Make lots of money by buying and reselling used LEGO!
This series of articles explores the practical economics of buying, sorting and selling bulk Lego. I will help assess what it takes to make real money by describing my own experience buying a large used Lego collection on Craigslist for a discounted price, figuring out what sets I had, sorting the bricks back into the original sets, acquiring the missing pieces and reselling for a profit. Along the way, I’ll call out some of the hidden costs and benefits for Lego enthusiasts.
LEGO as an investment?
Before I go deeper into the details of my project, I should point out that investing in Lego can be a big business for some folks. There’s an active community at brickpicker.com which helps people invest in Lego, although they focus on investing in unopened/new sets. On that site, you can see the current value of any Lego set (based on Ebay and other sources). It also allows you to record and track the value of your portfolio of Lego sets as if it were a stock market. I have purchased a couple Lego sets as a small-scale investment to support my hobby, but I don’t want to build up a large enough inventory to make it profitable.
A couple ways to make money selling Lego:
- Most people invest in unopened Lego sets, hoping to sell them in a couple years when they are no longer available for a healthy profit. (Some of the most sought-after sets have doubled in cost in just two years, and that isn’t accounting for the possibility that you may have initially purchased the set at a discount.)
- Some folks try to find sets at a discount and resell them immediately for a profit.
- Others buy used Lego bricks and sets and try to sell for a profit. (This is the focus of this article.)
What is Lego worth?
Before you buy anything, you need a basic knowledge about how much used Lego is worth. The following is a rough guide based on my experience:
- New Lego sets have a MSRP of between 8 and 12 cents per brick. That said, most sets can be purchased for between 10 and 40% off if you are patient, take advantage of rewards programs and sales. (Many of the large “Exclusive” sets which adult fans want are much harder to buy at a discount.)
- Used Lego sets in good condition are worth between 50% and 75% of retail prices while they are still available in stores. 6 – 12 months after they are no longer available, used sets usually catch up with MSRP, and can slowly increase in value if they are in high demand.
- The rule of thumb for unsorted Lego is between 6$ and 12$ per pound. If the bricks are sorted by color or include lots of desirable pieces, they are worth more.
- The value of Lego Minifigures varies greatly. Rare minifigures from a popular theme like Star Wars can sell for 5-10$ a piece. More common minifigures sell for about 1$.
- Selling individual used bricks on a site like bricklink.com can yield much higher prices, but it requires a small warehouse to store your bricks and seems like an unbelievable time commitment.
Based on these factors, I decided that buying a used collection containing older sets which I can sort into complete sets would be the best approach for me, especially if I could get it for a really low price.
Deciding what to buy
If you are looking to buy used Lego, you have a couple options: Ebay, Craigslist and Garage Sales to name a few… I prefer Craigslist as you don’t have to worry about shipping, and you can see what you are getting before making a payment. My goal was to buy a collection containing many sets which I could sort out and sell for a profit. I also hoped that the collection would include some themes which interest me. (In my case: Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings or Architecture.)
Buying a profitable collection:
I looked at dozens of used Lego collections on Craigslist listings before I made my first big purchase. I live in Seattle which has a lot of Adult Lego enthusiasts, so it’s harder to find a great deal here. Since I was traveling to the east coast for the holidays, I checked Craigslist in areas we were visiting and found some better collections for sale than anything I’d seen in Seattle.
The collection which I bought on Craigslist wasn’t very detailed and included only two blurry photos. The listing said that it included the “6211 – Imperial Star Destroyer” set which was released in 2006, plus “some other sets”. The original craigslist post is gone, so I can’t show you exactly what was listed, but I can say that the listing under-represented the size of the collection.
As the listing was a bit unclear, I sent the seller the following clarifying email:
“Are there any minifigures in the box? I am trying to determine if there are some nearly complete sets that are just missing instructions or not.”
As they say, it never hurts to ask! In response, I got a lot more info than they put in their original Craigslist post:
“There are mini figures in the collection as most of it came from sets. The sets were broken down and the boxes / instructions were thrown out.
Here are just a few that are in the container:
LEGO Star Wars Clone Turbo Tank (8098)
LEGO Star Wars General Grievous Starfighter (8095)
LEGO Power Miners Fire Blaster (8188)
LEGO® Power Miners Claw Catcher 8190
LEGO Power Miners Titanium Command Rig (8964)
That last one was $200 alone.. Obviously everything is broken down into 1 pile. Ie, they are not separated by set into ziplocks etc.”
Getting this much new information was great for me, since I had more information to help make a buying decision than other potential buyers. At this point I was confident that this would be a profitable purchase given the 150$ asking price. At the very least, I could resell the Imperial Star Destroyer to recoup my costs. I made arrangements to buy the collection, and was blown away by the two massive Rubbermaid bins which they game me. (This created two problems outside of the scope of this article: Figuring out how to get 60+ pounds of Lego back to my home in Seattle, and figuring out how to keep my wife from killing me for buying so much Lego on vacation!)
Tips and Tricks to buy the right collection:
I’m hardly an expert, but the following are some helpful tips to help make sure you get a good deal.
- Be patient. People sell used Lego collections every day. You need to find a great deal if you want to make any money.
- Ask questions. If the listing isn’t clear, ask for more details. If you want a photo showing which minifigures are included, it doesn’t hurt to ask. You can always ask for a lower price too, although be sure to close on a price before you make arrangements to see or buy the collection.
- Follow your interests. You are going to be spending a lot of time with these bricks, so it would be nice if the collection includes some sets that you are excited to build. Who knows, you might even decide to keep a couple sets as your “reward” for selling the others.
Next step: How to sort a lot of Lego…