March 29th, 1998
By JILL SCHENSUL
If you'd like to fancy yourself a denizen of the place you're visiting, try renting an apartment. Because I would have a nice stretch of time - more than two weeks - in Paris, I decided to try it.
I figured it would be cheaper than a hotel, and a very different experience.
For me, it was cheaper than a hotel, although I could have rented a studio or one-bedroom for anywhere from $200 to $1,200 a week, which would be comparable to many hotels.
Half the fun (and work) is finding a place. Several companies specialize in apartment rentals in various countries. Among those with a wide selection in Paris were New York Habitat - which rents apartments in New York and Paris - and Chez Vous.
Many apartment rental services have Web sites that include pictures of the rooms. Of course, even the camera can omit things - like that hole in the ceiling. I went to the offices of New York Habitat and leafed through books full of pictures of various apartments available.
So pictures are helpful, but if it's dirt cheap, wonder why. You'll get to know a city well - street-by-street - when you embark on your search. Neighborhoods change quickly, and each one in Paris has its attractions and drawbacks.
As you search, learn to look for the missing information. Is there a bathtub? Is there a shower? Is there a telephone, an answering machine, a television, a radio? I forgot to ask (and it really wasn't that important), but my apartment had no TV, radio, or stereo; it didn't even have a clock. I enjoyed the sensory deprivation; some people would have run out and checked in at the nearest Grand Hotel.
One of the pluses of an apartment is that you can prepare your own food. And going to the supermarket in Paris is fun and a revelation; food is surprisingly inexpensive.
Of course, with an apartment you don't get all the extra service you would in a hotel. I missed the made-up bed, the new towels, and the replenished soaps. Plus, I had to schlep my suitcases up three nights of stairs by myself.
I finally found my rental by looking in the classifieds and calling a woman in Los Angeles who had just bought an apartment in Paris. We agreed on $700 for 17 days, plus a deposit. Many rental agencies charge a deposit fee of 30 percent or more, so I saved some money.
Still, I think the rental agencies earn their fees; they keep you updated on what's available, and have the experience to match you up with a dwelling based on your priorities. I found New York Habitat tireless in coming up with suggestions for me. Some companies, like VHR, Worldwide in Norwood, for example, can also find you really fabulous exclusive places for a special occasion.
The French Government Tourist Office has 8 great Web site listings of apartment rental agencies - many of them renting also in Europe, the Caribbean, Mexico, and more. Check it out at www.fgtousa.org/packs/accomm/hrhr.htm.
Some rental agencies:
At Home Abroad, (212) 421-9165.
Chez Vous, (415) 331-2535.
Global Home Network, (800) 528-3549.
Locaflat, contact through the Internet at www.locaflat.com
New York Habitat, (212) 255-8018; www.nyhabitat.com
VHR Worldwide, (201) 767-9393; www.cimarron.net/res.vhr.html