A real estate license, issued by state governments, allows you to legally represent buyers and sellers in a property transaction. To acquire a license, agents must meet their state eligibility requirements, take approved prelicensure classes, pass the agent exam, and submit their application to the state real estate board for acceptance and find a sponsoring broker.
1. Review Your State’s Requirements
While there are some similarities, the rules for earning your real estate licensing can differ significantly from state to state, and unlike a driver’s license, possessing a real estate license in one state does not necessarily allow you to operate as a real estate agent in another. Also, while states require agents to be a minimum age (18 or 21) and a U.S. citizen in general, some also require background checks and fingerprinting. Therefore, the first step towards becoming a real estate salesperson, agent, or broker is to become familiar with your state’s requirements.
We’ve compiled state-specific guides to help you get started:
State-by-State Real Estate Licensing Guides
Agents who currently practice but want to acquire a license in a different state should also review reciprocity laws to see if they need to re-apply for a license. Reciprocity means that there is an agreement between the states to accept the license of an agent from another state without the need to retake the exam or re-apply for a license. You can learn more about state agreements by visiting our article on real estate license reciprocity.
Visit your state real estate commission’s website to find out your state’s specific requirements.
2. Complete State-mandated Prelicensing Courses
All states require aspiring residential or commercial real estate agents complete a certain amount of prelicensing coursework before they can apply to take the licensing exam. This requirement prepares individuals for their licensing exam, but also helps agents answer future client questions. Courses generally cover fair housing laws, types of property ownership, fiduciary responsibilities, titles, deeds, contracts, and more.
While all real estate prelicensing courses cover both state-specific laws and regulations as well as federal real estate laws, states can differ wildly on the exact topics covered and required coursework hours. For example, Florida requires 63 hours of coursework, while the state of Texas requires 180 hours.
Example Real Estate Prelicensing Courses Requirements by State
Required Coursework Hours
Last updated on 04/18/20
It can be difficult to squeeze in real estate prelicensing coursework into an individual’s schedule. Luckily many states allow you to attend these courses online. However, be aware that Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, New Jersey, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Washington, D.C., do not, so plan accordingly.
Examples of some of the top online prelicensing schools include:
- Real Estate Express: Real Estate Express offers accredited online prelicensure and continuing education classes with a “Pass or Don’t Pay” guarantee.
- Kaplan: Kaplan offers a mixture of live classroom courses and online courses; this provides students options for traditional education and more convenient, digitally driven education.
- Mbition – Learn Real Estate: Mbition – Learn Real Estate, formally CareerWeb School, provides subject-specific classes in subjects like appraisals and home inspections.
However, there are several more quality schools to choose from. Take our quiz to find out who might be best for you.
Which Real Estate School Is Right for You?
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3. Prepare for the Real Estate License Exam
Many potential agents are surprised at how hard it is to pass the licensing exam, and some states limit how many times you can retake it if you fail. For this reason, it is a good idea to continue to study following course completion until test day.
Here are some tips to help you prepare for your real estate license exam:
- Ask agents for help: Search for agents in your state—not in your competitive farm area—on LinkedIn. Connect with them and ask for advice on passing the exam. This will not only help you pass the exam, but can be the beginning of an ongoing professional relationship.
- Locate study groups: Many online real estate schools offer portals or forums for group study. Connect with fellow students and ask if there are any in your area who would be willing to meet and prepare for the exam together.
- Create your own flashcards: While it may seem like a high school study tactic, flashcards are an effective of way of learning new and important information. Create a set just for yourself that covers challenging real estate topics and ask friends to quiz you.
- Take a practice exam: Many online real estate schools offer practice tests to help you get comfortable with the exam. If your real estate school does not offer practice tests, you can take a separate real estate practice exam prep class to make sure you are ready for the final licensing exam.
- Set a study schedule: This ensures you dedicate time each week to mastering real estate subjects. Begin by setting aside an hour three times a week to study the subjects you are struggling to learn. Then, allocate 30 minutes at the end of the week to review all material.
4. Schedule & Take the Exam
To schedule your licensing exam, visit your state’s real estate commission website and find a link for getting a license. Complete the online registration form. Once submitted, you will automatically be scheduled for the exam and should receive confirmation on-screen or via email.
