Welcome to another post in our newest blog series, Learning the Lingo with Olin. This series will continue to examine how the words you use as an agent, a buyer, a seller, or any other role in the real estate process can impact not only your success but also those who you work with. The terms that I want to distinguish between today have not only practical benefits that will help specify aspects of a home but it also has social benefits that will help everyone move toward a more inclusive and respectful future.
Room for Improvement
It doesn't take decades of real estate knowledge to know what are the most important details that should be listed first when describing what a property has to offer. If you want to give an elevator pitch for a home where you can't break down every detail, you at least want to be sure that you communicate headlines like location, cost, or - what we will be further discussing today - the number of bedrooms.
The term ‘master bedroom' has commonly been used throughout history to describe the largest room within a floor plan with the idea that the individuals or couple who were purchasing the home would occupy that room while smaller rooms would be used for things like children's rooms, offices, home gyms, etc. While it is beneficial to point out the size variations within a home for practical reasons, it is wrong to assume that those purchasing the property are obviously going to follow stereotypical and outdated living arrangements. It is becoming more and more common for multiple individuals who are not romantically involved to purchase a home together or for the largest room in the home not to go to the person(s) who's name the property is under. In my experience, a client let the child live in the ‘master' bedroom because the child has so many toys and they wanted them to have plenty of room to play. In instances similar to these, you can see how referring to a room as the ‘master' may not cover the practicality of simply trying to communicate the largest space in the home but beyond this, there are also social implications to this term that you want to avoid.
Following the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests that were sparked by the killing of George Floyd, Houston became the first American city to stop using the term ‘master' because of the racist and misogynistic undertones that can be derived from the word. The origin of using this term in real estate is unclear but Tanna Young, an agent with Southern Star Realty, believes that the word evoked images of pre-Civil War plantation life telling the New York Times, "Especially as an African American realtor, it always sits in the back of my mind. More work needs to be done, we understand that, but I'm happy that steps are being taken in that direction for change to begin. Baby steps can lead to bigger steps."
If you look today, several cities - including Chicago - along with popular sites for listings like Zillow have followed in Houston's actions, phasing out any use of the term ‘master.' When asked about the discontinuation of the term, our very own Thad Wong, co-founder of @properties, told the Chicago tribune "It seemed like a very obvious, easy thing to do. I don't think changing this word is going to change systemic racism in our society. But if it's a word that is negative for any group, I don't know why we wouldn't put effort into changing it."
So if you still want to distinguish which room in a property is the largest, what is an alternative term to use? Saying ‘primary room' communicates the same message without any other inaccurate or harmful implications. While a simple switch of terminology may seem minor, this change is not only socially conscious but also beneficial in better describing features of a property like bedrooms, bathrooms, closets, etc. Phasing out a term so ingrained in the business of real estate does not happen overnight either, but a conscious effort to create a more equal and inclusive world and that is something that we at the OSC Team can get behind!