California was never conducive to that. I started buying in Phoenix and then into Las Vegas. I was fortunate to get out of Las Vegas basically at the peak. I also sold a couple of my lesser performing properties in Phoenix, also at the peak. I used those proceeds to pay off/down debt on my other properties so I feel fairly secure in this market.
I have worked in computers for 20+ years now. It has always dovetailed very well with my real estate invsting (due to the tax advantages). I would basically use the tax ad benefits from one year to use as the down payment for a property the next year.
I currently hold only single family homes. I tried dabbling in multi-families. I bought a few 4-plexes in the Phoenix area. They turned out ok. Cash flow was decent (though not as good as I had hoped) and apprciation was good at that time. I also bought a mobile home park in Texas which was an absolute disaster. The problem I had with multis was the management aspect of it. Single families basically manage themselves- easy to collect the rent, easy to fix and easy to rent after vacanices. With multis, I just could never get ahead of the curve because I could not find people "on the ground" who wanted to work and who were honest. They required a lot more attention in terms of getting them rented and the maintenance, and I was not there to do it.
The struggle for me now is where I want to go from here. I am fairly secure with a decent cash flow from my paid off single families. Part of me says to just stick with them; however, I do agree with Dean that this is an explosive opportunity with what is going on in the market. California still does not cash flow so I would need to look out of state again and figure out how to buy cash flowing properties, get them rented and maintained.
Update: I have pretty well decided to refinance some of my Phoenix properties and go bargain hunting for foreclosures. There seems to be a lot of demand but tons of supply as well.