Getting your real estate license means that you are ready to work as a real estate professional: showing homes, meeting new clients, and acting on behalf of home buyer or seller clients. As a licensed real estate agent, you can take the next exciting steps to build a successful career in real estate.
While getting your real estate agent license takes preparation and hard work, understanding the steps and preparing for each will keep the process moving smoothly and efficiently. The specific documents and requirements vary from state to state, but our guide will make sure that you are ready to get your real estate license.
Follow our step-by-step guide to get your real estate license.
Real estate licensing is regulated at the state level. This means that each state sets its own requirements for real estate agent licenses, including its own documentation, application paperwork, and fees.
You will need to get your real estate license before getting to work with any clients. This process includes the following steps:
During the licensing process, you will also need to become affiliated with a licensed broker.
Some states allow for customized study plans by counting Real Estate Elective courses toward the real estate pre-licensing requirements. These can include classes on property management, general accounting, business law, or real estate office administration. Most states require a class on the Principles of Real Estate and a practical course, such as Real Estate Practice.
The required hours range from 63 to 180 documented hours from an approved program. It is crucial to check your state’s requirements before enrolling in classes to make sure that the state Real Estate Commission will accept them as your pre-licensing requirement.
You should plan to take four to six months to complete your pre-licensing education requirements. You can take classes through any accredited institution, including state universities, community colleges, or real estate licensing programs approved by your state’s regulatory authority. Most people choose to take their pre-license education courses online through an accredited real estate education company.
As you near completion of your pre-licensing education, you will be ready to work on your real estate license application paperwork. All states offer an online application portal, while only a few have a paper copy of their application available.
If your state offers a real estate sales agent or salesperson license, this is the application that you will complete for your new license. If you live in a Broker-only state, look for the Provisional Broker application. Both are equivalent terms for the entry-level license in real estate.
To complete the application, you will need to provide:
You will also be asked a series of questions about your personal and professional background as part of the application. It is critical that you answer these questions honestly, even if it means disclosing punitive actions in your past. You will almost always have the opportunity to provide an explanation or documentation about special circumstances.
Questions you can expect to see include:
You will be required to sign your application, stating that you satisfy the requirements to become a real estate agent in your state and that the information you provided is true. Some states even require that this form be notarized.
The real estate license application usually costs between $45 and $205.
Some states allow you to complete the application before completing your pre-license education, while others ask that you take and pass the real estate licensing exam first. Check with your state to see which order they prefer or require that you complete these steps.
Almost all states require some sort of background check as part of the real estate license application process. The real estate license background check and fingerprinting request and fees are separate from the real estate license application.
Most states provide information on the application on how to initiate your background check and fingerprinting, including where you can find these services. Some use third-party companies while others offer fingerprinting at local and state law enforcement agencies.
Keep in mind that these agencies often do not share records. Even if you have fingerprints on file due to a prior career, such as military or education, you will need to be fingerprinted again for your real estate license.
Fees for fingerprinting and a background check range from $35 to over $100. There is often a time limit on completing this step. Background checks more than a few months old may not be acceptable during the application review.
One of the biggest steps to getting your real estate license is passing the real estate exam. With preparation and study, you’ll be ready to take and pass the exam on your first attempt.
The topics covered on the real estate license exam can be divided into national topics and state-specific topics. Some states even divide the test into two separate sections.
For example, the Virginia Department of Professional Occupation and Regulation that reviews and approves the state’s real estate exam content outlines divides test questions into two areas.
National topics (80 questions, 105 minutes):
State topics (40 questions, 45 minutes):
Other states often divide content and questions in a similar format. Some mix national and state questions together on the exam. The best way to prepare is to look over your state’s content outline and take a state-specific exam prep course.
The minimum passing score on the real estate license exam is usually around 70-75%. If you do not pass the exam, you will be provided with detailed score information to help you focus your studying before retaking the real estate license exam. If you retake the exam within a designated time, usually one to two years from your pre-licensing course completion, you will not need to repeat your classes.
The real estate license exam costs between $37 and $130.
The real estate license exam is computer-based and given at an independent testing center. Each question is multiple choice with four answers. You might see questions like:
You will be given time at the testing center before your exam to complete a tutorial, but you should be familiar with the real estate exam format before test day. Completing multiple practice tests will help you know what to expect and be confident going into the exam.
Knowing how to study is just as important as having the information that you need to pass the real estate exam. Follow these study tips to make the most of your efforts when you get ready for the real estate license exam.
You can also look into taking a real estate exam prep course. These are often offered through the same institution where you took your real estate pre-licensing classes. Whether you need a concentrated weekend-long study session that covers just the essentials or a more in-depth prep course that spans a few weeks, you can benefit from a course that focuses on test-taking strategies and study tips.
As you near the real estate license exam, you may consider taking a concentrated exam preparation course as well. While not required, a study course can help you prepare through study questions, an exam format overview, and additional practice tests.
Almost all states require that real estate sales agents affiliate with a broker before they are fully licensed to market themselves and work with clients. Some states require that you get sponsored by a licensed broker before being able to apply for your real estate license, take the real estate exam, or work as a real estate agent.
Check your state’s page to find out when in the real estate license process you should reach out to a broker for sponsorship.
