When I announced in the office sales meeting at William Raveis that The Home Guru Team was just about to list a great “mother/daughter” house, my office manager Doris Ellias gently advised me that “now it’s suggested that we refer to them as ‘extended family’ houses.”
Oh, no, I exclaimed mentally, now we have yet another widely accepted housing term that is considered either politically incorrect or unacceptable to the Fair Housing Act’s advertising guidelines. I looked for any reference to support Doris’ notation and couldn’t find anything, but I’m sure she’s right. After all, my friend Steve Welles lives in that kind of set-up with his two sons, Shane and Cody and why should his house be called a “mother/daughter” and not a “father/son?” So, I guess “extended family” can cover a broader swath of new family situations, including all the in-laws, and all the other possibilities we now have with equality in marriage.
But, consider yourself lucky when you set out to sell your home that you’ve hired a professional realtor who’s trained to navigate all the language land mines out there that protect citizens from discrimination in housing. We realtors have one heck of a time making sure that we are in compliance when we create copy for a listing, write a brochure or place ads. We might as well have a lawyer by our sides to make sure we are not in violation of those guidelines. Acceptable terms and phrases may seem arbitrary until they offend someone and spark a complaint to a government agency.
Section 804(c) of the Fair Housing Act prohibits language that would foster discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin and, now, in some states, sexual orientation. Some limitations are allowed, such as “no smoking” and “no pets” but others are not, such as “no children” and may not state a preference for adults, couples or singles but rather can describe the properties, as suggested by the National Association of Realtors. We all know the obvious phrases that would denote a particular preference or those code words that imply limitations such as “exclusive” or “private.” Also we must be careful not to mention particular school systems or houses of worship that could imply a preference in a buyer or tenant.
And when we set about to describe the house itself, there are difficulties in describing its rooms with all the changes that have come about with modern living and, in some cases, where a name may have one meaning but imply another. For instance, does having a master bedroom imply that slavery is still alive and well, or that only households with males at their head should consider buying the home? And, where would the mistress put down digs?
Scores of other questions come to mind about rooms’ names. Why do we call it a John and not a Jill? And, I don’t even want to venture a guess about the Jack and Jill bathroom.
So many room names have gone totally bye-bye just by virtue of the way we live differently from the way we lived years ago. Does anyone really live in the living room anymore? Hasn’t it been completely replaced by the family room just off the kitchen? Shouldn’t we just dump it from our housing vocabulary and our floor plans as well? And who decided that the great room should be a great room? Is that in contrast to a lousy room?
And have you seen a sitting room or sewing room lately? Or a library? That is, unless you live grandly, as some do. One of my favorite stories is about the time I visited the home of a client, Ella Brennan, matriarch of the family that owns Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, and when she opened the double doors to her grand ballroom, I exclaimed, “Oh, you have a ballroom in your house!” and she replied, “Doesn’t everyone?”
And why do we still call the mud room the mud room? Has there really been any mud in it since we stopped being an agrarian society? Just in the past month I’ve listed two historic houses that have “birthing rooms” just off the kitchen. What in the world should I call them? And, remember the rumpus room when we were kids? All such vestigial rooms have been replaced courtesy of the internet with the home office that people my age never had the luxury of and are now de rigueur in the modern household.
There are so many terms and room descriptions that are being pulled from our housing vocabulary for one reason or another, either because of lifestyles changes or the requirements of the Fair Housing guidelines, that someday we may be reduced to saying simply, “nice house for sale.”
Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest running public relations agency in Westchester (www.PrimaveraPR.com), specializing in lifestyles, real estate and development. His real estate site is: www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com and his blog is: www.TheHomeGuru.com. To engage the services of The Home Guru and his team to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.