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How to Get a Real Estate License: Key Requirements

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Helping people buy and sell homes as a real estate agent can be a rewarding career but, first, you have to get a real estate license. If you’re wondering how to get a real estate license, your state has specific laws and requirements to follow, so there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach.

Note that getting your real estate license isn’t the same as becoming a Realtor; the latter requires membership to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR), a real estate trade association.

What is a real estate license?

A real estate license permits someone to sell real estate. Every state requires real estate agents to get a real estate license in the state where they wish to do business, and each state’s laws dictate the exact requirements for becoming a real estate agent. The process typically includes taking a real estate course and passing a real estate exam.

Real estate agents must also renew their real estate license regularly and pursue continuing education. There are approximately 2 million licensed real estate professionals in the country, according to the Association of Real Estate License Law Officials.

What does a real estate agent’s job entail?

Real estate agents represent buyers and sellers in real estate transactions. Becoming a real estate agent involves many responsibilities, including:

  • Working with clients who wish to buy, sell or rent a property
  • Being familiar with real estate market conditions, local and state property laws and mortgage options
  • Listing, marketing and managing property listings on the local Multiple Listing Service (MLS)
  • Researching comparable listings and past sales to advise clients on pricing
  • Marketing clients’ properties through advertising, open houses and listing services
  • Showing properties to prospective buyers and renters
  • Presenting and receiving purchase offers
  • Advising clients through the buying and selling process and negotiations
  • Serving as a mediator between buyer and seller
  • Communicating with other real estate agents, loan officers, escrow agents and other parties during real estate transactions
  • Preparing and submitting required documents during real estate transactions

What’s the difference between a real estate agent, broker and Realtor?

Many people use the terms real estate agent, broker and Realtor interchangeably, but they’re not the same. Before we dig into how to get a real estate license, let’s cover the difference between these roles.

Real estate agent
A licensed real estate agent represents homebuyers and sellers in transactions but doesn’t work independently. Real estate agents work under the umbrella of a real estate broker and typically split any commissions they receive. To become a licensed real estate agent, you must take real estate classes, pass a real estate exam and meet ongoing education and licensing renewal requirements in your state.

Real estate broker
A real estate broker is licensed to run their own real estate business independently. Many real estate brokers operate real estate offices and oversee real estate agents. To become a real estate broker, you’ll need to take additional real estate courses and pass a real estate broker exam; you will also need past experience as a real estate agent for a specific amount of time.

Real estate agents and brokers who belong to NAR are Realtors. Realtors have access to member-only resources, receive additional training and adhere to a specific Code of Ethics. To become a Realtor, real estate agents and brokers join a local association of Realtors. NAR members pay annual dues.

Real estate agent requirements

Real estate agent requirements vary by state. However, most states have standard guidelines for becoming a real estate agent.

Prospective real estate agents must:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Complete state-approved real estate license classes
  • Pass a real estate exam
  • Pass a background check (applicable in some states)
  • Pay a licensing fee
  • Be sponsored by a broker
  • Meet the state’s continuing education and license renewal requirements

Requirements for real estate classes and license renewal vary significantly from state to state. Let’s take a look at real estate agent requirements in a few states.

State  Real Estate License Class Requirements Real Estate License Renewal Requirements
California Three college-level real estate classes, totaling approximately 135 classroom hours (minimum) Renew every four years; 45 hours of continuing education within each renewal period
Connecticut 60-hour real estate pre-licensing course Renew annually; 12 hours of continuing education every two years
Florida 63-hour real estate pre-licensing course First renewal after 18-24 months of licensure; 45 hours post-license education

Subsequent renewals every two years; 14 hours of continuing education during each renewal period

Georgia 75-hour real estate pre-licensing course, or 6 semester hours of college-level real estate classes; 25-hour post-licensing course Renew every four years; 24 hours of continuing education during each renewal period

6 steps to becoming a real estate agent

Step 1. Learn how to get a real estate license in your state

Start with your state’s real estate commission or licensing office online. There, you’ll find information on how to become a real estate agent in your state.

