Marin Real Estate: as crazy as SF and East Bay?

I am hoping for some perspective from Marin residents on the housing market there. We are based in the East Bay, as renters and love it here, but have been horrified by the rising housing market over the course of the past few years. We are branching out, but want to remain in the Bay Area. Marin has always appealed to us, but we have ruled it out in the past based on the expense. I'm wondering whether we should give it another look. We are happiest in the areas with economic and ethnic diversity (I recognize both are limited in the North Bay), so if people could recommend areas/neighborhoods where that would be the case, that would be great. Just to give you an idea, we are looking at homes between $500-700K.

Thank you.

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I have lived in both Marin county and the Berkeley/Albany/ el cerrito areas. 

You will be hard pressed to find a family home in most all of Marin county except for Novato. You could get a condo in San Rafael or Greenbrae though. Please note there are many great things about Marin county including great weather, schools, and outdoor space. It is generally low crime and much cleaner than the Berkeley area. That being said, there is very little ethnic or socioeconomic diversity and I find most people who live there to be mostly white, wealthy, and some quite snobby. I would never move back there due to those reasons.

In Brief:

Terra Linda (in San Rafael), Santa Venetia, and Novato are all worth a look-see; the further north you go, the lower the prices. There are probably other areas that would suit you, these are just the ones I know. The North Bay is overall not as diverse ethnically, but you're more likely to meet contractors and electricians here than in the East Bay, plus lots of long-time residents. However, not a lot of places to shop if you're looking for ethnic food ingredients. Not much night life for singles; but we have great schools and libraries. Commuting to the East Bay is a pain.

Your price range for a house is low, but not impossible.  But it will probably involve compromise. There are more condo and townhouse complexes here, and a lot of them are very nice.

Marin real estate is very competitive as well.  We bought last year after a search of over two years.  Inventory is low.  There are few homes in your price range and those that are are probably in Novato.  I'd encourage you to drive around Novato, hang out at playgrounds and talk to folks.  It is very different there from Berkeley/Oakland.

Closer than Marin is the Richmond Annex. "El Cerrito living at Richmond prices", as our son-in-law says. Daughter and son-in-law went from Berkeley to Albany to El Cerrito looking for attractive affordable housing, and found it in the Richmond Annex. They got a 1930's well built solid home for $700K, after the usual bidding war (list price was $545K). The Annex is quite separate from the rest of Richmond, no oil refinery and no homicides. Really just like El Cerrito, it's true, but on the cheaper side of San Pablo. There are families and children in the Annex, but most homeowners seem to be older and the neighborhood as a whole ready for new families to move in over time. Seems once people settle in the Annex they stay there.

Marin prices shot up years ago.  It's only now the rest of the Bay Area is catching up.

One factor to consider is that rail service from Santa Rosa to San Rafael should start this year.  This should improve your ability to commute from further north where housing is more affordable.  Eventually the rail will extend from Cloverdale to Larkspur Ferry.