In this guide, we’ll cover how to get a real estate license in 4 simple steps. Of course the exact real estate licensing requirements vary from state to state, but the basic steps outlined here are common to all states.
We also include tons of state specific material, as well as insider career advice from successful Realtors. Grab a cup of coffee and get ready to learn everything you need to know about your new career in real estate.
Oh yeah, in order to get your real estate license, you’re going to need to take a great real estate course to pass your exam. We recommend Brightwood because they’ve been in business for 75 years and have both awesome classroom and online courses.
How to Get a Real Estate License: 4 Steps to Success
Whether you’re trying to get your real estate license in California, Florida, New York or even Alaska (brrr), here are the four basic steps you need to compete to get your license and start working as a Realtor.
Step 1. Take the Real Estate Pre-licensing Courses Required in Your State
No matter what state you live in you’re going to have to take real estate pre licensing courses in order to take your state’s real estate exam and get your real estate license. The only exception to this rule is for licensed attorneys who have passed their state’s bar exam. In other words, if you’re not a lawyer, keep reading!
What you study in the course will vary depending on which state you’re in, but most require around 60 to 90 hours of college level education in the basics of real estate. Topics covered include fair housing laws, types of property ownership, fiduciary responsibilities, titles, deeds, contracts, and more. All real estate pre licensing courses cover both state specific laws and regulations, as well as federal real estate laws that apply to all 50 states.
Below are the real estate pre-licensing course requirements for New York, California, Florida, Texas, Illinois, and Pennsylvania.
Real Estate Pre-Licensing Courses By State
|New York||75 hours of the following courses|
|California||135 hours of the following courses|
|Florida||63 hours of the following courses|
|Texas||180 hours of the following courses|
|Illinois||90 hours of the following courses|
|Pennsylvania||60 hours of the following courses|
|Ohio||120 hours of the following courses|
|Georgia||75 hours of the following courses|
|North Carolina||75 hours of the following courses|
|Michigan||40 hours of the following courses|
|New Jersey||75 hours of the following courses|
Where to Take Your Real Estate Pre-licensing Course
Pre-licensing courses can be completed in a live classroom setting, or online. Both types of courses can be taken at accredited educational institutions, such as community colleges and public universities.
Alternatively, you can take live or online courses offered by private real estate schools like Brightwood. These schools must be approved by the state’s real estate licensing authority. Texas and California’s real estate licensing divisions have a listing of approved real estate schools on their websites.
Generally speaking, if a real estate school lists courses for your state, then they are approved. If you want to make sure if a particular school is an approved provider, contact your state’s licensing division.
How Much Do Real Estate Courses Cost?
The length of time you’re in class and the cost of the courses varies based from state to state and whether you choose a live classroom or online course. In New York for example, you can take a live real estate course at City University of New York’s Baruch College. The course costs $475 and meets for 10 sessions, spread out over a schedule of every weekday, 3 weekdays, or every weekend. Alternatively, a New York real estate online course from Brightwood costs $379 and can be completed at your own pace. We’ll cover costs in more detail in a later section.
To pass your real estate pre-licensing course and take the state exam, you must attend all classes and pass a course final exam. The course final exam will usually mimic the state licensing exam in content, format, time, and length. This means you will be well prepared to pass the state exam.
Step 2. Pass the Real Estate Licensing Exam
Once you’ve taken pre-licensing courses and passed the course final exam, you can then sign up to take the state real estate licensing exam.
After you finish the courses, most states specify a time frame within which you must take the exam and obtain your license. For example, California mandates that you must wait at least 18 days after receiving course materials before you can take the exam. Florida says that pre-licensing courses are valid for two years for licensure purposes, so you must apply take your exams and file for your license within two years of finishing your pre-licensing education. For more up to date information in your state, contact your state’s division of licensing services.
How Long is The Real Estate Licensing Exam?
The length of the exam varies from about 1.5 hours to 3.5 hours based on the state you’re in. In most states, you must answer 70% to 75% of the questions correct to pass.
The state exam will cover the same topics that are covered in your pre-licensing courses. The majority of states have multiple choice exams that test both national real estate principles and laws and state real estate principles and laws.
How Hard is the Real Estate Exam?
