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Terms to Avoid: Master Suite

Kayla Johnson Diversity, ethics, Fair Housing 40 Comments

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Kayla Johnson

By: Kayla Johnson

The term “master suite” has been a standard term in the real estate industry for years, commonly used to describe the primary bedroom with an attached private bathroom (en-suite) in a home.

However, discussions over the past few years have highlighted the potentially insensitive connotations associated with this term. The use of the word “master” to describe someone who has control or ownership over others has a painful and, at the very least, contentious history. For some, the term brings about memories of a time when Black Americans were not free, as “master” was often used as a term for slave owners on the plantations. With ongoing racism and barriers to fair housing still in the forefront of many Black Americans’ lives, the use of the word “master” adds to the burden. For others, “master” is an outdated term rooted in misogyny, referring to the master of the house, who was often male. As a result, using this term can be considered offensive and triggering to some.

Many will point to the fact that the term was first thought to be coined by Sears in 1926 as a marketing strategy to sell a particularly extravagant listing. And that seems to be true. The research seems to conclude that this is when the term came about. However, that doesn’t change the fact that several groups take issue with the word “master” and it’s connotations. As real estate professionals who strive to bring about fair housing for all, terminology holds much weight.

To address this issue, many individuals and organizations have started to use alternative terms that are more respectful and inclusive. Some of these terms include “owner’s suite,” “primary suite,” or “main bedroom.” By adopting more appropriate language, we can take an important step toward creating a more welcoming and equitable world where everyone feels valued and respected in their homes and communities.

n many hotels and other public accommodations, African American guests were often denied access to the most luxurious rooms, including suites. They were instead relegated to less desirable rooms located in separate areas or floors. In private homes, African American families were often denied access to the same level of luxury and comfort as their white counterparts, with African American servants being forced to sleep in small, cramped quarters in the basement or attic. In a world where most households are dual income, where women often find that there are glass-ceiling style barriers to all kinds of opportunities from the board room to the home, the term master suite can feel antiquated and unnecessarily demeaning.

Today, the concept of a master suite has evolved to become a standard feature in many high-end homes. It is no longer explicitly associated with racism or segregation. However, the legacy of racism and discrimination in the history of the master suite serves as a reminder of the enduring impact of systemic inequality on the built environment.

Ongoing efforts to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in all aspects of design and architecture are needed to address this legacy and promote more inclusive and equitable spaces. The language we use can significantly impact others, and we must be mindful of the words we choose. As we commit to fair and equitable housing, it’s important that we understand how language can impact those with whom we work. We should work diligently to ensure that outdated language is removed from our personal vocabularies and from that of our teams and brokerages. This is one way that we can promote equity within the industry.

Kayla Johnson is a licensed Missouri and Illinois real estate agent, I prioritize providing 3D service – dependable, direct, and defined – to families throughout the Metro Saint Louis area. I aim to earn your trust by delivering exceptional service and helping you navigate the world of homeownership.

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Comments 40

  1. It is about time that the MLS’s remove “master bedroom” and “master bath” from the drop down field to enter the room’s dimensions. I have requested this in the past with no success.

  2. I accept that we have our own opinions. But respectfully, on this one, I disagree. I personally feel that this a distraction in light of things that are more pressing. For example, we need so much more energy and attention to our desperate need to create more homebuyers, particularly minority families that trail behind others. Those who want/need to create generational wealth are not worried about a name for a room. They just want one. Are they so offended by the term Master Bedroom that they won’t look at a home, or buy one if the word is used in an ad, or by an agent? In over 30 years as a Black agent, I’ve never heard that complaint. Not once. People simply want a home. The attention is coming from agents creating an issue around this descriptive term, from what I’ve seen. In my practice and city, we are working to sell houses. Policing language and being “triggered” is very subjective & personal. In my opinion, most people don’t know & have never even heard of a negative connotation around the term Master Bedroom. We use it as casually as any other house related word simply to describe the room. Kitchen, bathroom, etc. When I hear it, I know which room is being described. It’s that simple. Must we now stop using the word “master” in any setting? Absolutely not. Same word. Same history around it. Right? Master Lease, Master Key, Master Mind, Master Gardner, Master’s Degree. Where does it end? My personal goal is simply to help more families buy homes so that they can have their piece of the American Dream! My energy is around getting them that desirable Master Bedroom in their own home, respectfully.

