Realtors have their own lingo. Some real estate language sticks around while some changes. However, there are many words and phrases that have been designated taboo and can be considered violating the Fair Housing Act if used in ads to describe homes. Some real estate terminology may be offensive to many, and yet is still considered acceptable. One such term is “master bedroom.” Although its use has been widely accepted, the term has been criticized for years as being insensitive.
Although the term “master bedroom” has been used for decades in modern real estate to describe the main and/or largest bedroom of a home, its origin and usage goes back centuries. Although many feel that the description is insensitive, a 1995 HUD Memo on Guidance Regarding Advertisements Under §804(c) of the Fair Housing Act that states “…complaints over use of phrases such as master bedroom, rare find or desirable neighborhood should not be filed.”
There is some suggestion that the first usage of the term master bedroom is in a 1921 Sears catalogue ad for home plans, but that may be more anecdote than fact. However, the modern usage of the term master bedroom most likely arose from architectural descriptions used in blue prints. A 1995 article that appeared in the Society for the Study of Architecture in Canada Bulletin (Susan James; The Master Bedroom Comes of Age: Gender, Sexuality, and the CMHC Competition Series; SSAC Bulletin; vol 20, no 4, 104-111) describes how the master bedroom evolved in architecture. James described how the modern house design revolved around middle class family life. As the middle class grew in prominence during the 1940s and 1950s, the master bedroom became the most important room in the home. The master bedroom was considered the solitude for parents.
James’ account that family lifestyle is the origin of the modern use of the master bedroom is corroborated by medieval scholar Elisabeth van Houts. Van Houts provides insight to the origins of the “master bedroom” usage in her 2019 book Married Life in the Middle Ages, 900-1300. Although the tome is an analysis of European married life during the Middle Ages, there is reference to the mater bedroom. She acknowledges that the modern use of “master bedroom” is probably meant as “head of the household,” but van Houts’ research indicates that the use of the term master bedroom was a medieval description of the marital bedroom. Although some believe this to be a reference to male domination, in actuality it was without gender preference. There is suggestion that medieval wives often dominated over their spouses, especially in the master bedroom. Additionally, van Houts documented accounts of medieval widows who continued to reside in the master bedroom after the death of their husband, while their adult sons lived elsewhere in the home.
The usage of the term “master bedroom” probably originated in Middle Ages and has been widely accepted and still used in real estate descriptions. Nonetheless, many still find the usage offensive. In fact, there was a push to discontinue its use several years ago, when many D.C. area realtors began using the term “owner’s suite” in lieu of “master bedroom.” Although it did not catch on, the use of “owner’s suite” has other connotations and can also be insensitive. Trends in real estate descriptions change as the culture changes, the term “master bedroom” may one day be obsolete.
Dan Krell is a Realtor® with RE/MAX Success in Potomac, MD. You can access more information at www.DanKrell.com