Is It Time to Retire the Master Bedroom?

Written by Jaymi Naciri Posted On Thursday, 09 July 2020 05:00

As the Black Lives Matter movement continues to grow and permeate various industries, there has been noticeable spillover into real estate. Misguided or not (And, there is much debate about this!), a lot of energy has been focused on one particular word: “master.” 

The Houston Association of REALTORS® (HAR) has announced it will no longer sanction the use of “master bedroom” or “master bathroom” in its MLS descriptions.

“The decision to remove the term comes after a group of real estate professionals said the term ‘master’ on property description represents a potential stigma,” said Realtor Magazine. 

The association sent out a statement to its members in which they spelled out the change but fell short of mandating a ban on the terminology. “You may still use the term ‘Master Bedroom’ or ‘Master Bath’ as you feel appropriate in your marketing materials and in the Public Remarks, Agent Remarks, and photo descriptions,” per the statement.

Term being dropped

In addition to the HAR, Chicago realtors including the brokerage firm, GetBurbed, and builders like David Weekly have announced they will also refrain from using terminology like “master bedroom” and “master suite.” 

The push to phase out this term is not new. “Back in the mid-90s the Department of Housing and Urban Development issued proposed guidelines for bringing enforcement actions for violations of section 804(c) of the federal Fair Housing Act,” said YoChicago. “The proposed guidelines, which were met with a firestorm of ridicule, suggested that the use of terms such as master bedroom, views, family room, walking distance and walk-in closet, among others, in advertising was evidence of discriminatory intent against various groups that might result in HUD taking action.”

A 2013 report in the Baltimore Business Journal showed that, “The ‘master suite’ is being phased out — not from our homes, but from our lexicon. A survey of 10 major Washington, D.C.-area homebuilders found that six no longer use the term ‘master’ in their floor plans to describe the largest bedroom in the house. They have replaced it with ‘owner’s suite’ or ‘owner’s bedroom’ or, in one case, ‘mastre bedroom.’”

History of “master bedroom”

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the first mention of master bedroom came in 1925. The following year, the term was used in a description of a 1926 Sears Modern Home.

While many have argued that the term has no actual relationship to racism while mentioning other terms like Master’s Degree, Shout Out UK points out the elephant in the master bedroom: “The word ‘master’ comes from the Latin magister, meaning chief, head or director,” they said. “Historically, master has been used to describe a man in an authoritative, disciplinarian position: a school master or, the more sinister term, slave master comes to mind. The term ‘master bedroom’ first appeared in the early 20th century to denote that the room was reserved for the master of the household, who almost always was a man. Given the word’s history, however, steeped with an uncomfortable combination of hierarchical, racial and sexist connotations, surely it no longer fits in today’s lexicon?”

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