How to Become a Real Estate Agent

Written by: Ethan Peyton

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How to Become a Real Estate Agent

If you are thinking of beginning a career in real estate, you probably have questions about what a real estate agent does, what it takes to get your real estate license, and tips to make the most of this exciting career.

Whether you are changing careers after many years in another industry or beginning as a new real estate agent with only a small amount of professional experience, you can quickly become a real estate agent and grow a thriving real estate career.

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Becoming a Real Estate Agent

Each state has its own requirements and process to become a real estate agent, but all begin with completing the steps to get a real estate license. You need to be at least 18 years old to apply for a real estate license and go through the following steps.

Step 1: Complete Pre-License Education

The first step to getting your insurance license is to take the required pre-licensing education classes. Your state will set the pre-licensing education hour and topic requirements for the real estate license. Most states require courses that cover the fundamentals of working in real estate. These can include:

  • Principles of Real Estate (45-60 hours): This course is required in most states.
  • Real Estate Practice (45 hours): Most states require this or a similar course.
  • Law of Agency (30 hours)
  • Law of Contracts (30 hours)
  • Promulgated Contract Forms (30 hours)
  • Real Estate Finance (30 hours)

Some states allow “real estate elective” courses, which cover topics such as law of agency, law of contracts, promulgated contract forms, real estate finance, and other commonly-used concepts. Check with your state’s requirements before registering for courses to make sure that your classes will satisfy the pre-licensing education requirements.

After you complete your pre-licensing education classes, you may also consider taking an exam prep course for additional resources and study materials. These courses can range from a focused study session completed during a weekend to a multi-week exam overview. Look for a course that includes practice exams and sample questions to make sure that you are familiar with the test.

Tip: Check with your pre-licensing education provider to see if they include test prep in your pre-licensing education class or offer discounts for additional exam prep courses to former students. You may even be able to take a prep course with the same instructor.

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Step 2: Complete License Application

As you approach the end of your pre-licensing education courses, you can begin your license application. You will be asked to provide your contact information and social security number to begin the application. Many states have an online portal system with a secure log-in to collect this information. You may also be required to provide copies of your pre-licensing education course completion paperwork with your application when it is completed.

The cost of the application ranges from $45 to $205, depending on which state you are licensing in.

Some states require that you register for and pass the licensing exam before submitting your application. Other states ask that you begin your application, then take the exam, and finally submit your final completed application. Check with your state’s requirements to find out how you should proceed

Step 3: Get Fingerprinted and Complete a Background Check

Once you submit your application, most states require you to get a background check and have your fingerprints taken. These costs are in addition to the application fee, usually between $35 and $100.

Most states include a permission form for the appropriate state and federal authorities to complete a background check with the application paperwork. The time required to get the completed background check can vary, even within the same state. As the applicant, you just need to wait, but you can usually check the status of your application and background check using an online system and the same login that you created to submit your application.

Fingerprinting must be taken by an approved authority. Some states do this through a third-party private company, while others have local law enforcement agencies complete fingerprinting. Even if you have already had your fingerprints taken for another job or license, you will need to do this step again specifically for your real estate license application.


Make sure that you disclose legal rulings against you or any revoked or suspended licenses since they will come up in your background check. You will be able to explain the circumstances on your application. It is very important that you answer each question honestly. Some states also give applicants the opportunity to provide supporting documentation, such as a character reference or personal statement, with their application.

Step 4: Real Estate Licensing Exam

After completing your pre-licensing education and application, it’s time to get ready for the real estate license exam. While the topics covered in your classes make up the bulk of the test, you should spend some time getting familiar with the test, using materials from your classes, a study guide, or a specific exam prep course.

The real estate exam is state-specific. It contains between 100 and 150 multiple-choice questions. Test takers are given between three and five hours to complete the exam. Some states divide questions into two sections: national and state. You will not have access to any study materials during the test or during breaks between the sections.

Each state designs its state real estate exam to cover the essential information a real estate agent needs to know. The topics are very similar across states, but sometimes states choose to focus more on a particular law or regulation that is unique to their state.

