You might be surprised to find that besides being all-around awesome, certain Lego sets and minifigures appreciate in value significantly. In fact, some of the highest-yielding sets have increased in value tenfold over the course of several years.
So before you decide to put those old Lego sets out for a yard sale, check out how much they could be worth to a buyer. The most common horror story I hear from other Lego fans is that their parents sold or got rid of their old sets when they went off to college or outgrew them. In some cases, those sets would have been worth tens of thousands of dollars today.
Let’s take a look at what factors into Lego appreciation, and if buying out your local Toys “R” Us is a viable investment strategy.
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Why Does Lego Appreciate?
The most valuable Lego sets and minifigs are either exceedingly rare or have a popular theme. The Lego UCS (Ultimate Collector’s Series) Millennium Falcon is widely regarded as the “holy grail” of Lego sets. It’s one of the largest sets Lego has ever sold, clocking in at 5,197 pieces. It was available from 2007 through 2010 at $499.99 in the United States, making it also one of the most expensive Lego sets ever produced.
Today, the Millennium Falcon frequently fetches over $3,000 in complete condition. New-in-box (NIB) sets can get as much as $5,000 and beyond!
Why is a Millennium Falcon set so expensive today?
First, it’s part of a huge and popular theme among both children and adults: Star Wars. With Disney’s acquisition and revival of the Star Wars universe, Lego has a lasting theme and can continue to produce nearly limitless different sets for all ages.
Second, the Millennium Falcon is part of an important line of sets, the Ultimate Collector’s Series (UCS). Lego has produced over two dozen UCS sets over the last two decades, and those drawn to collections feel that hunger to own all of them (I know, because I have those aspirations!).
Finally, the Millennium Falcon is rare. Most UCS sets retail in the $150–300 range, a more affordable price point. Because the Millennium Falcon was so expensive, relatively few were sold. This means there aren’t many available for re-sale today. This set has some unique pieces that collectors can’t wait to get their hands on.
If you don’t have a mint-condition Millennium Falcon set on hand, no worries. UCS Star Wars sets aren’t the only Lego sets that significantly increase in value. Other sets, including non-licensed sets, have appreciated massively in the secondary market.
Let’s take a look at another line: the modular buildings Lego has now produced for nearly a decade. Some of the early sets, Cafe Corner and Green Grocer, for example, retailed for approximately $150. Today they’ll sell for well over $800 used and north of $1,500 in brand new condition.
These sets share some similar characteristics to the Millennium Falcon. Generally, they’re larger sets with over 2,000 pieces. They also frequently have rare pieces that can’t be found in other sets. I think the biggest driver of the value of these sets, though, is that they were the starter sets for what has now become a very popular Lego line. With ten modular buildings released over the last several years, the modulars have now become that line of Lego sets that collectors seek out and want to own in completion.
Finally, there are rare sets and minifigs. These are exclusives that Lego produces in extremely limited quantities, frequently for special events like the San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC). Minifigures produced for events like these are nearly always one-of-a-kind.
For example, a version of Unikitty was given to attendees at the 2014 SDCC. This version has about a dozen parts, but one of those parts has a unique print. What would normally be a $2–3 purchase fetches north of $150 in the secondary market, simply because there are so few available and because there are a lot of minifigure collectors out there.
Another example is the Bat-Pod, a set given out to select Lego customers as part of a random drawing in 2015. The set has 311 pieces, which most would expect to cost in the $30–50 range. In used condition without the instruction manual or rare box, the Bat-Pod goes for over $300. With the box and manual, it fetches $1,500 or more.
Generally, the super-rare minifigs and sets aren’t viable investments, since it’s nearly impossible to acquire them in any sizable quantity. Investing in sets like those from the Ultimate Collector’s Series is a more doable option for hobby investors. And if you’ve held on to Lego from your childhood, you may find that you still own some minifigs or sets that will fetch a pretty penny on the secondary market.
The Secondary Market
How can you determine the value of Lego sets that you own? One of the easiest ways is to check Amazon and eBay, but the savvy Lego shopper uses BrickLink, a secondary marketplace where anyone can register a store and sell their sets.
In my experience, BrickLink has cheaper and better prices than eBay or Amazon, which is something to keep in mind if you’re interested in actually making a purchase. For selling, BrickLink’s price guide information is helpful, as it allows you to see what any Lego set is currently selling for, and what it’s sold for in the last six months.
Another excellent resource is Brickpicker, a Lego community and site that focuses on investment. You can spend hours poring over the site, joining and participating in discussions, and seeing what others think about the past, present, and future values of Lego sets. Brickpicker also has fantastic reference information for most Lego sets. You can supplement this information with additional information from Brickset, an online database for all things Lego.