  3. I’m all in favor of “Primary bedroom/suite.” I’d also like to see “Gentleman’s Farm” disappear.

  4. I enjoyed this reading. I stopped using the term master suite a few years ago, and I educate my client’s when I hear them use it. I often share a terse statement about why we do not use the phrase.

  5. Where & How did you verify the history of the use of the term “Master Suite”?

    What’s the source of reference, including the date of publication?

    I’d like to access this source myself for reference material.

    Others have said that this term was developed in the 1930’s but you found documentation from the 1800’s, refuting 1930’s.


  6. I will exercise my First Amendment right of freedom of speech and use the term “master bedroom “ .
    Evidently the language police haven’t caught on to horribly insensitive use of the term “ master bath “ because it is used in listings frequently by our association members.
    This politically correct nonsense is ridiculous.

  7. The master bedroom is where the owners of the home live. They are in control of the children that live in the home. It is bad for the country to take words that are not racist and make them into words that are racist. People are asking for us to not use the term “mother” and “father” as well. When will it end. Making something racist that isnt racist is wrong.

  8. What are other acceptable terms for such real estate descriptions as “his and her closets”, “Jack and Jill bathrooms”, “she sheds” and “man caves”?

  9. Hi Kayla,
    While I have no problem using other terminology for Master Suite, as someone who feels that we should learn from history to prevent things from happening again, I do think that this society has become uber sensitive, and can feel offended much too easily. I have been a Realtor over 30 years, and have used this term since day 1. It has never entered my mind of it being offensive, and I have worked with many people across many ethnic backgrounds, including Black clients, and have never hear d a single comment regarding this until now. We need to help make people much less sensitive so that we can trust one another and move forward.
    Thanks for listening.

  10. I am so glad you had written this. . . I am still seeing references to these bedrooms in the multiple listing sites and have been for some time now, even when the topic was first brought to our attention.

  11. I as a wife, I also don’t like master suite verbiage. The choice to raise children as a career can often come with the feeling of enslavement and servitude, even when it’s been a life long dream to be a full time mother. I struggled with the lose of independence after I left my career and years of being financially self sufficient.
    My husband is not my master. And society can support this very important career of motherhood by acknowledging the verbiage does present a systemic bias of servitude. I like the “Main Suite “

  12. I have been in the real estate industry for 23 years, I am considered a minority owned business. In the the 23 years that I have been serving real estate clients, not one seller, or buyer has “ever” complained about the words ” Master Suite”. You can carry some of these new ideas of inclusions just so far, then people will not know what you are actually saying. Since non of my clients have ever complained about the terms ” Master Suite” in any of my listings, and it is a universally known term, I don’t plan to discontinue using it. Since I have been committed to Diversity and Inclusion all of my life, I try to make my contributions in these issues by actually living an inclusive life, not doing and saying superficial things that really don’t contribute to the quality of life of anyone. We are not currently living in a time frame when you have masters and slaves, I feel this is a superficial contribution to Diversity and Inclusion.

  13. 100% agree. The usage of words changes the landscape and creates opportunity for our every prospective client, for us as Realtors as well as every homeowner thinking about selling. Inclusion matters. Let’s drop using the master TODAY.

  14. I did away with the term “Master Suite” years ago. I use the term “Main Bedroom.” Or, owners suite.

    Although Ms. Johnspn’s article was somewhat interesting. It appreared to be somewhat biased. She made it more about race than I think she needed to.

