What You’ll Learn
The complicated story behind the phrase “master bedroom”
Why the lingo of homebuying needs to reflect all homebuyers
How Better Mortgage & Better Real Estate are moving forward
Take a look at any floorplan, and you’ll probably see the word “master” used to describe the largest bedrooms and bathrooms in the house. In and of itself, the word isn’t inherently bad—after all, you can get a master’s degree in education, you can become a master carpenter, you can master the French language. But when it comes to housing, this phrase is a problematic relic from a bygone era. As we continue to build the future of homebuying, outdated vocabulary like this deserves a closer look.
A brief history of master bedrooms
According to a New York Times article published on the subject, the first use of the phrase “master bedroom” can be traced back to a 1926 Sears catalog. The term was used to describe the main bedroom in one of their kit houses, and seems to have been intended to replace a more antiquated term like “chamber.”
When this Sears catalog was published—nearly a century ago!—the world was a very different place. For starters, women had only held legal voting rights for about 6 years and they wouldn’t be allowed to independently get a mortgage for another 50. The overwhelming majority of homeowners at the time were white, cisgendered men and the lending industry was still dominated by discriminatory practices that made it almost impossible for people of color to get a mortgage. (The Fair Housing Act of 1968 wouldn’t be ratified for more than 40 years.)
During those intervening decades, many minority families suffered more than injustice—they missed out on building and benefitting from significant financial security. Today, Black families still significantly trail white families in terms of generational wealth, large portions of which are derived from equity and homeownership. In light of America’s history of racial injustice and inequality, “master bedroom” strikes an obvious and unpleasant nerve.
Why make a change?
A new chapter of homebuying is here, and we need to find the right words to reflect that. From conversations between real estate agents and potential homebuyers to formal paperwork and contracts, retiring “master bedroom” has benefits across the board:
- Homebuying should be treated as a universal experience.
“Inclusive language is critical in real estate—it helps me establish trust and build good relationships with clients from all cultures, backgrounds, and lifestyles,” says Better Real Estate agent Maya Peterson. “Ultimately, I chose this career because I love helping people find the right home—and that’s a universal experience that deserves universal language.”
- Homebuying is more diverse than ever.
The way we talk about homes is changing to reflect increasingly diverse homeowner demographics. For example, the habit of describing matching sinks or closets as “his and hers” now seems outdated in a world where same-sex couples can marry and buy homes together. In that same vein, last year 19% of homes were bought by single women. Words matter, which is why Better uses language that reflects the full spectrum of our home buying customers (including the use of “primary” rather than “master” when referring to bedrooms and bathrooms in our marketing and training materials.)
- Vocabulary evolves with the times.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that change is natural, and that certain phrases have always come in and out of fashion. (There’s a reason we don’t say “tubular” or “far out” anymore.) The more distance we gain on habits and customs from the past, the clearer our perspective becomes on the present. By updating our language to reflect current attitudes and outlooks, we’re doing what people have always done—growing, evolving, and progressing.
At Better, we’re working to make the entire homeownership experience more integrated, fair, and equitable. Looking to buy a home or refinance? Curious to see how much you can afford? Get started in as little as 3 minutes with our online pre-approval.