SAN JOSE, Calif. – In another sign of an improving economy, residential remodeling is picking up after several lean years, helped along by homeowners who are deciding to fix up places they can’t sell because of the housing crunch.

“There is an awakening,” said Rick Evans of Bauman Builders in San Jose. Last year “was like a switch that flipped,” he said.

The National Association of Home Builders forecasts residential remodeling expenditures for owner-occupied improvements will increase nationally by 8.9 percent in 2012 and another 11.4 percent in 2013. An index of remodeling contractors’ confidence is at its highest level in five years, according to the association.

“Home remodeling seems to be one of the few areas where there’s any activity in the private construction sector,” said Brad Kemp of Beacon Economics.

The jobs are going to the last contractors standing, following a punishing three or four years in which the construction business drastically slowed during the recession and its aftermath.

Jennifer and Julien Schreyer are remodeling the kitchen of their Oakland, Calif., home, paying cash from savings and investments for the job.

“The economy is getting a little bit more stable, we are feeling a little more secure, and the stock market is going up a little so we could sell some stock,” Jennifer Schreyer said.

The Schreyers have been waiting for the right time to redo the kitchen of the home they bought seven years ago. “It was a little scary to take those steps to do something substantial,” she said, but a new kitchen was a lifestyle essential. “I must say, I love to cook; my husband is French; our two boys were born in Paris, and they love to cook,” she said.

Jim Tibbs of HDR Remodeling in Berkeley, Calif., which is doing the Schreyers’ kitchen, said business began improving in September. “People seeming to be staying in their homes longer, opting for improving the home they’re already in as opposed to selling and taking on a heavier mortgage at a larger home,” he said.