This article is part of a larger series on How to Become a Real Estate Agent.
To start a career as a real estate agent, you’re required to obtain a license from the state’s governing Real Estate Commission where you wish to practice. While the steps may change in order, each state has the same general requirements of completing prelicensing education, getting background checks, passing the real estate exam, finding a sponsoring brokerage, acquiring insurance, and submitting an application. Time frames, number of education hours, and fees may vary across the country.
Read along to learn the general steps of how to get a real estate license and use the interactive map to get information about steps, requirements, and online real estate schools specific to your state.
State-by-State Map Links
Here are the steps you’ll need to complete to get your real estate license:
1. Meet Your State’s Legal Requirements
All states have an age requirement to qualify for licensure, most of which are 18 years or older. Some states, like Alaska and Nebraska, stipulate you must be at least 19 years old. Illinois has the oldest requirement of 21 years or older unless the candidate has attended at least four semesters of post-secondary education with an emphasis on real estate.
Along with age restrictions, the majority of states also require aspiring agents to have at least a high school diploma or GED (General Educational Development Test). There are certain exceptions for states like Montana, where candidates only need a 10th-grade education prior to licensure, and states like Rhode Island or Nevada, which do not have any education requirements to get a real estate license.
Generally, individuals with a criminal record are eligible to get a real estate license, although it is decided on a case-by-case basis. Applicants are required to disclose all offenses and include an explanation and all court documentation. Each state’s Real Estate Commission will review the documentation in order to determine if the applicant is eligible for licensure.
If candidates have a felony conviction, especially one that relates directly to the functions of a real estate agent like fraud or embezzlement, it will be more difficult to earn a license for real estate. It’s best to reach out directly to your state’s Real Estate Commission to review your application before moving forward with the process.
2. Complete Prelicensing Education
No matter which state you get your real estate license from, you will be required to complete prelicensing classes. The hour requirement depends on the state, but can range from 40 hours in states like Michigan and New Hampshire to 180 hours in Texas. The classes can be taken in-person at a local real estate school or a local or national online real estate school. Aspiring agents should choose courses based on their learning needs, especially the learning format that helps them understand and maintain knowledge.
If you prefer more traditional learning methods, in-person courses or livestream online classes will be best for getting your real estate license. But if you’re currently working a full-time job and transitioning to the real estate industry or have other obligations that make your schedule busy, a self-paced online program may be a better option. In addition, it’s important that your courses include tools that can help you succeed, like flashcards, worksheets, e-books, textbooks, webinars, and discussions.
Which Real Estate School And Program Is Right for You?
If you’re unsure of where to start, take our quiz to find out the best real estate school options and articles that can assist with your decision:
3. Get Fingerprints & Background Check
As part of the application process, the majority of states require real estate license applicants to get fingerprints to conduct a background check. There are about 15 states that do not require fingerprints, but will run a background check based on the information provided in your application. Either way, this information goes hand-in-hand with your criminal record disclosure and is used to review your background to determine your eligibility for licensure.
To get fingerprints, applicants must visit a local law enforcement agency or a livescan fingerprint provider like Identogo or Gemalto Applicant Processing Services, based on your state’s preferred agency. The fee for fingerprinting varies per state, but ranges from about $15 to $80. Fingerprints are run through the state and/or national databases, so there can be a full picture of your background, including any discretions.
4. Pass Your Real Estate Exam
All states require you to pass a real estate exam as part of the process of how to get a real estate license. The exam is primarily issued by PSI or Pearson VUE, which are national academic, civil, and licensing exam providers. An exception to this is California and New York, which conduct their exams through their own state’s real estate department.
The exam covers all the national and state topics studied during the prelicensing coursework. The number of questions on the exam ranges from 75 to 200 questions, depending on your state. Others fall somewhere in the middle, like New Jersey with 110 questions and South Carolina with 120 questions.
While every state’s test differs slightly on the topics they include, there are a few common items covered:
- Property ownership and land use controls and regulations
- Laws of agency and fiduciary duties
- Property valuation and financial analysis
- Transfer of property
- Practice of real estate and disclosures
- Real estate calculations
To get specifics on which items will be included on your state’s exam plus the number of questions that will be included for each topic, review your state’s Real Estate Candidate Handbook. For example, the Ohio Real Estate Candidate Handbook outlines how to schedule your test, what is needed at the testing center, and what is included on the test. Check out the handbook by clicking your state’s “How to” guide on the state-by-state map and review the section on scheduling your exam.
The pass rate for each state is either 70% or 75%, except for Vermont, which bases its score on the amount of knowledge a minimally competent practitioner (MCP) should have to operate as a real estate professional. If you do not pass the exam on the first attempt, you are able to retake the exam.
Most states allow an unlimited number of retakes. However, there are a few that have a limit on exam retakes before requiring candidates to retake some or all of the prelicensing coursework. This is the case in states like Georgia, Tennessee, and West Virginia, requiring you to pass the exam within 90 days or two attempts, whichever comes first.
To help study for your real estate exam, check out our articles:
- 10 Tips + Resources & Schools to Prepare for the Real Estate Exam
- Real Estate Practice Exam Questions (+ Top Test Prep Providers)
- 50 Real Estate Flashcards for Exam Prep (+ Free Download)
If you’re looking for exam preparation tools to build your confidence before exam day, check out PrepAgent or Real Estate Exam Scholar. Both offer affordable, comprehensive exam preparation for all 50 states with tools and features to encourage retention. Courses include video and audio lessons as well as flashcards, practice exams, and a pass guarantee.
Read our comprehensive reviews to see which is right for you:
5. Pick a Sponsoring Brokerage
In order to be an active real estate agent, you must be sponsored by a brokerage. You are considered an independent contractor, and your license will hang under the responsibility of the brokerage you choose. It’s important to make a decision on your sponsoring brokerage based on your business preferences and what type of real estate you want to specialize in. Make sure to review the following items before making a decision:
- Decide which type of brokerage to target
- Decide between going solo and joining a team
- Compare commission plans
- Examine the reputation of the real estate brokerage
- Evaluate additional success factors
To read more about how to pick your sponsoring brokerage, read our article How to Choose a Real Estate Company to Work For and download the free evaluation rubric to help you make an informed decision.
6. Acquire Errors & Omissions Insurance
About 30 of the 50 states require real estate agents to acquire errors and omissions insurance (E&O) to be considered active agents. E&O insurance protects real estate businesses from mistakes made during professional service.
Some brokerages may provide their brokers with E&O. Otherwise, you’ll have to purchase it yourself and submit a certificate of independent coverage with your application documents. Many Real Estate Commissions work closely with Rice Insurance Services, LLC to provide affordable options. Check with your state coverage requirements before making a purchase.
7. Apply for Your License
Your last step in getting a real estate license is submitting an application to your state’s Real Estate Commission. The application form consists of basic information like your name, address, date of birth, and background history, as well as information regarding your real estate education and sponsoring brokerage. Most states give applicants the ability to apply online through an online portal; if not, you’ll need to submit a paper application.
Along with your application document, you’re required to submit an application fee, certificate of completion from your real estate school, fingerprints and background check, proof of a passing exam score, and explanations of any criminal record (if applicable). The application fee can range from $50, like in North Carolina, to $485, like in Colorado.
When applying for your real estate license, visit your state’s “how to” article using the state-by-state map above to make sure you have all the correct materials and links.
The process to get your real estate license can be complicated if you don’t know the steps in your state. Use our guide to help get a general idea of the licensing process. After you are generally familiar, review your state’s specific article using the state-by-state map to get started on your successful real estate career.