Wow thanks for all the amazing feedback and suggestions. I've definitely been leaning towards one of the C&C line of boats (their reputation is exceptional and feedback from owners is consistently positive) but there is something desirable about the popularity and support available to Catalina's line of boats (especially for a novice boat owner).
Right now I'm considering a 1981 Catalina 22 (excellent condition, extremely meticulous owner), a C&C 24 (presumably also in excellent condition though I haven't inspected it myself) and a 1975 C&C 27 (good condition but in serious need of some TLC). Prices nearly double from boat to boat starting at around 3500 for the Catalina, 7000 for the C&C 24 and 12000 for the C&C 27. I'm willing to swallow the difference in price if I can determine exactly which is the best boat for me at this point in my sailing career.
My situation is that I am a novice sailor with two young children (below the age of 4) and a wife who likes to sail (but also novice). We're definitely the type who plan to be sailing for many, many years to come and hope it will become a family pastime but we still need to spend more time on the water renewing and developing our sailing skills. I'm inclined to go with a smaller/starter boat initially and move up to something larger in the future..... but I don't want to outgrow a small boat too quickly.
What would others recommend based on the information and my personal situation? The smaller or larger boat? The Catalina or the C&C 24 (when one considers the price difference between the two)? Will this be my first boat and I'll likely upgrade in the next couple years anyway so go with the cheaper small boat? I would be grateful to hear of others experiences.
Thanks again for all the amazing information, Craig