"It's sort of a sign of the economic times," said Purser, who works in government and public relations for Comcast. "People are a little nervous, perhaps, about buying a home."
Indeed, sluggish home sales seem to be benefiting at least one segment of the housing market: rentals.
Leases on Houston-area single-family homes jumped 13.6 percent in the third quarter, compared to the same period in 2009, according to data from the Houston Association of Realtors. Townhouse and condo rentals increased 22.5 percent.
"The rental market has taken a big jump," said Margie Dorrance, the association's chair and principal at Keller Williams Realty Metropolitan.
Home sales have been tumbling from year-ago levels, when they were boosted by a federal tax credit that encouraged buyers to jump into the market earlier than perhaps they had planned.
Some frustrated sellers are renting their homes until the market springs back.
When Ashley Wehrly bought a new Victorian-style home in Shady Acres, she assumed she'd be there at least 10 years. It's only been four, and she's moving into a new house with her boyfriend on the west side of town.
She'd like to sell but feels she won't get enough for her three-bedroom home to cover Realtor fees. She's decided to lease the house, although she'll sell it if the right buyer comes along. "It's lucky I can be flexible," said Wehrly, who runs a public relations and marketing business.
Wait and see
A lack of confidence in the economy and job market is keeping some would-be buyers on the fence.
Adam Kassoff recently moved to Houston from southern California for a job in law firm management. He's used to owning, but he ended up renting a two-bedroom apartment in a Museum District high-rise.
While his main motivation to rent was that he's still learning about the city and different neighborhoods, he's not convinced now is the right time to buy even if he were ready. "It's still an uncertain market," he said.
As rental demand expands, more real estate firms are growing their leasing business. Rentals are up 30 percent at Bernstein Realty, a Houston-based real estate brokerage that operates a property management division.
High-end realty firm John Daugherty Realtors just started a leasing division to handle demand, which has been growing since the housing market collapsed nationally.
"Anyone coming from California or Nevada, they couldn't buy because they couldn't sell their homes," said Cheri Fama, executive vice president and chief operating officer of John Daugherty Realtors. "That's how it started."
Caution helps rentals
Apartment-building rentals are also gaining momentum.
As of September, occupancy among Houston-area apartment complexes was 86.4 percent, up from 84.8 percent a year earlier, according to Apartment Data Services. The average rent was $722, up $2 from 2009.
Bruce McClenny, president of the data firm, said more renters are staying in apartments in part because it's gotten harder to qualify for mortgages. "I think everybody is being very cautious and probably rightly so," he said. "That's helping the rental market."