Where Are They Now? is an ongoing blog series dedicated to analyzing specific high-profile Lego sets that have been targeted for investment and sold out / retired a year or more in the past. The idea is to review and summarize a wide range of investment factors surrounding the set a few months before, during, and after it stopped becoming available at retail prices... then look at the financial performance of the set thus far, and perhaps discover a clue about future growth and/or similar sets yet to retire.
I absolutely have to begin with the Lego exclusive set that blew the doors off the investment world in Fall of 2014: Town Hall.
Released: March 2012
Last Available (US): October 2014
Months Availabile: 31
Retail Price (US): $199.99
A Little History
The modular building series, starting in 2007 with Cafe Corner, quickly became extremely popular with both AFOLs and investors, rivaling Star Wars UCS as the well known "Top of the Line" Lego sets. Those first two buildings, including Green Grocer, were only available for a little over 2 years each which helps explain their astronomical appreciation.
However, by the time late 2014 arrived, a pattern had obviously been established in most investor's minds that the rest of the series was sticking around approximately 4 years per set. Fire Brigade had departed in late 2013 after 4 years, Grand Emporium was several months past its 4th anniversary (and expected to retire), and Pet Shop had been available for 3.5 already. Virtually no one had Town Hall on their radar as a candidate for retirement at the time. A few savvy individuals opened their eyes in Spring 2014 when it went temporarily out of stock, but the vast majority were non-believers and focused their attention and wallets elsewhere.
This modular series centerpiece was also a poor seller in comparison to its brethren as it sat "gathering dust" on store shelves. Partial evidence of this fact was observed by many (including yours truly) that seal codes on these boxes were commonly a year or more old, while others in the modular series had been produced only a few months or even weeks prior to being offered at retail. Apparently Town Hall just wasn't selling. Take a look at the date stamps on posts 6 and 7 in the official Brickpicker thread to see how ignored this set was. Several possible reasons for the lack of popularity, especially as an investment, include:
- The $200 (US) price point - significantly higher than the other modular options available at the time.
- A large box that takes up significantly more space than other modulars.
- An arguably "ugly orange" / "boring" design, with less aesthetic appeal than many would like.
- Clear expectation that it would be available for at least another year.
Now, Pay Attention...
On Oct 1, 2014 Town Hall went to backordered status at LEGO Shop at Home, then Toys'R'Us online went out of stock. The next day, Target sold out, and Lego status when to Sold Out as well, followed by Walmart (all according to reports made in our Town Hall thread). Eyebrows were officially raised, especially given the then-recent quick disappearance of Haunted House, when many expected that set to stay widely available through Halloween. But still a large number of investors thought it was unwarranted panic, citing the double VIP point promotion as well as the in-and-out of stock "dance" that Grand Emporium had been doing for much of the year without actually retiring. That's when our illustrious troll-guru leader Ed Mack dropped an atom bomb disguised as a feather, on page 7:
"Very soon, this will be the busiest thread on the site."
Part Nostradamus classic, perhaps part self-fulfilling prophecy, this statement became more than true and the thread exploded over the next few days as investors and end users everywhere slowly but surely realized the huge ugly orange wedding chapel was actually going away... and maybe... just maybe... they wanted one (or several) after all. Last available on Oct. 4 from Lego US / Canada, occasional small batches of stock popped up at various retailers, both online and physical, for over a month... but you had to be very lucky or a truly dedicated soul (wearing out your F5 key or weaving scripting magic) to catch one of these opportunities. There was a final production run in weeks 38-39, corresponding to late September, that trickled out (primarily to resellers) during October. It seemingly was not too extensive, however.
Show Me the Money!
Meanwhile, eBay prices shot up into the $300-$350 range within a day.The Brickpicker Price Guide reflected this huge surprise retirement factor as New 10224 values reached $400 before Christmas and climbed steadily to the $530 range in Spring of 2015, before leveling off for several months. Some investors were happy to buy in at over 2x MSRP, predicting continued growth in late 2015, which simply hasn't happened. Still, the set currently shows a 25% CAGR, outstanding by almost any measure.
