You May Have to Rename This Room in Your House Due to Slavery Associations

While many real estate professionals are eager to ditch the term, the change isn't supported by everyone.

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If you're looking at real estate listings, you might notice a surprising change in the terminology used to describe a key room in many houses and apartments in the near future: The master suite is being renamed by many real estate agents.

According to a June 24 report in the Houston Chronicle, the Houston Association of Realtors (HAR) has decided to do away with the term "master" as it applies to real estate, noting that it could be perceived as having ties to slavery. In its place, the group will be using the word "primary" as in "primary bedroom" and "primary bath."

"This topic is currently being debated across the real estate industry, and the national standards organization for MLSs (multiple listing services) will be considering a similar change that could make 'primary' the new standard nationally," HAR said in a statement.

master bedroom or primary bedroom in modern home
Shutterstock/Breadmaker

The change is gaining support with many real estate professionals, with agents outside the Houston area pushing for the switch in their jurisdictions, as well.

Phoenix-based realtor Paul Welden says that the name may feel exclusionary not only to people of color, but to women and non-binary people, as well. "I think that the term 'master bedroom' or any variation thereof should stop being used. It can be viewed as racist and even gender biased," he explains.

Welden says that, in addition to "primary bedroom," phrases like "main bedroom," "owner's bedroom," and "bedroom with ensuite" are being adopted in the real estate community.

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However, not everyone in the real estate business is so keen on the change. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) says that the use of "master" in real estate listings doesn't violate fair housing guidelines. In a statement from NAR, President Vince Malta said there would be no implementation of these changes on a national level. "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," explained Malta.

Welden admits there isn't much evidence to support the term's connections to slavery, noting that one of the first recorded uses of term came from Sears in the 1920s, as a means of describing a bedroom with a private bath. But he supports changing the term nonetheless.

The debate over the phrase "master bedroom" gained even more attention recently when singer John Legend tweeted about it, pointing out that racism in real estate may go even deeper than that phrase.

Still, some say the small change could have a major impact toward making the world of real estate a more inclusive place. "If a word is offensive to more than just a handful of people, then it should be retired," says Melissa Zavala, a broker with San Diego County-based Broadpoint Properties. "It will take time, but it needs to happen." Want to know how other industries are changing to stamp out hate? Check out These Familiar Logos Are Getting Transformations Due to Their Racist Origins.

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