The figures reflect purchases agreed before lockdown owing to the average six to eight weeks it takes to complete, said the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The robust growth rate was stronger compared to a generally slowing rate of price increases since 2016, the body noted.
London remained the most expensive place to buy, with the average price in the capital rising 3.3 per cent to £479,000 in the year to May.
The least expensive region was the North East, at an average price of £135,000.
Price growth nationally came in higher than the 2.7 per cent recorded for the 12 months to April 2020.
On a month-to-month basis, from April to May 2020, prices rose 0.3 per cent (non-seasonally adjusted). This compared to 0.2 per cent growth from April to May 2019.
Prices in England rose 2.9 per cent to £252,000 in the year to May. Growth was a smidgeon faster compared to 2.8 per cent in the year to April.
In England, Yorkshire & The Humber saw the strongest growth, up 4.9 per cent to £170,000 for the year to May. This was steeper compared to two per cent for the 12 months to April.
The weakest price growth was in East of England, up 0.7 per cent in the year to May.
In Wales, prices rose 4.8 per cent to £169,000 in the year to May, again stronger compared to 3.2 per cent in the year to April.
For, Scotland growth was 2.1 per cent, with prices reaching £155,00 in the year to May. The growth rate was flat with April.
And in Northern Ireland, prices grew 3.8 per cent to £141,000 for the quarter January to March 2020.