In the wake of a renewed national focus on racism and discrimination, the Houston Association of Realtors MLS no longer uses the terms “master bedroom” and “master bathroom” for MLS listing descriptions. First reported by a handful of Texas publications on Tuesday, HAR now uses the terms “primary bedroom” and “primary bathroom,” effective June 15.
“Some of our members posted on Facebook asking the question about whether the terms Master Bedroom and Master Bath should be changed to terms that would not be misconstrued by others as ‘rooted in racism,'” a HAR spokesperson said in an emailed statement to Inman. “Many members responded favorably but expressed a variety of reasons for supporting a change. We also received a number of emails from members requesting we look at changing the terms.”
In response, the MLS Advisory Group added “master” to a list of eight other descriptions up for review. The removal of “master bedroom” and “master bathroom” has been requested multiple times since homebuilders stopped using the terms nearly a decade ago, the spokesperson said.
“Some of the people who saw the Facebook post were members of the MLS Advisory Group, so the terms were added to the agenda, along with eight other items inside Matrix to review (such as showing if a property has an electric vehicle charging station and the direction a balcony faces),” the spokesperson explained. “The list of updates was passed by the advisory group and sent to the HRIS board of directors, which oversees the MLS and HAR.com. The updates were approved.”
According to an explainer by Trelora, using “master” to refer to the main bedroom and bathroom started in the early 1900s.
“The 1926 Sears catalog marks the first recorded use of the phrase ‘master bedroom,'” the explainer read. “At $4,398 the Dutch colonial house was the most expensive in the catalog, featuring: a sunporch, built-in kitchen cupboards, and a ‘master’s’ bedroom with a ‘private’ bathroom.”
Although the term started well after the end of slavery, some consumers, designers and homebuilders have advocated for alternative terms as “master” has racist and sexist connotations.
“I imagine it’s not only a more accurate description but also a more politically correct term of art,” former Winchester Homes SVP of Operations Steve Nardella told the Washington Business Journal in 2013 as the movement to remove “master” began picking up speed in the home building industry.
“We’re using owner suite, but sometimes it will come through as master,” another builder said in the same article. “Over time, ‘master’ will be filtered out entirely. The change is just working through the industry, and finally, bingo, we got it.”
The new term has been in effect for a little over a week, with a largely positive response the HAR spokesperson said. The main area of contention comes from HAR members who think the word has been banned across the board, and they’ll be penalized for using “master” in other marketing materials and client conversations.
“Once people understand that the only things that changed were two words in data input fields in our MLS platform, they have generally been fine with it,” the spokesperson said. “The problem was that rumors spread very quickly, including a rumor that they would be fined for using the words, which was again not true.”
“There are no fines associated with using ‘master bedroom’ or any other non-discriminatory words to describe the property that will allow the member to best market the listing,” they added. “All this did was when a listing is entered or displayed in Matrix and on HAR.com, the labels under ‘Room Descriptions’ now say ‘Primary Bedroom’ and ‘Primary Bath’.”
The National Association of Realtors chimed in on the debate and said the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development advised them the use of the term does not violate fair housing rules.
“NAR sees no reason that real estate professionals cannot use the term, as there is also no evidence that it has any historical connection to slavery or any other kind of discrimination,” NAR President Vince Malta told The Midland Reporter-Telegram and The Houston Chronicle.
Although there’s not a national consensus on the term, Berkshire Hathaway Home Services broker-owner Tiffany Curry told both publications the update is needed as America works to grapple with its past.
“‘Master’ represents a stigma and place in time that we need to move forward from,” Curry, who is BHHS’ first Black broker-owner. “As a progressive, diverse city, Houston should be reflective of its citizenship.”