“The driveway sets the tone for your arrival and your expectations coming forward. It serves as the doormat to the house. It should have attention,” says Lynn Fleming, consultant and owner of XACT Interiors with over 20 years of international experience in residential and hospitality design.
Beyond wowing buyers, a thoughtful driveway design can actually help raise your sale price. In HomeLight’s Top Agent Insights Q2 2019 Report, 94.5% of surveyed real estate agents believe curb appeal adds to a seller’s bottom line.
Whether your driveway calls for DIY enhancements or a full overhaul, follow these 6 steps to maximize its potential.
1. Set your driveway curb appeal budget
Should you pour a silky smooth concrete driveway for $6,000? Or just pick up some geraniums and rustic lanterns from Home Depot for $200? If your primary motive is selling your home, you should leave this decision up to your real estate agent.
“Before you do anything, contact your agent,” advises Annette Wilcox, a top agent in Norwalk, OH who sells 77% more homes than the average agent.
“They’re the one who sees houses every day. Take their advice… You could end up putting in a new driveway when all it really needed was a thousand-dollar fix. Agents will tell you if it will add value or translate to less days on market.”
Curb appeal is hyper local; Driveway expectations vary on a neighborhood to neighborhood — even street to street — basis. Your agent will advise you to repair or replace your driveway based on the relative condition of homes in your market.
2. Make the most of your driveway’s material
Your driveway design starts with the material. Select the material which best suits your home’s architectural style and climate, or combine multiple materials for a custom, sophisticated entrance. When it’s time to list your home, maintain your driveway up to its Sunday best.
Gravel: Organic and cost-effective
This loose material creates a beautiful, natural aesthetic, seamlessly integrating into your landscaping. Not only does gravel add visual texture to your home’s exterior, it adds audible texture to its soundscape, pleasantly crunching beneath arriving vehicles. Gravel driveways come in a variety of colors to suit a diverse range of architectural styles from southwestern adobe to Tuscan villa.
Average cost: $1.25 – $1.80 per square foot.
Climate considerations: Gravel requires more maintenance in climates with snowfall. Its uneven surface is difficult to plow and shifts over winter’s course, requiring re-grading in the spring.
Listing preparation: Remove debris like sticks and leaves lodged between stones. Even out your driveway’s surface with a grader blade attachment or lawn roller. Maintain the even surface throughout the listing period with a shovel or rake.
Chip-sealed: Textured and low maintenance
If you love the look of gravel but find regular raking far from zen, a chip sealed driveway is the one for you. Chip sealed (A.K.A. tar-and-chip or macadam) is a layer of washed stone embedded in a tar-like substance sprayed over asphalt. Light, sandy tones are neutral and highly versatile across home styles. Medium to dark grey shades are cooler in appearance, particularly complementing homes with lush, evergreen landscaping.
Average cost: $3 per square foot.
Climate considerations: Chip-sealed driveways are much easier to clear with a snowblower or plow than loose gravel. Just be mindful when clearing snow not to scrape the surface as this can chip raised stones.
Prepare for showings: Rent a pressure washer from Home Depot for around $30 to spray away dirt build up. If the top layer still looks significantly worn or damaged, consider resurfacing (typical around 5 to 7 years after installation).
Concrete: Classic and enduring
Across the nation, concrete is king for driveways. Concrete is stylistically neutral and extremely durable, lasting 25 to 50 years. Play with patterns and stains to add visual interest to this pedestrian pavement. Smooth concrete looks stunning when placed in a diamond pattern. For a more contemporary look, create rows of rectangular concrete slabs, filling diving gaps with moss, grass, or gravel.
Stamped concrete offers the appearance of stone at a more affordable price point. Mimic slate, flagstone, or fieldstone. To ensure a quality imitation, ask your contractor for project photos and addresses of previous job sites you can take a look at.
Average cost: $3 to $7 per square foot for plain concrete; $8 to $18 per square foot for stamped or stained.
Climate considerations: Concrete is suitable for all climates. For the best results, pour a new driveway in late spring to early fall. The surface of fresh concrete is highly absorbent and may overexpand if exposed to salt-infused water too prematurely.
Listing preparation: Though generally durable, concrete may crack over time due to heavy vehicles, temperature changes, or underlying tree roots. Seal cracks under 1/4 inch wide on your own using concrete crack fillers. For wider cracks, consult a contractor before risking DIY (a mismatched patch is an even bigger eyesore!). Remove any oil stains following WikiHow’s various methods. If the stains persist, phone a professional.
