Purchasing your first Oriental rug is a big deal. You want to be wary of dealers trying to take advantage of you, and watch out for bad deals. Recommendations from friends or acquaintances and online reviews are a great first step to finding a reputable dealer.
Once you find a rug you like, there are a few items you want to look for including dry rot, moths, stains, and other damage. Cracks from dry rot are common in older Sarouk rugs and other antique carpets.
Dry rot can occur from a variety of reasons, most commonly due to exposure to water that is not cleaned up properly allowing mold and mildew growth. Over time, the fibers of Persian rug will break down from the rot and eventually the rug will fall apart. This is arguably the worse type of damage that can be done to a rug because it is essentially irreversible. Unless the rotting is contained in a small area of the rug that can be cut away and rebuilt by an expert repair person (which is quite costly), the entire rug will need to be replaced.
Steps to check for dry rot or water exposure include smelling the rug and rolling it up. Smelling the rug is also a good idea to make sure there are no offensive pet or perfume odors. By rolling the rug up you will be able to hear if there is any loud cracking or see signs of knots falling out from the back.
Another thing to look for is any sign of moth activity. Moths eat away at the natural fibers used in hand knotted Oriental rugs leaving behind webbing and unsightly nicks that can become costly to fix. Look on the back of the rug for any white webbing which is a sign of moth. Also inspect the pile for any areas missing wool where the white cotton foundation shows through.
Lastly, keep an eye out for stains. Whether it is pet stains or food stains, these are also attractants to bugs and pests and should be cleaned as soon as they are found. If you are uncertain about purchasing a rug whether it is a question about its authenticity or its condition. There are several online forums for Oriental rug questions and advice.