The New York real estate salesperson exam is divided into the following topics:

  • License Law and Regulations
  • Law of Agency
  • Legal Issues (includes estates and interests, liens and easements, deeds, title closing, and costs)
  • The Contract of Sales and Leases (includes leases, contracts, and contract preparation)
  • Real Estate Finance
  • Land Use Regulations
  • Construction and Environmental Issues
  • Valuation Process and Pricing Properties
  • Human Rights and Fair Housing
  • Real Estate Math
  • Municipal Agencies
  • Property Insurance
  • Taxes and Assessments
  • Condominiums and Cooperatives
  • Commercial and Investment Properties
  • Income Tax Issues in Real Estate Transactions
  • Mortgage Brokers
  • Property Management

Most states cover fundamental information needed to conduct a real estate transaction, as well as state laws and regulations that real estate agents must know and follow. You should also be familiar with the licensing process in your state, as you may be asked about licensing requirements, continuing education, and the renewal process.

When you arrive at the test center, you will need to have two forms of photo ID matching your name and address on your application. A test proctor will go over the procedures and policies and make sure that you do not have any prohibited items. Prohibited items include notes and study materials, personal electronic devices, bulky jackets or coats, purses, and backpacks.


Many military installations have testing centers for active-duty military personnel and their families. If this applies to you, check with your Education and Training Center to see what they offer.

The real estate exam costs between $35 and $130 for each attempt. Spending time and money on an exam prep course can help you pass the first time that you take the real estate exam. Paying for additional exam prep can greatly increase your chances of passing the real estate exam.

Each state sets its own passing score, but most fall between 70% and 75% to pass. If you pass, you usually do not get detailed score information.  If you fail, you will get a more detailed report that can help you refocus your studying efforts before you take the exam again. Your score is automatically reported as part of your application.

Study Tips for the Real Estate Exam

The best way to pass the real estate exam is to be prepared by studying. Your required pre-licensing education classes will teach you the fundamentals that you need to know, while an exam prep course can help you become more familiar with the test’s format and how to take a computer-based test.

Practice tests are one of the best ways to study for the real estate exam. Your pre-licensing education classes will often include practice tests, a great opportunity to gauge your progress and prepare for the exam. You can also seek out additional practice tests from your state or an exam prep course.

To make the most of your practice tests, treat them just like the real thing. This means turning off your personal electronic devices, setting a timer, putting away your notes, and relying on your knowledge of real estate. If you find that your score is not as high as it needs to be, look at which sections you need to concentrate on as you prepare for test day.

Step 5. Get an Appointment from a Broker

After you learn and demonstrate your professional knowledge on the real estate exam and complete the license application, you will need to get a formal professional appointment with a supervising broker. A real estate sales agent must work under a broker.

You can get this appointment before you are licensed, during the licensing process, or after you complete the first steps. But you will need to be affiliated with a broker before you are fully licensed to work as a real estate agent.


Some steps, such as your pre-licensing education, application, and real estate licensing exam, can be completed before you ever affiliate with a broker or find a job as a real estate agent. In fact, when you apply for real estate positions, having these steps completed can make you a more competitive applicant.

real estate broker can work with clients to buy and sell real estate without supervision. They can also choose to lead a team or open their own business. Some states refer to the entry-level license as a Provisional Broker or Associate Broker. These license holders must also work under a broker, just like a sales agent.


If you have a job offer or broker sponsor lined up before you begin your real estate license process, talk to them about covering part or all of the costs of your license. Some brokers may be willing to cover the costs of your pre-licensing education, application fees, or exam costs.

Step 6: Application Review and License

The final step to becoming a real estate agent requires that you wait for your state to process your application and issue your real estate sales agent license. Processing times vary by state, workload, and even time of year, but most take a few days to a few weeks. You will likely be given a review timeline when you submit your application.

One of the best ways that you can make sure this step runs smoothly is to review your application closely before you submit. Leaving parts blank or incomplete can result in your application being returned or even rejected. If your state’s real estate commission asks for additional information, be sure to respond promptly to keep your application review on track.

