Is Your Listing Offensive?

January 16, 2014

Real estate ads are getting a big dose of political correctness, as real estate professionals are carefully watching their words in listings so as not to offend anyone. 

Major home builders in Washington, D.C., reportedly are no longer using the term “master bedroom” in their marketing because, they say, it has racist undertones. Instead, the term is being replaced with “owner’s suite.” Others in the real estate community are also carefully choosing their words to avoid potential conflicts with the Fair Housing Act.

“You can say ‘family room’ but not ‘family home,’” explains Beth Brody, a licensed real estate agent in Marin County, Calif. “We avoid anything gender-specific like ‘his-and-hers’ closets or baths.” Brody says her real estate agency carefully monitors the language used in its agents’ listing ads, adding that the list of potentially offensive words has grown over the years. 

Doing so could save a lot of trouble. For example, in August, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a ruling and granted a new trial to the Miami Valley Fair Housing Center in a federal discrimination lawsuit over an Ohio apartment listing that used the phrase “bachelor pad.” 

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has never issued an official list of terms to avoid, but some MLSs have. The Northwest Multiple Listings Service issued a list of “potentially offensive words,” such as “newlyweds,” “country club nearby,” “handyman’s dream,” “safe neighborhood,” “secure,” and “walking distance to.” (After all, one person’s idea of what is nearby may not be someone else’s, and “walking distance” may be prejudicial against someone in a wheel chair, agents note.)

Lesley Walker, associate counsel at the National Association of REALTORS®, says, “Our culture and society are now more in tune with the sensitivities of more groups of people. I think we’re more aware and educated, and so [we are] taking more precautions not to inadvertently or expressly discriminate against a specific class of people.” 

Source: “You Can’t Say That ... in a Real Estate Ad!” The Examiner (Jan. 15, 2014)