New prices have seemingly stabilized around $550 on Amazon, $500 on eBay, and $450 on Bricklink for the time being. Brick Classifieds currently follows suit. A substantial increase in Used values occurred on eBay (U.S.) from around $250 to $400 late last summer, continuing up to $450 now. It should be noted that the rest of the eBay world seems to have an approximate 20% premium on New over Used sets, a much wider gap than the U.S., and certainly closer to "normal". However, average Used sales over the last six months are $400 on Bricklink as well, proving strong demand for opened Town Halls. Perhaps end users hit their financial limit later this year, choosing to accept pre-owned copies at nearly half the price instead... so many doing so, in fact, that buying competition drove the Used price up to nearly New values. Another factor could be that this set is quite difficult to piece together, reportedly commanding about $500 for all pieces and instructions (no box), before adding multiple shipping and handling charges.
Do we assume New prices will begin the inevitable climb upward again soon? Or will Used values dip back down a bit first as Americans realize the relatively small difference right now? One would think the gap should widen again, one way or another.
From a longer-term perspective, will there be another huge increase in Town Hall values at some point in the next year or two? Or will it simply rise steadily, seeking four-digit sales (then returns) closer to 2020? No one can say for sure, but it IS going to gain value again. The only questions are how fast and how far. Several seasoned investors believe this is one of a very small number of "special" sets released in the past few years that have the potential to reach the $1000 mark. Some optimists were even hoping it would approach that threshold in late 2015.
The one wild card in the game which could completely invalidate such bullish predictions is the possibility of a remake. I certainly don't see that happening, but I doubt anyone could have guessed over a year ago that Winter Toy Shop would be remade, either. If Lego ever decided to duplicate Town Hall, the value of 10224 would obviously drop like a rock.
What to Do with Mine?
If you are holding and can afford it, my personal advice is to keep holding. The relatively low supply of this set compared to so many other exclusives should make it an even bigger winner in the long run. Simply out-waiting sellers who are happy to take 3x their buy-in is a path to more profit for the rest of us. As more and more of these get bought and opened, a sealed Town Hall will become more of a collector's item, vaguely similar to Cafe Corner and Green Grocer before it. Of course it will never catch those sets in value, but it is a virtual lock for the "bronze medal" of modular building investments.
On the other hand, if you are a buyer who missed out... seriously consider looking for a current "deal" (whether new or used), and get yours soon. It is only a matter of time before this set keeps rising in value, and if there is another big jump, you will avoid several hundred dollars of regret by acting now. I believe we are in a temporary "lull" with Town Hall's value (especially New), and if so, the more buyers that take advantage of it, the sooner the lull will be over, financially benefiting those who do. I definitely do not recommend picking up this set at current prices as a pure investment anymore, however, as fresher and more predictable opportunities are widely available.
The Big Picture:
Above all, realize - if you don't already - that Town Hall in many ways kicked off the maelstrom of CHAOS representing a marked change in Lego retirement (and production) schedules. Many investors "learned their lesson" when caught empty-handed with(out) this set, and adjusted their strategies to accumulate target stock numbers on subsequent exclusives earlier and more gradually. Of course, some were doing this already, and happen to have been proven smarter in this particular case. One only need glance at Pet Shop, Death Star, Tower Bridge, and T1 Camper Van to see that a strategy which works best for one set may not work for others, however.
Whatever your budget and investment angle, use the retirement of Town Hall as a reminder that anything can happen, and that when the truly unexpected occurs, historical gains may be had. Additionally, avoiding the herd/horde mentality is proving to be more and more of a wise choice, starting most noticeably in the months prior to the day of infamy when 10224 became the busiest thread on the site!
Special thanks to the following individuals for suggestions and editing help: jaisonline
Edited by jaisonline