Home sales in parts of rural Minnesota slowed slightly last month, but prices — and new listings — continued to increase, according to new data from the Minnesota Association of Realtors (MAR).

There were 7,716 closed sales across the state in May, a 3.8 percent increase over last year. The median price of those deals was $172,513, a 12.8 percent increase.

The report, which counts properties listed through the Regional Multiple Listing Service, comes as the National Association of Realtors issued a better-than-expected report showing that existing-home sales rose 4.2 percent to a 5.18 million-unit pace, with prices up 15.4 percent over last year.

Existing-home sales nationwide are now at their highest level since November 2009 when the tax stimulus helped boost sales. Prices also are up: During May, the median price of all sales nationwide was $208,000, up 15.4 percent from May 2012 — the sixth consecutive month of double-digit increases and the strongest price gain since October 2005.

"We hope to see this trend continue as we get deeper into the busy summer selling months," said Chris Galler, MAR's chief executive. "Potential buyers and sellers should take advantage of the solid housing market we are currently in."

While differing in their methodology (the national report is adjusted for the seasonality of the market), both reports provide more evidence that the housing market recovery is persistent and strong.

In Minnesota and beyond, sales have been strongest in densely populated metropolitan areas where the economy has improved the most. In Minnesota, sales gains were the most robust in the seven-county metro area, where closings increased more than 12 percent.

There were other indicators of strength last month. Sellers received 95.5 percent of their asking price, while the average market time fell slightly to 79 days, bringing more sellers into the market. New listings across the state increased a whopping 18.1 percent during the month, but couldn't keep pace with sales. The total number of listings on the market last month was down 11.5 percent.

That wasn't true in all parts of the state. In seven of the 13 economic development regions tracked by MAR, for example, closings last month fell.

The biggest declines were in the Headwaters region of north-central Minnesota and in the southwest region of the state, where sales were down more than 40 percent.

In those areas and other parts of the state where lake homes dominate the market, the late thaw put a damper on sales of vacation properties, which tend to sell best when buyers can see the shoreline.