The Risks of Buying Oriental Rugs Overseas

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We’re really excited and honored to have the first of a new series with Oriental carpet educator, appraiser, broker, skilled repair craftsman and someone with a bigger heart than his chest can hold, Sam Ramazani, owner of Sara’s Oriental Rugs. Sam is as generous a human being as there ever was and we’re grateful to call him our friend. Sam will share his decades of hard won knowledge and expertise about the business, the construction of rugs and what collectors need to know about new and old Oriental carpets and rugs.  He is an endless reservoir of knowledge and has some of the most fascinating stories of his professional adventures. Thank you Sam! 

I’ve been in the Oriental rug business a long time. A very long time. Part of the appeal of these timeless art pieces is that they can take you to far away lands to see people and places not even dreamed of. It’s only natural that we want to go and see where these rugs are made and meet the people closest to their creation. Understandably, it would encourage everyone to travel to the major and not so major rug making cities and villages. It’s truly wonderful and you’ll never forget the experience, something that’s priceless. That being said, please go and see the countries, take lots of photos, make your memories, but leave the rugs at the bazaars. Let me share one of many stories about purchasing rugs in the local overseas markets.

This was in the late 1980’s. I had just unlocked my door to open my shop for the day.  First thing in the morning, right when I open, a lady came to the shop. She says I have two rugs I want you to appraise, and I say sure.

So I walked with her to her car. I got the rugs and I told her, if you have some errands to run, it will take about an hour to appraise the rugs. She left and I brought them in, opened them up and appraised them. I had them ready when she came back in. Of course she paid me for my service and then she looked at the appraisal. I told her both of them them together appraise for $12,500. This one is this much, this one is that much.

Something like a black cloud came over her face. She said “I told him not to do it!” I said, “you told who not to do it?” She said, I told my husband not to do it. I was curious, so I asked what she meant.

“Late last night, we just came back from Istanbul and my husband has been looking at these two rugs for about two or three days.” Two hours before they were going to go to the airport to come back to the US, he goes and buys the rugs. I said “how much did he pay for them?” She said 42. I said “$4200? Well then he did wonderful! That’s great!!” 

She said, “no…he paid $42,000!”

I was shocked! I said “what??” She said yes, he paid forty-two thousand dollars. I asked, how did he pay? When she said American Express, I knew I could help her. Back then, American Express would take three to five days before they would charge credit.

I told her you need to call American Express immediately and have them stop payment.  These are not Turkish rugs, these are made in China. The rug dealer in Istanbul sold the rugs to them as a Turkish Hereke silk but they were made in China. I said even if they were real Turkish Hereke, no way in the world they would be this price. They would be more than Chinese rugs, a lot more, but nowhere near $42,000. This American couple got cheated.

So her husband called the guy in Istanbul. In a couple of days she came back and she asked me to wrap them up so she could ship them back. I said “absolutely!” So I wrapped them and she told me a story.

She told me those dealers came down with the price, and said  “we’ll give it to you for $10,000, both rugs.” She said, I don’t want it. It’s coming back to you and the payment’s been stopped. But what was good – she was smart enough. She and her husband got back in town late at night and then she came to me first thing in the morning. I had just opened when she came in, and she wanted to know what the rugs were worth. And because she was smart, it worked out for them.

A lot of Americans think if they go to a country like Turkey, India, Pakistan – anywhere – they think they’re going to get a bargain because they’re getting a rug from a country source. But in reality it’s not a bargain. They’re paying a lot more. And I’ll tell you something…it’s a setup for tourists.

The whole thing is set up; from the hotel where they’re staying at, to the tour guide, to the driver, to the merchant – they all get a share. It’s a setup for everybody and unfortunately that’s what’s going on.

Also, here in the U.S., if somebody does something wrong you have sources to go after you buy a rug, or anything really. How are you going to go after someone in a different country if he sells you a fake? You just lost. You just lost because you don’t have the right knowledge that only comes from years of studying these rugs.

I’ve only seen one person make this kind of deal successfully. He was the Dean of the statistics department of the University of Louisville. After he retired, he would travel a lot. And he became a collector. He would come to me and he started to buy rugs and learn about rugs. I made him a collector. Once, he was traveling in Russia and he came across this rug and basically he bought it for nothing. I told him he was the only person I’ve ever seen who did a good buy in a foreign country. I’ve been in business for 40 years and only one person has done this! People think they can make a good deal on a rug when they travel but it’s tricky, you have to know a lot. There’s a lot of reasons to use a reputable dealer here at home instead of trying to get a deal overseas.

Sam Ramazani is an Oriental carpet educator, appraiser, broker, and skilled repair craftsman. With his daughter Sara, he owns Sara’s Oriental Rugs in Louisville, KY.

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