It can be difficult to articulate exactly what you want to your builder. You know it when you see it, but you may not know how to describe it.

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Q: We’d like to build a new home in Burien, and we have pretty specific ideas about how we want it to look — especially inside. Does it help to show our builder photos of what we like, or is that confusing?

A: We’ve all heard that a picture is worth a thousand words, but does that apply to homebuilding? For the most part, it does — with limitations. I’ll explain that in a bit.

First, let’s talk about the benefits of using images of houses, finishes or designs that you find online, in a magazine or that you’ve taken yourself. It can be difficult to articulate exactly what you want. You know it when you see it, but you may not know how to describe it.

On top of that, you and your builder may speak different languages. By that, I mean builders have very specific terms for some aspects of building. If you inadvertently use the wrong word to describe what you’re after, your builder could misunderstand your intent.

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Most homeowners don’t think in terms of floor plans or blueprints. They think in images. It feels more natural and “real.” Good builders can take the photo and then work with an architect or designer to create the plans necessary to actually build the house.

(Courtesy MBA)
(Courtesy MBA)

Another advantage of showing your builder a photo is that often he’ll know exactly what he has to do to create what you want. He’s probably seen something like what you’re picturing before. That makes it easier for him to give you an accurate estimate of cost.

A lot of builders use pictures to show clients what aspects of their homes will look like. You can look at pictures and even take virtual tours of homes on many builders’ websites. That way, everybody is on the same page.

There are some limitations you should be aware of, however. It’s easy to grab a picture of something online that looks spectacular and show it to your builder without having any context. For example, you might see a design online that you love that’s from a $1 million home. It’s beautiful, but you probably won’t be able to do the same thing in a house that costs $350,000 or $400,000.

The scale of the home the photo comes from can also be a limitation. A sweeping entryway might be very impressive in a 10,000-square-foot home, but it could look really out of place in a home that’s in the 2,500- to 3,000-square-foot range.

So should you show photos to a builder to communicate what you’re after? Absolutely. Just keep factors like scale and pricing in mind when you gather your pictures. And make sure you’re working with a builder who will listen so that your goals, your wishes and your budget are clearly understood.

Brooks Powell is the general manager of Powell Homes and Renovations and a member of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties, and HomeWork is the MBA’s weekly column. If you have a home improvement, remodeling or residential homebuilding question you’d like answered by one of the MBA’s more than 2,800 members, write to