If your application is not approved, you may need to spend more time demonstrating your potential to work as a real estate agent by working successfully in another position. Submitting character references and having a strong resume can help you overcome any black marks on your record.

What Does a Real Estate Agent Do?

Beginning a career as a real estate agent is an exciting time. The great news is that your day-to-day job responsibilities will never get boring, as a real estate agent’s day includes a lot of unique tasks and is different everyday.

A Real Estate Agent’s Job

The core job description of a real estate agent is to help clients buy and sell real estate properties. In reality, the job entails a lot more: networking with potential clients, researching the real estate market and trends, marketing themselves and the homes for sale, generating new leads, and so much more.

There is no such thing as a typical day for a real estate agent, as they are often out and about in the community. Many agents find this flexibility is one of the best parts of their job and love the opportunity to be away from a traditional desk.

A few key terms you will find while becoming a real estate agent include:

  • Real estate sales agent: The person usually interacting directly with clients. They must be licensed by their state and work under a broker supervisor.
  • Real estate broker: This person can work with clients, lead a team or firm, or a combination of both. They must also be licensed with a special broker’s license and are able to work completely independently.
  • Realtor®: This professional designation is given to real estate sales agents and brokers who are members of the National Association of Realtors®. 
  • Brokerage: This is the firm or company that organizes and oversees the work of the agents and brokers. Brokers can choose to work for an established brokerage or start their own brokerage business.
  • Real estate license: This professional license is issued at the state level. All real estate agents and brokers must have the appropriate real estate license.

A Real Estate Agent’s Day

The day-to-day work for a real estate agent usually includes working directly with clients, researching and analyzing properties currently on the market, and preparing documents such as purchase offers or contracts. Many of these tasks can be done on a laptop between appointments or showings.

Every day is different for a real estate agent. The following is just one example of how a real estate agent may spend their time.


  • 8:00 – 8:30 am: Respond to emails and messages. If you work as part of a team, your broker or team lead may want to schedule a meeting in the office
  • 8:30 – 10:00 am: Meet with a client and tour homes for sale in your area. Some agents drive their clients from showing to showing, pointing out landmarks as they go. Others meet clients at showings and open houses
  • 10:00 – 11:30 am: Complete and submit a purchase offer for one of the homes your client saw that morning
  • 11:30 am – 12:30 pm: Lunch and personal errands. Expect to respond to some email, text messages, or phone calls, since your clients are often on their own lunch break during this time as well
  • 12:30 – 2:00 pm: Work on lead generation by networking with professional organizations, responding to referrals or inquiries, and marketing yourself to potential clients
  • 2:00 – 4:00 pm: Analyze the local real estate market to help advise a client on how to price his home for sale. This includes looking up comparable properties, touring his home to see its condition and amenities, and looking to see what is currently listed for sale in his neighborhood
  • 4:00 – 6:30 pm: Go to the gym, do your grocery shopping, and have dinner with your family
  • 6:30 – 8:00 pm: Additional showings for clients. Just like during lunch, you will often get questions from clients during “off hours” since this is the time that they have available

If you have a special event or commitment during the day, you can often schedule your professional commitments around it. Your day will also vary depending on how aggressively you want to pursue new clients. Some real estate agents make lead generation and marketing a big part of their day, while others prefer to get new business through client referrals.


Ask another real estate agent or your broker to shadow them for a few days to really see first-hand what a day in the life of a real estate agent looks like. Make sure to give it at least three days, as the tasks included in each day can vary widely, something that keeps the work exciting and new.

How Flexible is a Real Estate Career?

Real estate is great for those who want a part-time or flexible schedule. A part-time real estate career might include fewer showings, a smaller list of clients, or a more specialized niche. Part-time agents can choose to work the same hours each day, such as 8:00 am – 12:30 pm, or work full eight hour work days for two or three days each week.

Some real estate agents “take off” one or two days each week for personal pursuits or other jobs. Others structure their day around their children’s school or other commitments. Many real estate agents say that the flexibility of the day-to-day work is one of their favorite parts of the job.

A career in real estate is highly customizable to match the skills and goals of each real estate agent. Whether you are looking for a part-time job or want to make real estate your full-time income, you can find a workflow that works for you.

