Minnesota home sales got a healthy boost in October from record low mortgage rates and strengthening consumer confidence.

Sales increased 8 percent compared to the same period last year, according to a monthly report released Tuesday by the Minnesota Association of Realtors. The median price was $152,000, a 9.4 percent increase.

Chris Galler, the association's chief executive, said he was somewhat surprised by the strength of the increase, considering that sales already had begun to rise a year ago, raising the bar for year-over-year comparisons.

One trend that continues to bedevil the housing market is the low number of homes listed for sale, even as builders and developers have begun building more single-family dwellings and rental apartments.

Housing starts across the country beat expectations by increasing 3.6 percent in October, the U.S. Commerce Department said Tuesday. An 11.9 percent increase in national multifamily housing starts accounted for most of the increase, with starts for single-family houses falling slightly.

Despite the boost in construction activity, the inventory of homes for sale in the 13-county metro area has fallen to its lowest level in a decade, the Realtors association said.

"We need more homes for buyers to consider," said Jim Cormier, president of the association.

The association tracks home sales across Minnesota, measuring activity within 13 economic development regions. While most of those regions have seen a steady increase in home sales over the past year, several are struggling to gain traction.

In six regions, sales were flat or had fallen compared with last year. In the Southwest Central Region, for example, sales were down 21 percent, and in the Headwaters Region (north-central Minnesota) sales were off 26 percent.

Galler said communities that are losing population or haven't seen declines in their unemployment rate, are less likely to recover at the same pace as the rest of the state, despite record-low mortgage interest rates.

"If we have to choose between population growth and low interest rates," he said, "we'd take population growth."

Jim Buchta • 612-673-7376