Racism in real estate. When words matter.

Jun 26, 2020

From Vanessa Saunders, MBA, MIMC, Broker Owner, Global Property Systems Real Estate.

Inman News reported that the Houston Association of Realtors MLS has removed the terms “master bedroom” and “master bathroom” from its MLS listing descriptions as part of a renewed national focus on racism and discrimination. First reported by a handful of Texas publications on Tuesday, HAR now uses the terms “primary bedroom” and “primary bathroom,” effective June 15.

We heartily applaud HAR’s actions regarding these terms and the implications they bear. We are following HAR’s lead, and voluntarily changing all uses of “master” bedrooms and baths in our listing’s literature as quickly as possible.

But there are some other common real estate terms I would like to see eliminated from our nomenclature.

Red Lining
I would love to eliminate Red Lining, both the practice and thus the need for the term.  Created in the post-depression 1930s by Federal housing agencies including the Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) and the FHA, the agencies determined whether areas were deemed unfit for investment by banks, insurance companies, savings and loans associations, and other financial services companies. The areas were graphically highlighted with red shading on a map. The practice quickly devolved into a discriminatory pattern of disinvestment and obstructive lending practices that acted as an impediment to homeownership among African Americans and other people of color. In 1968, the Civil Rights Act passed, theoretically outlawed redlining. Nonetheless, its impact has been felt long after that date, and still occurs today.

Racial steering
Another term describing real estate practices we need to eliminate. Steering refers to the practice in which real estate brokers guide prospective home buyers towards or away from certain neighborhoods based on their race. The term is used in the context of de facto residential segregation. Steering has been outlawed in the United States, but an investigation published November 17, 2019, by Newsday magazine on Long Island uncovered widespread evidence that discriminatory, and potentially illegal, home-selling practices are still helping to keep the area’s neighborhoods segregated.

Through blockbusting, brokers intentionally stoke fears of integration and declining property values in order to push homeowners to sell at a loss. The practice of blockbusting has been illegal since the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Properties in a historically all-white neighborhood turn over faster when the share of minority households in that neighborhood reaches a tipping point. It is both a practice and a term we could do without.

There are many more words I’d like to never have to use again. Race has always been a part of real estate, sometimes fair, often not.


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