In the UK, one needs to pay a council tax regardless of whether you rent or own a house. And unlike the US, there is no prohibitive property tax when you own a house. So, does that mean the only financially smart thing to do is buy a house in the UK regardless of how long one plans to be in the country? Are there purely financial counter-arguments to buying a house in the UK?
Transaction costs mean that it's not sensible to buy a house for a short period. You may have to pay stamp duty on purchasing the house (goes as high as 15% marginal rate depending on a lot of things, but most people pay a lot less than that, and most first-time buyers now pay nothing), you will probably need to pay an estate agent to sell it (typically 1% of the sale price + VAT), and you'll almost certainly need to pay legal fees for both purchase and sale (a few hundred pounds a time).
The other answer has mentioned transaction fees that you must factor in. They are fairly predictable.
Also, don't forget to factor in other things such as: mortgage interest and/or opportunity cost of tying up your money, buildings insurance, cost of furniture...
There are also uncertain risks to buying a house, particularly for a short time:
- Purchasing a property can take considerable time, and fall through at the last minute. It will be particularly hard if being done remotely.
- Finding a buyer may not be quick when you want to leave. Especially if you have already left the country. You may have to reduce the price considerably to get your money out.
- You are also liable for property maintenance, boiler breakdown, burst pipes, flooding, subsidence.
However, all things considered, if you can afford it it is likely (in my experience) to be the better financial option. But certainly not a no brainer.