If you’ve been waiting to paint that porch, upgrade the tile in your bathroom, or change out that broken kitchen faucet, this might be your year to do a home improvement project. According to a new study from the Harvard Center for Joint Housing Studies, it looks like spending on home improvement projects will decline about 12 percent in 2009.

“The weak housing market and the national economic recession continue to take their toll on remodeling,” explains Nicolas P. Retsinas, director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies. “It looks increasing unlikely that this industry will recover until consumers have more confidence in the housing market.”

“Lower financing costs are beginning to stabilize the downturn in existing home sales, as they also are reducing the cost of financing a home improvement project” notes Kermit Baker, director of the Remodeling Futures Program of the Joint Center. “However, they have not been enough to offset rising unemployment and falling consumer confidence and encourage homeowners to undertake major home improvement projects,” cautions Baker.

How can you take advantage of the home improvement bust and rehab your home for less? It’s all about negotiation. Contractors have been significantly less busy and are actively looking for work. (Take a look at how some of the major stimulus projects are coming in WAY below budget – contractors are hungry and are willing to take lower profits on projects to keep the work flow up.) The best contractors will be busy, but prices should be more reasonable.

Make sure that you don’t pay more than 10 percent of your rehab budget before work begins. You may need to put down a little bit of change when you sign the contract (yes, you need a contract for your home improvement project, no matter how small it is), but make sure you stretch out the payments so that you’ve kept at least 15 percent of the total price of the contract in hand until you are completely satisfied with the work.

Make sure your home renovation contractor is licensed, bonded and insured. You can check with your state’s department of professional regulation to make sure the contractor is in good standing with the state.

And above all, make sure you know exactly what you want to do and how much you want to spend. Don’t get talked into spending more or upgrading your rehab project if you can’t afford to pay for it.

There’s loads of great information on the website about renovating your house. Search and enjoy.