Don’t underestimate the power of the right driveway. After all, Elizabeth Bennet’s low opinion of Mr Darcy improved immeasurably as soon as her carriage swept up the mile-long drive of Pemberley. ‘She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste,’ wrote Jane Austen of her heroine in Pride and Prejudice. Although some will dismiss the design and condition as irrelevances, when it comes to selling country houses, these first impressions are fundamental, say many agents.
‘Of course, we can’t all have Capability Brown,’ says Philip Eddell of Savills’ country-house consultancy. ‘But the approach to a house is completely critical, regardless of the distance. It’s important to create a sense of destination, and getting details right here gives potential buyers confidence that what they’re about to do see is well managed.’
Edward Sugden of Property Vision says getting the balance right is vital. ‘Landscapers will advise that a drive should allow for glimpses of the house as you progress, which is absolutely correct. But the tone has to be right, too: we had one client who wouldn’t allow a leaf to fall on his half-mile drive and another who insisted on having his gravel raked every day so you could see every footprint. That’s obsessive.’
What passes for the right drive-way varies according to location: within the M25, iron gates flanked by imposing eagles perched on pillars is one statement; in the countryside, different rules apply. Film-set lighting and heated driveways aren’t encouraged, but you can introduce security features, such as cameras hidden in fake yew hedges because some are so well made that no one notices. Providing it’s in keeping with the surroundings, the gate can be just a simple five-bar affair. ‘It’s all about getting that happy medium without being ostentatious,’ advises Ed Cunningham from Knight Frank.
Regardless of how long the drive is, most agree that gravel (preferably a colour that matches the local stone) rather than Tarmac is the best option, as the crunch under the car wheels gives the ‘right impression’. There are caveats, however. Too deep, and spoilers, car wheels and high heels sink uncomfortably; too shallow, and the ground shows through, which looks scruffy. Potholes are a big turn-off. ‘In addition, watch out for cattle grids. One of our clients drove over one and a bar broke. The car got out, but it didn’t get us off to the best start,’ says Mr Sugden.
Hedges should be regularly trimmed. Yew, box or laurel work well, and once you’ve chosen the species, stick with it for the sake of uniformity. ‘Verges should be tidy,’ adds Mr Eddell, ‘But there’s nothing worse than verges that look like bowling greens-too twee. Equally, one covered in brambles makes people think what else has been left unkempt.’ Gates and fences should be regularly painted and, again, follow a consistent colour scheme; above all, avoid a ‘liquorice allsorts’ of colours and materials.
Finally, this is such a key element that if the current drive doesn’t do the house justice, consider moving it, say agents. Simon Merton of Strutt & Parker’s Moreton-in-Marsh office remembers one occasion when there was no other alternative. ‘We were selling a significant country house, but the approach was down a farm track that had three or four other houses off it. It was so awful that I persuaded the client to buy an extra plot of land and re-route the driveway. It wasn’t cheap [he estimates in the region of £50,000], but when it comes to sale, it will add an extra £250,000 extra to the price tag.’
1. Balance Landscape but avoid
2. Suitability to location Mask security features
if the house is traditional and rural
3. Material Gravel is generally
better than Tarmac
4. Hedges Trim regularly and make them consistent
Start again If necessary, buy extra land and re-route the whole
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