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From RESO CEO Sam DeBord:

Multiple members of the RESO community have asked that we discuss the impact and alternatives for terms that use “master” such as master bedroom or master bathroom. At least one MLS is making changes to these terms, substituting “primary” for “master” in the display name of its applications.

Before RESO members take any positions on the discussion, it’s important that we lay some groundwork and ensure we’re open and transparent as an organization. RESO’s Data Dictionary Workgroup met June 17, 2020, to begin this discussion. The group is seeking feedback from your local markets.

It’s important to separate the concepts of display names–which consumers and professional users of applications see–and data field names in the background which are required to be consistent across applications. RESO certification allows for a display name that is different than the underlying data field name. So while some organizations might display “master” and others might display “primary” or “main”, the underlying data field’s name must still be consistently represented in the background. Currently, that data field name is Master Bedroom. 

Questions to be considered:

  • Does the term “master” need to be removed from displays of real estate data? Does it also need to be changed in the underlying data field transports of standardized real estate data? What are the ramifications of a potential change?

RESO has been engaging in outreach with industry stakeholders. The National Association of REALTORS provides some perspective:

“In January, NAR launched its ACT! Fair Housing Action Plan (https://www.nar.realtor/fair-housing/new-fair-housing-action-plan), which is dedicated to promoting greater accountability, culture change, and improved training among real estate professionals. While several MLSs have contemplated or have made a change in policy regarding advertising terms, NAR continues to rely on HUD’s longstanding policy that common architectural terms do not violate the Fair Housing Act (https://www.hud.gov/sites/dfiles/FHEO/documents/Advertisements%20Memo_508.pdf). At this time, we are renewing our focus on substantive fair housing challenges our nation must still overcome, such as the continued discrimination in real estate transactions, great disparities in homeownership among racial groups, and the resultant wealth gap among those groups. NAR will continue to explore actions that will make meaningful progress in eliminating racial disparities in housing.”

“NAR sees no reason that real estate professionals cannot use the term (master bedroom), as there is also no evidence that it has any historical connection to slavery or any other kind of discrimination,” NAR President Vince Malta said in a statement.

If, despite this background, organizations would still like to see changes in the application of the term “master”:

  • Does the underlying data field need to change, or does the industry simply need guidance regarding the ability to change the name displayed to consumers?
  • What does “master” describe today, and would a different term describe exactly the same thing?
    • Does a master merely describe the largest/primary/main bedroom in a home, regardless of adjacent baths?
    • Does a master bedroom mean a bedroom within a master suite, which inherently also includes an attached private bathroom?

Please provide feedback from your marketplace before our next Data Dictionary Workgroup meeting on Thursday, July 16 at 9 am PT/12 pm ET.

This conversation is not limited to the real estate industry. For example, GitHub is a popular software development platform where the “master branch” of software is being changed to “main” in some cases. As the topics have progressed elsewhere it’s clear that those which start with true conversations are more professional and productive than those that begin with entrenched viewpoints on two sides of a fence. 

Some research and questions to consider:

Historical

The term “master” seems to have been associated with room details since the 1920s. It has elicited concerns regarding the term master’s relationship to slavery and its male centricity. In research thus far, it doesn’t appear that “master” was associated with slavery when it was originally applied to bedrooms and baths. Further research is welcome, and the lack of historical relation alone does not negate member concerns or perceptions of real estate terminology today.

Over the years, there have been calls to change the terminology. Some home builders began using the term “owner’s bedroom” in recent years. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has reviewed the term and does not consider it discriminatory.

Functional

The term “master” is sometimes used today as a relational term that designates that a bedroom is connected internally to a private bathroom in a master suite. It sometimes designates a hierarchy of rooms, and terms like “main,” “primary,” and “owner’s” have been used alternatively. 

Considerations should be made for market realities: renters who occupy properties, homes with multiple “master suites,” homes with no ordinal or hierarchy to bedroom layout, etc. If an alternative term were to be used in the place of “master,” significant analysis should be done to ensure it is an accessible and descriptively productive term. The likelihood of real estate agents understanding the terms and appropriately classifying the rooms for consumers should be considered.

Master Bedroom Term Venn Diagram

Technical

RESO’s Data Dictionary standardized fields and enumerations exist for the sake of making technology more efficient. The standard also suggests display names for the actual interfaces which provide terms to consumers and professionals. RESO doesn’t unilaterally create these definitions. They come from industry implementations and community discussions that lead to a common standard.

So while a data field might have a name that includes the term master, RESO standards allow for companies to display the data to consumers with a different name. The same data might be called “primary bedroom” on one application and “owner’s bedroom” on another and both would conform to the standard for master bedroom if the field name in the background is correct.

Changing the underlying field names of master bedroom and master bathroom is a different proposition. When the field “MasterBedroom” is transmitted across the wire, it must be the same across all systems for them to interoperate: to be able to “talk to each other”. Some applications might display it as-is instead of applying an appropriate display name (not a best practice). Avoiding this scenario altogether would require a standard specification change and core changes in the implementations of all RESO-certified systems. Yet the flexibility of display names already provides a method to fix this situation. 

Learning from Other Conversations

As this conversation made its way through the software community regarding Github’s master branch, the feedback from many different constituent groups was diverse. Some people felt the term master was offensive and should be changed. Others felt the discussion of changing a technical term was a distraction from activities that would truly effect social change. Some developers felt the changes were unnecessarily cumbersome. Others viewed them as insignificant and in some cases an improvement (“master” is called “trunk” or “main” in other settings). 

The term “master” is still used in other industries for classes, drives, chefs, degrees, and more. Yet if our community believes changing our own terminology has merit, it should be considered thoughtfully. Thank you for listening to this conversation and contributing to it thoughtfully as RESO members.

DLU June 29th, 2020