Become a Successful Real Estate Agent

Once you become a real estate agent and have mastered the day-to-day work, you will be ready to take your real estate career to the next level. You can grow your network, start your own business, or take on additional real estate work as you become a top real estate agent in your area.

Qualities of Successful Real Estate Agents

You can tailor your real estate career to use your strengths. There are a few qualities that many successful real estate agents have and develop.

  • Detail-oriented: Real estate agents must be good with details, especially when it comes to writing contracts, marketing homes for sale, and working with clients to find a home to purchase. Real estate agents must also be able to do basic real estate math to analyze listing and purchase prices.
  • Flexible: Opportunities and work often come at short notice for real estate agents. The best agents are able to quickly adjust their day or workload to take advantage of opportunities to meet with new clients, see new properties, or network.
  • Prefer dynamic work: Because a real estate agent’s day is always changing and evolving, successful agents tend to like this kind of schedule. 
  • Self-motivated: Your earning potential as a real estate agent is only limited by your own drive and goals. You can improve your skills as an agent to increase your income.

Should I Become a Realtor®?

After you become a fully licensed real estate agent, you can look into becoming a Realtor®. This professional designation is not a separate license but identifies you as a member of the National Association of Realtors® (NAR). Joining the National Association of Realtors® offers many professional opportunities for real estate agents and brokers.

One of the main factors to determine if joining the NAR is the right path for you is what is expected or typical at your real estate firm. If most of your coworkers are Realtors®, chances are your sponsoring broker will encourage you to join as well. If the main principal members of the company are Realtors®, the company will need to pay a non-member fee for any agents that choose not to join. Most companies prefer to take advantage of the network and benefits.

You do not need a special license to become a Realtor®, but you will need to pay association dues and agree to the NAR’s code of ethics. While the dues can add up ($150 for the National Association, plus state and local association dues), the benefits of being a Realtor® usually outweigh these costs. See if your broker or company will cover your annual dues. Many do, because they are required to pay a non-member fee for those agents who choose not to join.

As a Realtor®, you will have access to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), professional education resources, and a broad network of other agents, brokers, and real estate professionals. You can also get discounts on things like insurance, marketing materials, and business products.

Real Estate Agent vs. Broker

Once you have some experience as a real estate agent, you may be ready to take on the responsibility of leading a team or working for yourself.

To become a real estate broker, you must take additional classes and verify your real estate experience. Each state sets their own requirements, but many require broker pre-licensing education and three to five years as an agent.

Real estate brokers are still able to work directly with clients and many do. Some brokers prefer to lead and manage a team of agents. Others go on to open their own brokerage firm. Getting your real estate broker’s license allows you to customize your career path.

Maximizing Your Real Estate Agent Income

As a licensed real estate agent, you can take on additional responsibilities to maximize your earning potential. One of the best parts about working as a real estate agent is the opportunity to set your own earning limits.

Property Management

Many real estate agents also manage rental properties for their clients. This often includes marketing homes for rent, finding tenants, arranging repairs and maintenance, and collecting rent.

Start a Team

If you choose to get your real estate broker’s license, you can lead a team of real estate agents. You can share your experience and expertise, as well as help newer agents network and establish their own careers. In exchange for your contributions, you will often get a small percentage of their commissions.

Become a Real Estate Entrepreneur

There are a variety of paths for entrepreneurs in the real estate industry. As a licensed real estate broker, you are able to start your own company or brokerage. This can be a big leap for even experienced real estate brokers, but is something to work toward during your career if you want to run your own business.

You may also decide to invest in real estate. This can mean owning residential rental properties or commercial real estate. As a licensed real estate agent, you will know the ins and outs of your community and be ready to make a purchase offer on a property that you feel is a good investment.

How to Become a Real Estate Agent FAQ

What are the Real Estate Agent Requirements?

Each state sets its own requirements to become a real estate agent. The most common requirements are:
At least 18 years old
High school diploma or equivalent (in some states)
Pre-licensing education hours
Pass the state real estate licensing exam
Complete a background check (in some states)

What is the Real Estate License Age Requirement?