Keep in mind, however, that most states require you to take the exam within a certain number of days following the completion of your prelicensing education. The sooner you schedule the exam after your coursework is complete, the better.
On test day, stay calm, drink plenty of water, and be sure you are well-rested. Because the test is timed, you will need to answer questions efficiently. Skip any questions to which you absolutely do not know the answer and narrow down the possible answers for questions that you’re not entirely sure about. When the test is complete, you will receive notification of passing or failing the exam.
5. Retake the Exam (If Necessary)
If you failed the exam, you can register to retake it 24 hours after you failed and up to three times in a year. Visit your state’s real estate commission website to complete this registration. Also, consider using additional preparation resources offered by a company like Real Estate Express. Their effective Exam Prep Master gives you extra study guides and prep tests to practice for the exam.
6. Contact & Interview Sponsoring Real Estate Brokers
Before you can apply for your license, new agents need to find a sponsoring brokerage. This sponsorship provides necessary training and experience for work in the real estate industry. To find the right sponsor, review area brokerages, then reach out to five to schedule sponsorship interviews. During the interview, ask about their training, commission splits, desk fees, and company culture. Based on your interviews, select the sponsor that fits your needs.
Since you will generally get paid only on commission, finding a broker to sponsor you is not difficult. Be sure to do your research before associating your license with a broker, however. Your first few months in the industry are crucial to a successful career. Read these tips to choose between a national franchise, boutique brokerage, and a virtual brokerage.
How to Prepare & Conduct Sponsoring Broker Interviews
Asking the right questions during a broker interview can clear up many potential issues down the road. New agents or prelicensed agents might find it difficult to know what topics they should ask during their broker interview and sponsorship discussion. To guide your interviews, create a list of questions about training, commissions, fees, and company culture based on the guidelines below. Then, set up and conduct an interview with your top five brokerages.
Here are some things you should consider when talking to a potential sponsoring broker:
- Training: Since you’re just starting out, great training is incredibly important. Ask your broker if they have a training program.
- Commission splits: Most brokers will pay out a 50% split for new agents. This means you will get 50% of every commission you earn and the other 50% goes back to the broker. Confirm this with each brokerage you interview.
- Desk fees: Desk fees are paid to the broker to cover the cost of lead generation, rent, and office supplies. Ask the brokerages you’re interviewing if these are required of sponsored agents and how much they charge.
- Lead generation: Some agencies provide leads for you. Others require you to pay for your own lead generation. Make sure you clarify brokerage policy during the interview.
- Marketing efforts: A sponsoring broker might have marketing plans for agents who come into their office or restrict you from having your own brand, so you should make sure you understand their policies.
- Company culture: Observe the office environment and talk to other agents. Ask if you can shadow the broker or an agent to find out what it is like to work there.
How to Select Sponsoring Brokerages
After you have completed your interviews, pick your top three sponsoring brokerages. Reach out to the interview contact at each to see if they’d be willing to sponsor you as a new agent. Be prepared for rejection at this point; you may not be able to work for your number one brokerage.
If none of your top three choices agrees to sponsor you, consider the others on your list. You can also reach out to real estate groups on LinkedIn and through the National Association of Realtors (NAR) to get connected to brokers open to sponsorship in your area.
Once you get a sponsorship agreement from a brokerage, acquire the necessary paperwork to verify this sponsorship. You will submit this with your application.
7. Submit Your Real Estate License Application
After finding a sponsor, you must submit a license application to your state’s real estate board and pay any required application fees. Many states also require real estate license applicants to submit fingerprints for a criminal background check. To submit your real estate application, go to the real estate commission site for your state. Click on the menu option for licensing and the website will walk you through the process of applying for your real estate license.
The cost of applying for your real estate license varies from state to state. On average, expect to pay $25 for application processing and $50 for a background check (if applicable). An application review can take anywhere from two to six weeks, depending on the state. Once the review is complete, you will be notified by email and mailed a letter.
8. Maintain & Renew Your Real Estate License
Most states require you to renew your real estate license every two to four years. In order to renew your license, you’ll need to complete required continuing education (CE) real estate courses. Visit your state’s real estate commission website or our guides on state-by-state renewal requirements to learn the requirements for maintaining your real estate license, then consider continuing education schools to help you meet those requirements.
