Lego is one of those toys that actually appreciates in value over time. And it’s quite quick to rise in value because people are pretty fanatical when it comes to collecting. As an experienced Lego collector, I wanted to share some tips on knowing when and what to buy Lego.
The first tip is that not all Lego is worth buying. Since roughly the mid to late 90s, Lego has increased the output of sets to a huge degree. It’s impossible to be a hardcore collector these days without the bank account of a Bill Gates. Because of the sheer volume of sets, a keen Lego collector needs to be highly discerning in choosing good sets, especially if they want to eventually sell them at a higher value.
One thing to realize is that the literal shelf life of a Lego set is approximately 2 years maximum. Some larger sets may stick around an extra year but for the most part, sets get shuffled in an out frequently. You can always go to trade or auction sites and even Amazon. However, after the 2 year mark, expect to see a gradual shift upward in price.
That said, the best time to buy Lego is roughly 1 year after it debuts right up to the 2 year shelf life mark. Christmas and Black Fridays will always have some bargains but the real bargains are when you use good old patience. This is because stores want to clear their inventory for newer products.
The worst time to buy is when a new set debuts. Unless it’s something you absolutely must have, it’s far better to wait until it goes on sale, which again roughly is about a year after it gets released.
By far an even worse event is when a set is tied to a huge brand like Star Wars. I remember when Star Wars Lego first came out, it was impossible to find at stores. You had to go to ebay which had marked up all the sets to ridiculous values. However, once Lego realized that they had such a huge demand, a flood of sets were released to the market and easily were purchasable. I do feel bad for the suckers that bought the stuff when it first came out though but this just goes to show that waiting can be a boon.
So what makes a good collectible set? Two things come to mind here. First, is whether the set is tied to a major brand like Star Wars or the Avengers. The problem here is that it’s pretty tough to know how long Lego might have a deal with another group. Like in the case of Star Wars, it’s been going on since the late 90s. However, the Lord of the Rings/Hobbit series was only for a few years.
The reason this is a huge deal is that Lego has a tendency to produce certain popular sets in cycles. For instance, there are a number of variations with the X-Wing, Millennium Falcon, etc. Perhaps to a hardcore Star Wars fanatic, each variation might be a huge deal.
But I think that certain sets were not built up to a higher quality standard like the first AT-AT Walker, which I felt was brittle. Same thing for the first Millennium Falcon. Yet we’ve gotten a fair number of iterations on these sets, especially the Millennium Falcon. The one that was worth picking up, of course, was the insanely pricey Ultimate Collectors Edition. Those are the ones you really want to save your pennies for because they probably are of limited quantity but without a doubt will make your money back and then some roughly 5 years after the fact.
Besides big name brands, the other key thing is the quality of a set. This might sound pretty abstract but I like to tie quality over quantity as a key guiding principal in my decisions for picking up a set. Meaning the number of pieces should not be the exclusive dictating factor in choosing a valuable set.
Part of the quality factor is just a visual artistry that wows a viewer. An example is the super expensive rollercoaster set. I know in a few years time, this set will probably be double in value just because it’s unique and very novel. However, I think in comparison many of the new Hidden Side sets will fade similar to the Nexo Knights because they are more gimmicky and really aimed towards kids.
But that really is the point I want to nail. Kids might collect Lego to play with but adults collect Lego for display or re-selling. Adults who want to collect for display are those that will pay the real top dollar for the quality sets.
And that leads me to my next major point: Town Lego. I feel that the three pillars of ultimate Lego collecting fall under the classic umbrella of Town, Space and Castle Lego. Unfortunately, since the start of the Star Wars partnership, Space Lego has practically disappeared while Castle Lego has partly morphed into Ninjago.
What that means for the old school Lego purists is that the only real perceptible value in Lego collecting is the Town theme. As a hardcore life long collector myself, Town Lego represents a very universal idea: creating the perfect town layout.
The problem with Town Lego is that there really isn’t a lot of variety in the types of town sets Lego puts out. By their own admission, most of their Town sets are focused on classic but exciting jobs which for them has been fire and police. I mean, if you look at what Lego puts out, you will see that they consistently add a major police or fire station every other year.
What that means as a collector is that you can skip these series if the set they produce seems weak. Some of the forest fire sets, for instance, were more action based than something you could easily fit into a city. So for myself, I ended up skipping many of them.
However, if you were to see one of the previous years’ spiraling fire stations, those would be the ones I’d go after. While they contained a large number of pieces, the thing is that the epic size made them stand out. Same thing with a few key police stations.
Yet the real crown winners for Lego town sets are infrastructure sets that serve a specific town function that are infrequently produced. A great example is the metro parking garages. I believe only two were ever made. Similarly, the monorail set was another extremely high value type of set.
Yet even if a set does not have an intimidating price tag, it doesn’t mean the potential to be valuable isn’t there. Some of the newer police sets, for instance, incorporate small bank offices with ATM machines. What makes a set like that nice is the office portion of the set, which can be repurposed to make generic office spaces.
In contrast, a racing set to me isn’t that valuable. It’s really niche since you would require a race track and there hasn’t been a nice one produced since 1988.
How about the modular Creator sets? Those are very novel and might be worth investing a little money into here and there. However, they are very costly on their own and require a great deal of space. While they might be nice when combining together, the problem I see with them is just the difficulty of fitting them into a regular town. There are a few that I thought were cool like the bookstore, simply because Lego (as far as I know) never had a bookstore. So a set such as that might be worth getting.
No matter what just picture yourself attempting to complete.a functional town. What type of sets would make it complete? If you existed in that town, what would you feel is missing in your life? Are there enough stores to purchase goods? Are there enough restaurants? Places to live? Jobs? You really wouldn’t want to have a town just of police and fire sets.
Lastly, ask yourself if you’d be willing to pay a higher price for a given set once it goes off the normal market. Is it something you really want or need? Or can it be replaced knowing that Lego will recycle the design and add a new variation on it?