Almost all states require that applicants be at least 18 years old to get their real estate license. If you want to work toward your license before you turn 18, you may be able to start your pre-licensing education classes earlier. You must be at least 18 years old when you submit your state application.

Where Can I Find Real Estate Agent Education?

Most states publish a list of approved real estate education providers and courses. You can find real estate classes at state and private universities, community colleges, trade schools, and real estate education centers. Some schools include their graduates’ pass rate on the real estate licensing exam. This can help you determine how well the program will prepare you for the test. Make sure that your classes are accredited and approved by your state before enrolling. The easiest way to do this is to look into your state’s list of approved schools and programs. You can also talk to your sponsoring broker or other real estate agents to find out which schools and programs they recommend. You may be able to use a scholarship, grant, GI Bill, or other tuition assistance programs to help pay for your pre-licensing education. Talk to the student services office at your program to see what assistance may be available.

Is Being a Real Estate Agent a Good Career?

If you enjoy working with people, a dynamic work environment, and getting to know your local community, being a real estate agent would be a great career for you. Real estate agents must be self-motivated and work hard, especially if you want to be among the top-earning agents in your area. Networking, marketing, and developing a positive professional reputation are great ways to make the most of your real estate career.

How Do Real Estate Agents Make Good Money?

Marketing themselves and the properties they represent is one of the top ways that real estate agents become financially successful. Many agents focus on marketing and networking, especially when they are beginning, to build their professional reputation and increase their earnings. Most real estate agents are paid on commission. This means that they receive a percentage of the sales price of each home they help buy or sell. This can vary by state, region, and even agent. A 6% commission, split 50/50 between the buyer’s agent and seller’s agent, is very common. Some agents provide a fee-only option. This structure typically puts more of the marketing work on the client. Often, clients will need to advertise their home for sale, conduct open houses, and meet with potential buyers on their own. The agent provides expertise and access to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS).

What is the Best Way to Get Started in Real Estate?

The first step to becoming a real estate agent is finding and registering for your pre-licensing education classes. This gives you the foundation that you need to pass your real estate exam and work as an agent. After you are licensed, begin by marketing yourself as a new agent looking for clients. You can also assist an experienced agent or broker to learn even more. If you still want to learn more before taking that first step, you can talk to current real estate agents to see if this is the career path for you. You can work as an administrative assistant or office manager to see them in action each day before you get your license. Many administrative professionals who work at a brokerage firm go on to become licensed agents.

Is it Hard to Get Started as a Real Estate Agent?

The path to become a real estate agent starts with getting your real estate license. Completing your pre-licensing education is the first and most lengthy step in the process. Make sure that you get started on a strong foot by planning out your schedule and giving each class your full attention and effort. Once you have your real estate license, getting started as a real estate agent requires that you market yourself as a professional. This can include joining a professional organization such as the National Association of Realtors®, getting involved in your local community, and working with a seasoned broker or brokerage to learn the best practices of the real estate industry.

Can I Get a Real Estate License with Bad Credit?

There is no credit check involved with the real estate licensing process. Unless your financial history has resulted in a court conviction, it will not impact your real estate license application. Some states do ask on the real estate license application about any unsatisfied liens or legal proceedings taken against you. Make sure that you answer all of the questions on the application honestly and to your best knowledge.

Can I Get a Real Estate License with a Criminal Record?

If you have a criminal conviction on your record (felony or misdemeanor), you may still be able to get a real estate license. You will likely be asked to go to a review board, either in person or by submitting a statement or court documents, to explain the circumstances of your conviction. Your state’s Real Estate Commission wants to make sure that you are a trustworthy and honest individual who will act in the best interest of public safety. Even if you have a checkered past, you can show your commitment to being a great agent by having a strong work history after your conviction, writing a personal statement, and providing professional references. Some states offer a preliminary review process for those with convictions that may impact their application approval. Some even require you to submit a Fitness Determination form providing details about your past. This is usually early in the process so that applicants can be confident that their conviction will not adversely affect their application before taking and paying for pre-licensing classes or the real estate exam.

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