Yes, bying is almost always better than renting for the very reasons you mentioned. however, I wouldn't expect to see too much of an increase in the value of your home in just 5 years. Yes, it'll go up but will it go up enough that you'll still make money after you consider all of the fees and other expenses involved in selling the house. Also, depending ont he area you buy in it may go up faster or slower than the average. A good realtor in the area should be able to tell you the places expecting to see better appreciation in the next few years. Of course it might be becasue the neighborhood has nowhere to go but up
You're right, you can always rent it out after you leave town but, you're also right in that the tenants will almost cetainly not take as good of care of it as you yourself. I think there are managment companies or something similiar that you can pay to maintair it for you. ie, fixing light bulbs, repairing damage and things like that that the tenant would expect to have done. Or maybe in the time you're here you could find someone you trust enough to do that for you. My wife and I did that for our old landlord (he owned several properties in the area), all I did was mow
the lawns and take care small repairs, we also collected all of the rent checks and mailed them to him. The biggest advantage is that there is local presence that has an interest in your house. If the tenant knows that you live several hundred miles away and that there is no one else that will be checking in on the property then there is a chance that they'll destroy the house and pack up and leave with out you ever seeing them again.
I would have to argue with your assumption that one more house is no big deal if you're already taking care of one. It can be a huge headache, tenants calling at two in the morning because the pipes froze in the winter and they expect you to get them fixed in time to for them to take their shower
in the morning
But, as an investment, property is great. If you get it in a good neighborhood it might alleviate many of the potential problems I listed.
OK, that was a lot, sorry.
In reference to your post a while ago, sure if they are hiring let me know - always interested!!