I run into this issue through my Lego collecting and investing constantly. I really love the set I just got and want to open it, but am I making a mistake by popping open that seal and opening all the bags inside? What if it becomes a big time seller and I decide I don't want it anymore, am I going to lose money?
An even tougher conundrum comes up when I get a set for way less than retail. And the set is MISB. I paid the same amount for it that I would for a used set, so does it make any difference if I go ahead and open it?
The answer is “It depends on what you can live with”. Let's examine things a little bit.
First off, let's examine a situation where you just got a brand new set for investing and looking at it, you think it is really cool and you want to build it. What are the issues with doing so:
- How well will this set do? - If this set becomes a huge money maker, the gap between the worth of a new and used set gets larger and larger. So one day, could this set be worth double or triple by being in the box?
- Could you get a used set/damaged or missing box set for cheaper? - If you could, then you would be paying less money to open that set up and the other you would still have to invest in. This way you saved some money now and you still won't regret opening anything. The downside is, you still had to purchase the second set which means more money now.
- Are you sure how long you are going to keep it? - This is something that really intrigues me. Everyday surfing Ebay I see tons of used sets being sold by people that most likely bought them new and took really good care of them. Why are they selling them? Did they lose interest? Do they need the money? Before you open a set, unfortunately you have to think about things like this because a set is worth more new than used.
- What if I got the set for the same price as a used set? - You may think there is no downside to going ahead and opening it up to build. If you bought another, it would cost the same amount so technically you aren't out any money.
These are really tough questions, much tougher than just ripping the seal off those new sets. But to get the most out of your Lego investment and Lego collection these must be asked. So let's examine each carefully.
How well will this set do?
This is obviously a question that no one can answer correctly right off the bat. But we can definitely take our Lego experiences and use this site to help predict properly what sets will do. Why does this matter? Well, think about someone who bought an Atlantis set and wanted to open it. If they did, they lost absolutely nothing. However, if someone had a UCS Millennium Falcon MISB and opened it, they may have lost $900 if they tried to sell it later.
Let's look at a little bit of data to get a good picture of this. I am going to categorize sets a few different ways just so that we see potential loss based on opening the set. Obviously there are many more investment “profiles” but this gives you a good idea of the loss associated with opening different types of sets.
Spider-Man potential (Solid about 15% CAGR potential)
Taking all the new and used sets in the line and comparing the values, we see that you lose about 65% of the value by opening the sets.
Harry Potter (recent) Line Potential (High potential, over 20% CAGR)
I used the last line of Harry Potter sets which have all seen about 15-30% CAGR. Currently, comparing the new price with the used price, on average you lose about 32% of the set's value by selling it used.
SW UCS potential (Only retired sets) (Legendary potential - Lego investing gold)
Using all the retired UCS sets in the line, you will lose 43% of the value by opening the set.
So what does that tell us? Well it tells us that, depending on the ceiling of the set, by opening it you can lose somewhere from 30-60% of the sets value. I think this goes up as the sets get older. The Spider-man sets are all very old, so finding a new one becomes rarer and rarer. That makes it's price go up while the used stays the same. This is becoming the same with the older UCS SW sets as well like the X-wing and Tie Interceptor which used price was worth less than 50% of the new price. For the recent Harry Potter sets, this wasn't as bad because there are still plenty of these sets around.
Obviously all this is dependent on the price. If you are talking about a $20 set and you think it's 5 year ceiling is $50, then you only stand to lose about $15 if you feel like it will show gain like the Harry Potter sets. At worst, if it lost 65% of it's value, you are looking at a $35 loss. Chances are, the longer you wait, the more money you will be losing.
But, if you get a set that is $300 and you feel its ceiling is $1500, if you lose 30%, that is already a $450 loss. For the 10179 millennium falcon, you have a loss of about $900 dollars. This is definitely way more substantial. Ask someone who paid $500 for an MISB 10179 and sold it as used several years later if they wished they had just left it in the box.
Could you get a used set/damaged or missing box set for cheaper?
This is a very important piece of your decision to open a set. If you paid $100 for a set and open it, but you could have gotten the same set opened for $30 cheaper, then you wasted $30. There are definitely some people who just like opening a fresh, new set, but is it really worth losing the money? Every time I think about opening a set, I start to look around for a used set.
You have to remember, assuming you keep your investing and entertainment/collecting budget separate, the moment you open this set, the money is transferring from your investment budget to your entertainment budget. If you move that over and the set you just opened becomes a huge gainer, that is a lot of money you just lost from your investment capital. However, if you bought a second one for cheaper to open, you just took a slight bit out of your entertainment budget and your investment budget is intact.
This all depends on what you can live with later on as well. Maybe you won't really care that you opened the set and won't think about the money you could have lost. I have that problem; I can't deal with the fact I may have lost money. If you do, you will feel much better about putting together a used set with no box over opening up a brand new one.
Are you sure how long you are going to keep it?
This is something no one really knows but you – and you probably don't even know. All of us have hobbies that stick with us for most of our lives, and we have some that come and go without any warning at all. I know it is a lot easier for me to break those new seals on a set when I am absolutely confident I will never get rid of it. If I know that, the problems with possibly losing money become somewhat moot as I am never going to sell it anyway.
If you seem to be more of a fleeting personality, opening all these sets may become of big regret to you later. I would use caution and your intelligence here more than anything. If you think this set may be worth 100s of dollars later, make sure you can live with selling it and losing that extra money.
What if I got the set for the same price as a used set?
This really becomes tough and I would tell you to, in this case, go with your gut. For me, because I treat my budgets separately, I always buy a used set to put together because I look at everything in investments and return on investment. The new set I have in my hands is worth more than a used set I buy for the same price, even if I spent the same amount on them.
Again, it comes back to what you can live with. Can you live with opening a brand new set and thinking about how much you might have lost by doing it? I can't, which is why I put those inexpensive new sets away and go after used sets.
So all we have talked about is how bad it can be to open a new set. How do you benefit from opening a new set instead of a used set? Well, though these are minor details, they do make a difference:
- New sets means new pieces. They will most likely be in better shape and will not have any wear. You do not know what the person before you did with the set they had, whether they say it was a display and smoke-free or not.
- The stickers haven't been applied. You may get someone's set who didn't really try to apply the stickers correctly. If you have OCD, this is seriously going to bother you.
- If the used set is assembled, it is hard to immediately tell all the pieces are there.
- If the set is already assembled, some can't bring themselves to break it down and rebuild it so they lose the building experience.
- If you open it and take care of everything, it would possibly be in a better “used” shape then if you bought it already used. This could bridge the price gap.
This is a lot of stuff to think about and there is no definitive answer. I just wanted to offer some of my thoughts on the subject so that people could get a perspective on the matter, especially if you tend to open a lot of new sets. How do you all feel? Do you open your sets new, or buy all opened sets to build?
Note: All of the information here are my own opinions and are pulled from my experiences. You may or may not have success with these methods.