    James G. Snotherly, BIC. GRI
    Raleigh, NC

  15. I mostly don’t believe people who say they’re offended by the phrase “master bedroom.” I’d be interested to know if its origins had anything to do with slavery. Are they triggered by any use of the term “master”? Should mechanics stop saying “master cylinder”? How about “chess master”? I submit that this type of thing is much more a way for people to find power for themselves, when they can get others to say what they want them to say.

  16. Look at past polls on the subject.
    96% of public when asked about the term “master” always referred to just a bedroom in a house with no slave cogitations attached.

  17. Is it proper to refer to a house as a home rather than a house when there are some folk’s home is a tent or card board box on the streets of the big cities, and possibly living in other none traditional residences/ homes.

    Would referring to a residence as a home as opposed to a calling it a house be appropriate?

    Thank you.

  18. To promote Equity in toto within our industry is to follow the Fair Housing Edicts religiously, not the prevention of use of the word(s)–“master suite” and the like!

  19. In my experience, no one has indicated a negative thought of the description Master Bedroom. Your premise would lead me to believe that words can significantly impact others in a negative way. It is not the words only behavior or actions that hurt. It is a failure of the receiver of the word to see and feel victimized over an injury that is neither real nor intended to be real. I was taught that by my parents and I taught that to my children. Rather than removing words, I would encourage practitioners to treat everyone as you wish to be treated.

  20. It is a word that was used to describe the head of the household’s bedroom and bath. It was during a time when respect and honor was granted to the parents, both mother and father. My Master is the Lord Jesus Christ. What gives anyone the right to a word and to limit its use upon others? Is that not the control that you say is offensive and triggering to some? Treating each other with respect and love comes directly from our Master. Eliminating words, meanings, and the like belongs to no one.

  21. guess someone should inform corelogic, the premier software system that the real estate industry uses nationwide: that master bed should be replaced with primary in their software so the potential clients will feel offended…

  22. This is a well written article and I do respect your opinion. Growing up in a ‘minority household’ didn’t thing twice when my Scoutmaster father taught the Junior Leaders in camp. After all he was a Master Chief in the Navy. Nor did the Headmaster in my private school offend any students that I have heard. Nor when I was an apprentice and worked very hard for 5yrs to earn my title Master Journeyman or a Master Craftsmen, then a General Contractor(I hope the word General never offends). Nor when I owned a fleet of big rigs nobody gave a 2nd thought that I was a truckmaster or a master mechanic. When I became a real estate Broker I offended nobody when I joined Toastmasters. Because I’m a master prospector I caught the attention of the local US Mail Postmaster with the amount of postcards I send out. I give back to all my colleagues when I lead our mastermind group and they even call me the ring master of the master mind. I became the top broker in my office – No feelings were hurt when the other agents said, “you’re the master…” Just last week I had the joyous occasion to see my loved one earn her Master’s Degree and nobody told her that her earned degree had a potentially insensitive connotations that would hurt someone’s feelings. I’m not English but I do still own a Kingsize and Queen size beds so I hope the Brits are ok with that. Next let’s take on the word Landlord.

    1. Your response to this is just the best!! So spot on with the perfect amount of humor. That you for taking the time to write something so thought out that by the end your laughing at just how absurd this whole thing is. I’ve been a realtor in Calif. for 37 years and just can not get myself to use anything other than “Master bedroom”. It’s ridiculous. That’s for your response here. Just awesome.

  23. I can totally understand the connotation that “master” suite can have. I think Primary Suite is better. I am a single mother so my bedroom is the Primary bedroom, not the master:)

  24. This is getting out of hand. Now we are going back in time to find something to be offended by. I now have buyers specifically asking why I wasnt saying master and offended by the woke response. I am over it. Its a master bedroom and master bath.

  25. While I have changed my vocabulary to primary suite, I notice that MLS’ auto pre fill on the listing site still only offers Master suite ~ not even Primary suite as an option. Often I’ve had to use Bedroom 1, 2 or 3.

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