Asphalt: Practical and easy to install
Miss congeniality, asphalt may not be the most beautiful on the block but she’s certainly the most easy going. This material is relatively cheap and simple to install. It is also highly durable and crack resistant, expanding and contracting with changing temperatures. When it comes to design, Fleming recommends curving your asphalt to add interest:
“I would look at the shape and the start and end points to make that ribbon of black or grey look interesting rather than just having a straight shot of heavy dark black. It’s nice to have some kink or form to it so it looks more slim, less obtrusive.”
Average cost: $3.50 – $4.50 per square foot.
Climate considerations: Asphalt works well across temperatures. However, in extremely hot climates, the material may melt slightly, leading to warping over time.
Listing Preparation: Reseal your asphalt if the surface is faded or riddled with minor cracks. A professional can tackle the job for an average cost of $200 to $600. Alternatively, conceal individual cracks DIY style with this how-to guide. You’ll need melt-in filler ($0.60 per foot), a screwdriver, hammer, torch, and scraper, as well as a diamond wheel for thinner cracks. Expect to spend a few hours to half a day depending on the length of the crack.
Pavers: Versatile and bespoke
Transform your driveway into a custom detailed masterpiece with pavers. Pavers come in an array of sizes and materials including brick, concrete, and stone. Join them in a unique or classic pattern or space them out in a grid filled with grass or gravel.
Average cost: $10 to $50 per square foot depending on paver material.
Climate considerations: In rainy regions, opt for permeable pavers; these are extra porous, allowing water to seep into the ground beneath, mitigating stormwater runoff.
Listing preparation: Replace individual pavers with cracks or large chips if possible. Remove weeds growing between pavers. Finish by pressure washing the entire surface.
3. Accentuate your driveway with a border
While pavers in Beverly Hills are gorgeous for luxury homes, you can achieve a beautiful, upscale look with bordering for a far lower cost. As its name suggests, bordering is a design technique where an accent material is used to frame the sides or completely encompass the perimeter of a driveway.
“Bordering is still very much on trend,” Fleming shares. “Bordering gives a little bit of end to the driveway and frames the landscaping around it. It really breaks up the swath if there’s a particularly long driveway.”
It’s fairly easy to add a border if your driveway is flanked by a soft surface like grass. Simply cut into the grass and install pavers level to the existing material’s surface.
Organic borders are even more affordable, just add an 18-inch strip of a low lying plant following the same technique. Fleming recommends black mondo grass for a modern take, especially for homes with black accents, or flowers like geraniums for a more colorful expression.
4. Bring in nature with planters
Planters are another inexpensive way to add volume and greenery to your driveway. Dripping succulents in ombre glazed pots, spiraling snake plants in black matte planters, or regal topiaries in stone containers, the combinations are endless (…pssst, plastic planters will do too!) Place a pot on each side of the garage door or several in a row between the driveway and lawn for a monumental look.
5. Turn heads with solar lanterns and accent lights
No listing is complete without gorgeous, glowing night time shots. Curated lighting is the pièce de résistance of your curb appeal.
“Lighting to me is drama — it’s the jewelry on a house,” Fleming remarks, suggesting a beautiful driveway is wasted without lighting to bring it to life at low light.
Place evenly spaced solar lights along the border of your driveway for a striking entrance. Let other elements of your curb appeal share the spotlight with matching lanterns along the pathway to your front door. For some whimsical flare, run string lights up the branch of a prominent tree or loosely dangle strands from low-hanging branches.
6. Clean your driveway before each viewing
Maintain your driveway’s beauty throughout the listing period by sweeping and rinsing its surface, edging adjacent lawns, and trimming neighboring plants. Wash away mess brought on by rain or wind with a rented pressure washer for $30. If you’re selling your home in the winter, clear snow off the driveway for open houses and viewings. Wilcox emphasizes: “People want to know that you’re not hiding anything in the driveway. When you pull into a snow covered driveway and it’s concrete, people think you didn’t shovel it for a reason.”
Let your driveway woo buyers
Curb appeal is all about inspiring buyers to feel love at first sight. A thoughtful, maintained driveway is the first hint your home is worthy of affection.