Once you have completed your pre-licensing education, completed your application, and submitted all required documentation, all you need to do is wait while the state authority reviews and issues your real estate license.
While you cannot rush this step, you can take steps to prepare for your new career while you wait. Becoming a licensed real estate agent is just a few weeks away! Try these career-boosting strategies to be ready to start as a real estate agent once your license is approved.
Keep in mind that your application has not been approved yet, so you may want to wait before investing a lot of time or money into your professional development if you think that your application may be denied.
Common reasons for applications not being approved include incomplete paperwork, courses that are not approved by the state, or red flags on your background check. Your state may ask for additional documentation if this is the case. Make sure that you respond to any questions promptly to keep your application process on track.
Application processing times vary by state and even time of year. During busier months, applications can take longer to review. If your state uses an online application portal, such as New York’s eAccessNY, you can often check on the status of your application review and license using the login that you created when you first completed your application.
Once you get your real estate license, it’s time to celebrate! Hang your license up at work to show your new colleagues and clients that you completed the process and are ready to put your knowledge to work.
There are a few extra steps that you can take to further your professional journey as a licensed real estate agent.
One of the top professional organizations for real estate professionals is the National Association of Realtors®. Joining this national association comes with a lot of perks and designates you as a Realtor®.
Members have access to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), the most comprehensive and widely-used listing database for homes for sale. The association also provides a lot of professional education, opportunities to get to know other members, and discounts for widely used products, such as administrative tools. Realtors® also agree to uphold a strict code of ethics, which many clients like.
You can join the national association, state association, and local associations. Some companies and firms will even cover the costs associated with joining. Dues for the National Association of Realtors® are $150 in 2020, with additional dues for the state and local associations.
As you gain experience and expertise, you may consider taking on additional responsibility and work as a real estate professional.
Property Management: Many real estate agents manage rental properties. Duties include finding new tenants, arranging required maintenance and repairs, collecting rent, and distributing profit to property owners.
Becoming a Real Estate Broker: After you gain experience as a real estate agent, generally two to four years and additional pre-licensing education hours, you will be eligible to apply to be a real estate broker. As a licensed real estate broker, you will be able to work for yourself without supervision. You can also build a team of agents who you sponsor.
Starting a Real Estate Brokerage: For the entrepreneurial real estate professional, starting their own business can be very appealing. You will need to be a licensed real estate broker, complete all business paperwork to register with your state, and set up the administrative aspect of your own business.
Becoming a real estate agent is not an overnight process. Depending on the state, getting your license and becoming an agent takes an average of two to six months. For most people, the longest step is completing the pre-licensing education requirements. It is better to take your time and really master the material before taking the real estate license exam than to have to take it multiple times because you rushed through preparing.
For more information, we recommend having a look at our state-specific How to Renew My Real Estate License guide.
The requirements to get a real estate license are specific to each state, but most include the following:
There are multiple fees associated with getting your real estate license.
Many states offer discounts or waive some of their fees for active duty military, veterans, and military spouses. You can also ask your sponsoring broker or firm about covering some or all of the costs to become a licensed real estate agent.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, real estate sales agents make an average of $48,930 annually. This can vary widely depending on your location, amount of experience and client base, and time of year.
Many real estate agents choose to build their income by expanding their role in real estate as a property manager, broker, or starting their own brokerage firm.
The dues associated with becoming a Realtor® start at $150 for the National Association of Realtors®, with additional dues for the state and local associations. The benefits can often outweigh the costs, though, and come from the increased professional network, learning opportunities, and discounts on commonly used products and services.
If you are interested in joining the NAR, you should look for a broker or brokerage that is also a member. They will often cover the costs of dues, since they will pay a non-member fee for any agents on their team that are not members. Most prefer to put that fee toward dues and taking advantage of everything the NAR offers.
Everyone who wants to work as a licensed real estate sales agent must take the state real estate licensing exam. The only exception is those applying for reciprocity who hold a valid license in another state. Some states waive the entire exam requirement or the national portion of the exam. Other states still require applicants to pass the real estate license exam again.
Check with your state to see if they offer reciprocity with other states for real estate agents holding an active license.
Most licensed real estate agents say that the hardest part to get a real estate license is passing the real estate exam. Completing the pre-licensing education requirements often takes the most time. Studying for the exam and planning out your classes can help you meet these two requirements.
Understanding the real estate exam is one of the best ways to prepare to pass the test on your first attempt. Focus during your pre-licensing education courses and take comprehensive notes that you can use to study later. Practice tests are another great way to gauge your progress and become familiar with the exam.
The short answer is yes, a felon can get a real estate license. But you will likely need to provide additional documentation and go through a more extensive review process before getting your license. If your state offers a preliminary review process, such as a Fitness Determination Form or Application for Determination of License Eligibility, this can help you know if a criminal conviction will keep you from getting your license before you pay for and complete classes.
Most state real estate agent licenses are good for two to four years. Before the expiration date, you will need to provide documentation of your continuing education hours and pay a renewal fee. You will not need to retake the real estate exam or complete a new application.
For more information, we recommend having a look at our state-specific How to Renew My Real Estate License guide.
Information on this page has been gathered by a multitude of sources and was most recently updated on August 2022.
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