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New research says secondhand Legos are surprisingly valuable

Legos apparently have a higher rate of return than gold or stocks.

New research from Russia’s Higher School of Economics finds that Lego boasts an extremely high value when sold secondhand.
Jack Taylor/Getty Images

There are many things you can build with Legos, from rocketship masterpieces you can keep on your kid’s bedroom shelf to replicas of Elsa’s castle from Frozen. But apparently, Lego can also seriously build up your bank account.

According to research from Russia’s Higher School of Economics, Lego boasts an extremely high value when sold secondhand — and it actually has a higher rate of return than gold, bonds, and stocks.

The study, published last month by assistant professor Victoria Dobrynskaya, is titled “The Toy of Smart Investors.” Dobrynskaya studied 2,000 Lego sets that were released between 1980 to 2014. She then compared their retail cost to how much they’d yield on the secondhand market in 2015. Dobrynskaya was surprised to find that plenty of Lego sets yielded a return rate of 11 percent, while others could be flipped at a whopping 613 percent.

“Although it may seem odd to invest in a toy, a huge secondary market for Lego sets with tens of thousands of investors developed in the 2000s,” the study notes. “Lego is not just a toy, but also a reasonable alternative investment with average returns comparable to stock returns, low market and crash risks and a positive alpha.”

As Dobrynskaya notes, the popularity of Lego as a potential investment is that it “does not belong to the luxury segment.” It’s accessible to anyone, and as such it’s often overlooked and undervalued.

The small but mighty rise of Lego

Lego is considered one of the most successful toy companies of all time. A Danish company that was founded in 1932, it originally started out selling wooden toys before the Kristiansens, the family that owns the company, pivoted to producing the small plastic bricks the British Toy Retailers Association has voted the “toy of the century.”

Small, colorful, and with interlocking mechanics that “offer unlimited building possibilities,” as the brand puts it, Lego is a design marvel. It’s been described as a “must” for kids who are aspiring designers and engineers thanks to the toy’s ability to inspire creativity. Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin are said to have been major fans as children, and even used Lego to hold the company’s first computer storage system in 1996.

As a business, Lego has gone through ups and downs over the years — most notably in the early aughts; it neared bankruptcy in 2004 after failing to keep up with commercial competitors like Hasbro and Mattel. But with the help of the mass-market reach of the Lego movies, the company now rakes in about $5.3 billion in revenue every year, and it’s often celebrated as the “Apple of toys” for its timeless popularity. The company sells 75 billion Lego bricks each year, of which there are 3,700 different types.

While Legos are a blockbuster favorite for kids — the company likes to share fun facts like how children around the world spend 5 billion hours every year playing with its bricks — Lego is also hugely popular among adults. Fans who have a particular knack for building with Lego have taken their talents to blogs, Youtube, and Instagram, while folks like Nathan Sawaya, Sean Kenney, and David Truman Tracy have even used Lego to build art careers. Its community of hobbyists, known as Adult Fans of Lego, or AFOL, is vast, and people use Lego to build everything from Bugatti cars to Harley Davidson bikes to menorahs.

Why is Lego so valuable?

Because of Lego’s popularity among adults, the brand also has a serious secondhand market. The Lego community powers secondhand sites of its own, like BrickLink, BrickPicker, and BrickScout, but eBay is the most popular destination. There are thousands of used Lego sets selling on eBay, with some collectibles listed for as high as $10,000.

The research from Russia’s Higher School of Economics found that Lego retires sets about every two years, and once these are not longer available, their prices jump on the secondhand market. While retired sets can generally earn more money than their retail price when they’re sold at a later time, the type of Lego sets that command the most are those from popular movie franchises, like Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Marvel.

Harry Potter Lego Minifigures.
Harry Potter Lego Minifigures on display at a Dream Toys event to unveil the top 12 toys during Christmas 2018 in London, England.
Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Of course, not all (or any) Lego sets will make you rich. Dobrynskaya found that the highest rate at which a Lego set was flipped was 613 percent, when a Star Wars Darth Revan set, which was sold in 2014 for $3.99, was sold on eBay the next year for $28.46. That isn’t exactly the type of money you can pay your mortgage with, but it does prove that Lego sets are dear to plenty of people who are willing to pay a premium.

There are also some infamous Lego sets that come with unbelievably high resale price tags. The Lego Millennium Falcon, for example, retailed for $500 in 2007, and today sellers are asking $7,000 and $9,000 for it on eBay. A Statue of Liberty Lego set that came out in 1998 sold for about $200 and is now being sold for over $1,600.

Dobrynskaya says the key to finding valuable Lego sets is to find vintage ones, and to also locate Lego themes that come with interest; she categorizes these as seasonal sets, movie-themed ones, and advanced building editions. Lego flippers have also noted that sets are more likely to be resold if they are sealed.

On Reddit’s Flipping page, sellers have shared how they’ve been able to make money selling Lego by color, in bulk, or by just listing the little Lego mini figurines, which people seem to really, really, really like.

There are also plenty of other factors to consider before you start snatching all the Harry Potter Lego sets off Amazon. Will you have the patience to hold onto them and eventually flip them? Do you have the time to research the appropriate prices and scan the fanweb? When considering if toys are actually worth the investment, no need to look any further than the infamous Beanie Babies boom of the late ’90s, when tons of people rushed to buy those little Ty stuffed animals, only to learn that they weren’t really worth all that much even two decades later.

So should you be stocking up on Lego sets? Bottom line is that they might be a nice purchase to resell down the line, but you might also get stuck with boxes of toys that won’t yield much, if any, return. And so, much like every other investment, it certainly comes with its risks.

Plus, your kids might get into the boxes first, in which case you could end up stepping on a Lego — a sensation so terrible it’s become a meme, and which science has determined is a feeling that makes you want to die. Good luck!

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