All states also require you to enroll in continuing education (CE) courses to maintain your license. You can find CE courses through online real estate schools like Real Estate Express or The Center for Realtor Development through the NAR.
State Real Estate Commission Websites
In order to get the most current information on real estate licensing regulations in your state, consult the following list of the real estate licensing commissions for all 50 states. Review your state’s laws and requirements carefully so you ensure your application approval won’t be delayed.
After you get familiar with your state’s real estate commission website, you may want to look for a more in-depth guide about what steps to take to reach your goals. You can read everything you need to know about choosing the right brokerage, developing a business plan, utilizing the right technology, and even more in order to achieve success in real estate here.
Reasons You Need a Real Estate License
While licensees most commonly operate as residential sales agents, there are many other reasons to get a real estate license. Here are just a few different ways in which you can use your license:
- Commercial real estate: Commercial real estate agents help buy, sell, and lease properties like office spaces, hospitals, apartment buildings, and more.
- Real estate broker: As a broker, you can run your own brokerage or be a leading part of a large one. You can still participate in buying and selling property, but you may choose to solely oversee agents.
- Brokerage office administration: In certain states, all brokerage employees are required to have a real estate license.
Real estate investor: You are not required to have a real estate license to rent or remodel properties. However, being able to avoid fees and negotiate your own transactions will be a crucial part of your success.
- Property manager: Most property managers are required to have a real estate license, and can work with landlords of individual homes or with large apartment complexes.
- Corporate real estate manager: Companies often need someone on staff to manage all aspects of real estate transactions. There are a variety of corporate real estate jobs you can find if you are not interested in being a sales agent.
Even if you don’t know exactly which career you want, getting a real estate license can open the door to opportunities you never knew about. There are many ways to be successful in real estate.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How much does it cost to get your real estate license?
While costs vary from state to state, aspiring agents will need to pay for prelicensing education, exam registration, and the licensing application. Costs for prelicensing generally range from less than $200 to upwards of $700; exam registration fees range from $25 to $75; and licensing applications fees range from $75 to $150.
There may be additional costs incurred for optional or state-specific materials, including background checks or fingerprinting, exam prep guides, and test prep classes. Exam prep classes and materials are typically offered a la carte by real estate schools, and cost between $5 and $50 each. Fees for ancillary application materials, like background checks, vary by state; check with your real estate board to determine fees associated with these materials.
How long does it take to get your license after you pass your exam?
After you have taken and passed the licensing exam, you will need to find a sponsoring broker and submit a completed application to your state’s real estate commission. Processing of the application typically takes two to six weeks, although some states have a longer consideration period.
While official approval of your application and granting of your license are most often confirmed by mail, most states will send an unofficial email confirmation of application approval to expedite the process.
How much do real estate agents make?
According to Real Estate Express, the average new agent makes around $40,000 and experienced agents earn about $75,000 yearly. However, how much an agent earns depends on location, housing market, and experience in the industry. You can read more about how real estate agents’ salaries differ here.
Is there a difference between a license for a Realtor & a real estate agent?
An agent is someone who has met the criteria for their state licensure and passed their real estate exam. A Realtor is a registered designation for agents who are members of and have passed the Code of Standards for the National Association of Realtors (NAR). You cannot be a Realtor without a state-issued real estate agent, salesperson, or broker license
What is the difference between prelicense courses & exam prep courses?
Prelicense courses are required by your state before you can register for the real estate licensing exam. Exam prep classes provide extra materials and practice tests that help you study for the exam.
Securing a real estate license depends on your state’s requirements. Start by learning your state licensing requirements, then complete required prelicensing classes, get a passing score on your exam, find a sponsoring broker, and submit your application. After securing your license, be sure you complete the necessary continuing education classes to keep your license current.
Real Estate Express helps potential agents with the frustration of studying and preparing for their real estate exam with vetted prelicensing courses offered in 27 states and exam Prep Master classes in 39 states. Find out more about the Real Estate Express “Pass or Don’t Pay” guarantee by visiting their website.