How Do I Get Started?
First, read and then re-read the final section on the good and bad sides of Lego investing. Many Lego enthusiasts feel that the Lego “bubble” has popped. Lego saw a huge explosion in popularity in the 2000s, and the information on Lego as an investment vehicle has been out there for several years. Yes, some Lego sets are still increasing in value, but it’s becoming more and more difficult to determine which sets will appreciate and to compete with other investors.
If you’re looking to get started, you can sell Lego sets, Lego minifigures, and even individual Lego bricks. Sets and minifigures are pretty easy; they require a minimal amount of organization.
Start with your collection at home, and then do your research. I would strongly recommend targeting sales if you plan to pick up more sets you think will appreciate. Lego will occasionally offer sets at sharp discounts, but be forewarned: the sales generally aren’t going to be for popular sets.
Other retailers like Amazon, Target, and Toys “R” Us will also have sales, but they may be few and far between. Black Friday is an option as well. I purchased the Black Pearl from Target for 50% off, and that set has seen significant appreciation in the last few years. However, I generally feel good about purchasing popular Lego sets when I can get 20% off or more.
If you’re interested in selling individual Lego bricks, there’s certainly a market for them. This requires a huge amount of organization, though, as you’re now sorting the thousands of different permutations of Lego bricks. Large amounts of bricks can be had for cheap. Check local yard sales, your nearby Goodwill stores, and other secondhand markets. You’ll frequently find bulk Lego for a good deal. The going rate is anywhere between $6–8 per pound of Lego.
You’ll then have to spend time sorting the Lego, possibly cleaning them, and then listing the bricks. It turns into quite a chore. This could, however, be a great, low-cost re-selling option for kids. They’d only need a few dollars to get started, plenty of time, and help listing items online and shipping them. Since specific Lego bricks will typically sell for more than the $6–8 per pound, kids could turn a small profit on a business like this.
Rampant Speculation and the Cost of Investing
It’s very difficult to speculate on the future value of Lego sets. Generally, UCS Star Wars sets are a safe bet. The recently-retired Red Five Starfighter jumped up in value approximately 50% in the first couple of months after its retirement. Other sets like the Super Star Destroyer have more than doubled in their value within a year of retiring.
Does this mean you should go out and purchase dozens of these sets and store them for future sale? Not necessarily.
The UCS B-Wing Starfighter has taken quite a long time to see any dramatic increase in value, now at around a 50% increase three years out of retirement. This is primarily due to Lego selling it at a 50% discount shortly before its retirement. Similarly, the UCS Jedi Starfighter, now five years out of retirement, has yet to double in value.
There are potential risks to investing in what is, for most people, just a toy. If, however, this is something you’d like to take more seriously, consider how much time and space you’d want to devote to Lego sets. Boxes take up a lot of room, and sets are worth the most when they’re still sealed in their original packaging. If this is something you’ll be looking at long-term, boxed Lego sets could easily occupy a bedroom, or multiple rooms.
You’d also want to consider the cost of insurance. I’ve insured my Lego collection because it’s that valuable both on the secondary market and to me personally. I’ve spent (probably way too many) hours piecing together sets and researching the cheapest and best options for obtaining rare sets. If you’re investing to re-sell later, you’re going to want to insure against theft, fire, or water damage, among other things. This cost can add up, especially if those sets are collecting in your storage space rather than actively being re-sold.
It also takes time for Lego to appreciate. In some cases, sets won’t appreciate well for several years. And these are physical goods, not an online investment portfolio. Some sets may not turn out to become as valuable as you thought, while others might outdo your expectations. It’s important to factor in not just the time it takes for Lego to increase (or decrease) in value, but also the time you’ll be dedicating to organizing and managing your investment.
Finally, if you’re a Lego fan, or if your children are Lego fans, think about what it means to turn it into an investment. You’re now taking a fun and rewarding hobby and making it a business. That’s why I haven’t pushed myself to invest in Lego, or to purchase multiple sets in the hopes of selling them later for a profit. I don’t want to take something that brings me happiness and turn it into something that could potentially cause stress. I want to see Lego as that pure, innocent toy that brings joy to everyone who picks up a brick.
But this doesn’t mean that you can’t do a bit of both. Buy some Lego sets for the pure joy of putting them together and playing with or displaying them. If you see a good deal on a set that’s likely to appreciate, pick up an extra set to leave in the original packaging.
And even if you never decide to look at Lego as a true investment, use the tips in this article. When your kids have outgrown them or you want to cull your collection so you can add newer sets, don’t just pop the lot up on eBay. Instead, take a thoughtful approach to selling any Lego you want to offload, especially if you have potentially valuable sets or minifigs in your possession!