No more ‘master’ bedrooms: Many Minnesota real estate agents move toward inclusivity

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Browse through home listings today and you’ll find terms like “primary bedroom,” “dual closets” and “in-law-suites” instead of “master bedroom,” “his-and-hers closets” and “mother-in-law suites.”

It’s part of a new real estate terminology that’s emerging during a time of racial reckoning and pleas for more inclusive language.

“There’s a hidden discriminatory piece that falls when you say ‘master’ bedroom,” said Jackie Berry, a listing agent for Edina Realty and an educator in a racism and real estate continuing education class for Minnesota industry professionals.

“I’m a person of color and every time the term ‘master bedroom’ was used, I kept saying to myself, ‘I don’t like how it sounds,’ ” she said. “Now as I’m walking through a property, I’ll just say it’s the owners’ or primary suite.”

In recent years, several Twin Cities area listing agents and real estate companies have been phasing out the word “master” because of its association with slavery.

But after the May 2020 death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, the name change gained momentum not only in Minnesota, but around the country.

“It’s something that has come up more and more the past few months,” Berry said. “There’s been an increased awareness and wokeness since George Floyd’s murder. We’re seeing racial justice work being put into play.”

In June 2020, the Houston Association of Realtors started to use the word “primary” in place of “master” when referring to bedrooms and bathrooms on its listing service. Since then, other groups such as the Real Estate Board of New York have committed to reviewing whether the term “master” should be removed from its residential listings, as well.

In Minnesota, industry groups haven’t offered guidelines on recommended terminology. It’s up to real estate agencies and individual Realtors.

But Chris Galler, CEO of the Minnesota Realtors association, noted that its more than 21,000 members must abide by the National Association of Realtors Code of Ethics, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, sex, national origin, sexual orientation and gender identity. He said Realtors also need to adhere to federal housing guidelines under the Fair Housing Act.

“What it boils down to is how much awareness the listing Realtor has in the verbiage they use,” Berry said.

Good for business

“Master” isn’t the only word that’s being phased out. There’s also a movement toward inclusivity, using nonbinary and gender-neutral pronouns.

Instead of man caves or she sheds, a real estate listing might include “accessory dwelling unit” or “den.” Terms such as “guesthouse” or “in-law suite” have taken the place of “mother-in-law suite.” Rather than his-and-hers, the term “dual” often appears. And that Jack-and-Jill bathroom? It’s now being called a “dual-entry bathroom.”

Avoiding terms that could offend a buyer or seller just makes good business sense, industry experts say.

In July 2020, the Real Estate Standards Organization (RESO) weighed in on the issue. While a review by industry professionals determined the word “master” was not a discriminatory violation under U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development standards, replacing it with “primary” was recommended.

“It makes sense for the industry to coalesce around a new term to clearly define what it represents and ensure ongoing productive communication between professionals and their communities,” read a RESO statement on the recommendation.

Beyond buying, selling

The new terms seem to be spreading beyond the real estate industry into construction, as well.

Chelle Eliason, executive officer of the Minnesota Metropolitan Contractors Association, said the organization is starting to see its members — contractors, developers and builders — opt for more sensitive language in home plans, blueprints and other documents.

“Key language changes are being made,” Eliason said.

While many in the industry have “used this inclusionary language throughout their careers,” Eliason said “the time is now for all of us to be more cognizant and sensitive in our communication. We feel this is a good thing for the community, the industry and for all.”

For Berry and others, a change in terminology is just the beginning.

“There’s more that needs to be done [in Minnesota] on education around racism and diversity,” Berry said.

A new way to say it

Many Realtors are adopting new terminology, shrugging off terms and phrases that could be offensive to some buyers or sellers. Here are a few examples of the changing vocabulary:

Owners’/primary/main: Replaces the racially sensitive phrase “master” in describing the home’s primary bedroom or bathroom. Example: “The owners’ suite includes a walk-in closet and en suite.”

Den/accessory dwelling unit: Replaces the gender-specific phrases “man cave” or “she shed.” Example: “The home includes a free-standing accessory dwelling unit that is currently used as a game room.”

In-law suite/guesthouse: Replaces use of “mother-in-law.” Example:  “An in-law suite with its own kitchenette and bathroom offers an independent living space for guests to stay for an extended period.”

Dual closets/dual or double sinks: Replaces the phrase “his-and-hers.” Example:  “Dual closets in the owners’ suite provide plenty of room to tuck away clothing and accessories.”

Dual-entry bathroom: Replaces the phrase “Jack-and-Jill bathroom.” Example: “A dual-entry bathroom connects the bedrooms.”

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