Step 2. Take a pre-licensing real estate course

Prospective real estate agents must take a state-approved real estate course or multiple courses that meet a minimum number of classroom hours. Typically, you can take a real estate license course at a real estate school, community college or university.

You may be exempt from taking a real estate license course if you meet specific criteria. For example, Florida waives its real estate course requirement for applicants who hold a four-year or higher real estate degree or those who are approved to practice law in the state. Your state’s real estate commission or licensing office will provide a list of real estate agent schools and classes in your area.

Estimated cost: $200 to $600 (or more)

Step 3. Take the real estate exam

After completing the pre-licensing course, you’ll receive a certificate that permits you to take your state’s real estate exam. Most exams consist of two sections: one focused on general real estate practices, and one that focuses on state-specific laws and real estate issues.

Some states require a minimum score to qualify for a license or determine how many times you can fail and retake the exam before having to repeat the real estate course. For example, Maryland real estate agents must score 70% or higher on the exam. Prospective real estate agents in Connecticut can take the real estate exam an unlimited number of times within one year of completing their courses, while New Hampshire agents have only six months and eight attempts to pass.

Estimated cost: $60 to $150 (may vary by state; some states waive exam fees for eligible applicants)

Step 4. Pay the licensing fee and additional fees

Once you pass the real estate exam, you’ll then pay your state’s licensing fee and officially receive your real estate license. Some states, such as California, permit an applicant to file for the exam and license at the same time. If your state requires a background check, you’ll pay for that, too.

You might consider joining NAR after you get your license. More than half of real estate professionals belong to this trade association, said Jessica Lautz, vice president of demographics and behavioral insights at NAR.

Members gain access to exclusive resources and leverage the Realtor designation. “[Members] have a code of ethics that they abide by, and there is a number of training hours that each Realtor needs to pass,” Lautz said.

Estimated cost: Real estate license fee: Varies by state; NAR membership: $150/year

Step 5. Affiliate with a broker

Before you can begin working with clients, you must be affiliated with a licensed real estate broker who will “sponsor” you and oversee your transactions. Real estate agents typically split a portion of their commissions with their brokers.

Step 6. Meet your state’s guidelines for license renewal

Each state has requirements for license renewal, so you’ll have to earn a certain amount of continuing education credits per renewal period. To keep your license active, keep tabs on your state’s renewal requirements to avoid any lapses in your license.

FAQs about how to get a real estate license

How do I find a real estate school near me?
Your state’s real estate commission or licensing office will have a list of state-approved real estate agent schools. Many colleges and universities, including community colleges, offer real estate classes. Before taking a course, be sure it meets your state’s requirements — some online programs offer real estate license prep courses that differ from approved real estate courses.

How long is real estate school?
Depending on your state, real estate pre-licensing courses range from 60 to as many as 135 classroom hours. Some states require additional post-licensing education after you get your real estate license.

How much is real estate school?
Expect to pay anywhere from $200 to $600, or more, in some cases, to take a real estate license course. Some schools may charge for textbooks, course materials or additional preparatory courses.

How long does it take to get a real estate license?
Becoming a real estate agent depends on your state’s education requirements and exact process. Expect the process to take several months, though.

How much is a real estate license?
The cost of getting a real estate license varies by state. Your cost depends on your state’s guidelines and if any other steps are required, such as a background check or fingerprinting.

Is there a way to take free real estate classes?
State-approved real estate pre-licensing courses typically charge a fee, so expect to pay for classes that will earn you your license. To find affordable courses, focus on public classes, for example, at a community college, rather than at for-profit schools — you may even qualify for financial aid or scholarships at public schools. There are many free real estate classes and resources available online to real estate agents who wish to increase and enhance their knowledge. However, these typically are not state-approved and likely wouldn’t count toward licensing requirements.

How much does a real estate agent earn?
The median annual income of a Realtor was $41,800 in 2018, according to NAR. The earning potential of real estate agents depends on many factors, including local housing market conditions, your experience and whether you work part-time or full-time.

“There’s a number of members who make over $100,000 on an annual basis,” Lautz told LendingTree. “But then there’s also a number who make under $10,000.” Often, those in the lower-income range are new to the real estate profession or take it on as a second job or retirement career.


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