We've all heard the term "curb appeal." Does your home have it? Realtors say it's the most important first impression your home can make, especially in a difficult market.

We've all heard the term "curb appeal." Does your home have it? Realtors say it's the most important first impression your home can make, especially in a difficult market.

Does the front of your home really catch your eye or is it just, well, nice? A big part of your front view is probably your driveway, and new techniques with concrete and asphalt can make your old ho-hum driveway look spectacular.

"Concrete can be virtually any color you want," says Mike Crennen, president of Knife River Materials (formerly LTM Concrete). They have a color-blending system similar to mixing paint in a hardware store that can match any sample from a customer. That drab old gray driveway can now match, contrast or complement the exterior of your home.

"People generally choose neutral colors like grays, blacks or browns, especially if they're planning on re-painting their home," says John Lawton, president of Cut 'N Break Construction, Inc. Concrete doesn't even have to look like concrete anymore. Coloring and stamping techniques make your driveway look like it's made of brick, slate, cobblestone or flagstone at a fraction of the cost.

Custom concrete finishes generally cost about $4 more per square foot than the standard broom finish, says Lawton. Patterns with lots of inlays or borders are more labor-intensive and more expensive. Creative types can let their imagination run wild with designing shapes, colors or pictures in concrete with contrasting colors and textures; for example, a stamped, colored inlay with exposed aggregate borders, says Lawton.

Even asphalt can be stamped and colored, says Crennen. "StreetPrint" is a process he uses that produces realistic-looking brick, slate, stone and other design effects directly onto an asphalt base. It is quicker, easier and more economical than concrete and looks beautiful.

Concrete driveways can be poured in large areas or smaller pieces with spaces in between for grass or moss or other decorative ground cover. "We can make your entire driveway look like one big rock," says Scott Ryerson, manager of Southern Oregon Building Materials. And they're not just square anymore. They can curve and flow through your landscape up to the garage. Today's driveways are not just utilitarian pavement; they are integral parts of your entire landscape design, both functional and beautiful.

Decorative curbs can be added to look neat and tidy with direct drainage (and driving) and separate landscaping.

Lawton recommends removal of the old driveway rather than trying to refurbish it. Painting or staining is difficult and unreliable over the old concrete, and oil and other stains may still show. It usually takes less time and costs less money to rip it out and install an entirely new driveway than to try to prepare the old one for a facelift.

Your beautiful new driveway will be pleasing to the eye, functional and long-lasting and give your home huge curb appeal.