I'm cheap, and I'm all for finding a fantastic value in a fixer-upper boat. This is not one of those boats. This screams "Hurricane Sandy Victim" to me, and I wouldn't touch it with a 100-foot pole (as opposed to the conventional 10-foot pole). The market in the NJ area right now is tough, because Sandy created artificial demand. Last year this time, boats were going for VERY cheap. This year, it's hard to find a good, inexpensive boat because they are getting snatched up by people with insurance money. Your best bet is either to wait until the fall, when prices will be lower, or look outside the NJ area. I wouldn't go north (Long Island and parts of Connecticut were hit as bad/worse than the NJ shore); that means you're looking in Philly (Delaware River) or the Baltimore/Annapolis/Eastern Shore areas of Maryland. Check out Sailboat Listings - sailboats for sale
and Sailboats for sale from Sailing Texas, buy or sell your sailboat, free sailboat ads.
for other boats for sale, as well as eBay.
Hunter 23-25 or Catalina 22-25 are fine first boats especially if you aren't leaving Barnegat Bay. The biggest thing to look for is one in good condition, and for that you'll have to get aboard. There are self-assessment/inspection articles all over the place (there is one here on Sailnet, and another at the Catalina 25 Owner's association at Catalina - Capri - 25s International Association
, for example). Boats that size are big enough to begin to be comfortable for overnights/weekends, but light enough that you can still man-handle them when necessary. The care and feeding of a boat that size is also relatively low compared to bigger boats. As you get bigger, boats get heavier (tends to make them more stable, though not always), and they have more complex and substantial components that cost more to repair/replace, plus the slip fees go up by quite a bit.
Jumping back for a second, there's a saying here that a $10,000 boat will still cost you $10,000, even if you only pay $2,000 for it, and it is fairly accurate (I'd venture to guess it's more like $7000-$8000, not $10,000). Of course, the difference is that you don't have to put out all that money at once. I can appreciate the desire for a project boat, but I'd respectfully suggest finding one that can at least be sailed and enjoyed, and then working from there. Otherwise, it will quickly become yet another project that sits around and never gets done, and you'll regret the decision.
If I ever get my boat repaired, we'll be keeping her in Forked River. I live in PA, near Lansdale. If you find a boat and want someone to come take a look at it with you, let me know and I'll see what I can do.