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If you do a search you'll find a lot written about the Laser 28 by Jeff_H, who used to own one. I bought one last fall after crewing on one for a few years, but I haven't had mine in the water yet. Long winter. I plan to use it for club racing, daysailing, and weekend cruising with my family (2 small girls). The boat has a big main and relatively small fractional headsails. I bought mine from a guy in his 60's. He was actively racing it, and sold it because his kids (crew) had moved away and his wife wanted a more sedate boat. The Laser 28 is light, powered-up and sort of tippy. In big wind it you have to have someone who can trim the main actively. My friend, on whose boat I crewed, is a very good sailor and was always able to keep the boat on it's feet, even when trimming main and driving at the same time. He sails with five or six on the boat in a breeze. Five seems to be a pretty good number, more than that and people start getting in each other's way. If you're daysailing or cruising you could always reef. How does it compare to a J/24? Way faster, better built, and a lot more comfortable on deck. Otherwise they're both relatively light, fractional race boats with bendy masts. My time at the tiller of both is pretty limited, but the Laser 28 is known for a balanced, light helm, while a J/24 is supposed to be fast with mushy lee helm. They're both best sailed flat.
When I was boat shopping the Express 30 was on my list, but I never even found one to look at. Seems like a nice boat, as you note a little more towards the cruisy side, but seems like it would make a nice race boat if you have similar boats to race against. It looks like PHRFNE rates it 135, which is only a little slower than a Laser 28, but of course it's a bigger, heavier boat.
A big determinant is going to be finding a nice boat for sale within whatever you consider a reasonable distance. I live in New England and looked at a bunch of J/30's locally before going 600 miles to buy my Laser. It helped that the Laser was on a trailer. I think there are many more Laser 28's, and also boats like S2 9.1's in the Great Lakes. Good luck!