Jade Small
Jade Small
May 10, 2024 ·  4 min read

Real estate board dropping ‘master bedroom’ term due to its ties to racism and sexism

Canadian National news was made when the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board made a rather interesting announcement. They have stated that the terms ‘master bedroom’ or ‘master bathroom’ should be struck from their wording due to undertones linked to slavery. It has been said that these words are outdated and offensive.

Now, any use of the word will be changed across all platforms used, including the MLS system, and on TRREB.ca. The Webforms platform, where realtors share forms with clients, will also see the terminology ‘master bedroom’ changed from now on.  In fact, The Canadian Real Estate Association made its changes already last October. This after The Real Estate Standards Organization made the suggestion. The president of the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board, Lisa Patel says:[1]

“It will use the word “primary” in place of “master,” when referencing the main or principal bedrooms in homes in the coming months.”

Why master bedroom should not be used

The word master has an ancient history, even before slave traders abominably traded in bringing Africans to the Americas. Apart from slaves having to refer to their ‘owners’ as masters, even women had to refer to their husbands as their masters too. So not only could the word, master be construed as racist, but sexist too.[2]

Master bedroom is thought to have been first used as a term to describe the main bedroom back in 1926 by Sears, Roebuck, and Co in a Modern Homes catalog, whereas before this, bedrooms were described as ‘chambers’. Architectural historian, Mr. Mellins explains:

“It seems to me the term is coming more out of a commercial orientation than a professional one”.

He further suggests that it was perhaps used to attract middle-class aspiring buyers post World War 1. It is clear the words master and slave in the context of slavery should only be used when relating to the cruel history of those times. So the question remains, when should we modify usage of the English language, and when should we hold off? Chief operating officer of the real estate board in New York, Sandhya Espitia said they were:

Assessing what meaningful steps should be put in place to bring greater diversity and inclusion to the industry”.

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Is it really that bad?

Another key point would be prejudice in the housing industry amongst other racism issues was highlighted in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. Also, the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests with many brokers finding the term ‘master bedroom’ offensive.[3]

In the United States, leading the movement to stop using the words ‘master bedroom’ came from The Houston Association of Realtors. They have pursued the change from ‘master bedroom’ to rather using the word, ‘primary’. As a result, this word should be used to describe the largest bedroom in their listings. Even though some agents applauded the change, there were some critics who did not. Celebrities like John Legend tweeted the saying the “real problem” wasn’t about using the words. He would rather advocate putting a stop to housing discrimination in the United States.

Many more agree

An agent from Southern Star Realty based in Houston, Tanna Young, was very clear in her understanding of the word ‘master’ that depicted pre-Civil War plantation conditions. An agent from Southern Star Realty based in Houston. Tanna Young was very clear in her understanding of the word ‘master’ that depicted pre-Civil War plantation conditions.

Especially as an African American language 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.”

Tanna Young

Adding to the movement, Tom Postilo and Mickey Conlon who are partner agents with Douglas Elliman from Manhattan were amongst those who have made the decision to not use the words master bedroom.

Words matter and this is a small change we can effect immediately in the work that we do every day. It is a socially conscious choice we are making.”

‘Master Bedroom’ is not racist, says The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development reported in 1995 that the term ‘master bedroom’ was in no way discriminatory. Also, it was not in violation of their fair housing laws. Determining why the National Association of Realtors has not established a firm policy regarding the use of this term Vince Malta, president of the national organization, stated that, as there was no proof of a historical connection to slavery, there was no reason for real estate professionals to use the term ‘master bedroom.’

What do you think? Should the term be banned? Will removing it change anything for the better?

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  1. Toronto real estate board dropping ‘master bedroom’ term. CBC. April 14, 2021.
  2. Is ‘master bedroom’ a racist term? As language evolves, consider history and usage.” Inquirer. Angry Grammarian. July 22, 2020
  3. The Biggest Bedroom Is No Longer a ‘Master’.NY Times.  Sydney Franklin. August 5, 2020.