While I can personally only speak to the New York State real estate exam, many agents and brokers I’ve spoken with mentioned that they were a bit surprised at how hard the exam was. There is a lot of information to memorize, and if you don’t have a background in law or real estate, it’s not very intuitive. Take the class and your studying and exam prep seriously.
If you’d like to get an idea of the types of federal questions that are on the test, check out our in-depth guide to real estate practice exams here.
Here is a glance at exam requirements and formats for 6 of the largest states. If you don’t see your state listed here, check with your state’s department of licensing services or real estate licensing board.
Real Estate Exam Time, Format, and Pass Rates by State
|Exam Time||Number of Questions on Exam||Passing Score||Statewide Pass Rate|
|New York||1.5 hours||75 multiple choice questions on national and state real estate principles and laws||70 % on course exam and state exam||No data available|
|California||3 hours and 15 minutes||150 multiple choice questions on national and state real estate principles and laws||60 % on course exam, 70 % on state exam||54%|
|Florida||3.5 hours||100 multiple choice questions (45 on national real estate principles, 45 on national and Florida real estate law, 10 math calculations)||70 % on course exam and 75 % on state exam||44%|
|Texas||105 minutes for national portion and 45 minutes for state portion||110 multiple choice questions (80 on national real estate principles/laws and 30 on state real estate principles/laws)||70 % on course exam and state exam||61%|
|Illinois||3.5 hours||140 multiple choice questions||70% on the course exam and 70% on state exam||No data available|
|Pennsylvania||3 hours||110 multiple choice questions||60% on course exam and state exam||72%|
Don’t let these pass rates scare you. We’ve shown you the statewide pass rates, but they vary widely based on the quality of pre-licensing courses you take. For example, the Texas exam had a 76 % pass rate for students who took the Brightwood real estate course.
If you’re taking an online course, make sure that you take the course seriously and do practice tests. The schools that offer the pre-licensing courses will very often offer practice exams or a question bank as part of the curriculum. Also, taking the exam as soon as possible after finishing your courses helps because the material is still fresh in your mind.
For more tips on acing the real estate exam on your first try, check out our guide to real estate exam prep.
Step 3. Submit Your Real Estate License Application
Once you pass the exam, 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.
In order for your application to be accepted, you need to meet minimum age and residency requirements. All states require you to be at least 18 years old with a GED or high school diploma. Some states, such as Alaska and Alabama, set 19 as the minimum age.
You also need to be legally authorized to work in the United States, and a few states like Texas require you to be an in-state resident. Most states, such as California, allow out of state applicants but have slightly different different licensing rules for such applicants. New York and Florida also allow out of state applicants.
Real Estate License Reciprocity Agreements
Real estate license reciprocity agreements allow you to obtain a real estate license in one state more easily if you already hold a license in another state. Reciprocity allows you to expand your real estate practice. Visit your state’s real estate board website to find out which (if any) states it has reciprocal agreements with.
For example, Florida has a reciprocity agreement with Georgia. You can get a Florida real estate license without taking pre-licensing courses and with a shorter exam if you already have a valid Georgia real estate license and reside in Georgia. If you move to Florida, then you must satisfy all the Florida licensing requirements. Here’s a list of the reciprocity agreements for the six largest states. To see all 50 states read our full guide to real estate reciprocity.
Real Estate License Reciprocity by State
|New York||Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, West Virginia||Details|
|California||California does not offer reciprocity for any other states|
|Florida||Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma||Details|
|Texas||Texas does not offer reciprocity with any other states|
|Illinois||Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wisconsin||Details|
|Pennsylvania||Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, West Virginia||Details|
Step 4. Find a Sponsoring Real Estate Broker to Work For
Even if you’ve passed your real estate exam and submitted your license application to your department of state, you need to associate your license with a licensed real estate broker in order to start working as a real estate agent.
Don’t worry though. Since you will generally get paid on commission, finding a broker to sponsor you is not very difficult. That said, be sure to do your research before associating your license with a broker. Your first few months in the industry are crucial to a successful career.
While I could write a book on choosing the right broker, here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing a brokerage to work for:
What kind of training they offer
Since you’re just starting out, great training is incredibly important.
Commission splits and desk fees
This is vitally important. Most brokers will pay out a 50% split for new agents. This means you will get 50% of every commission you earn. There are also desk fees and transaction fees. Be sure to ask them to tell you about all fees charged to get an idea of your net commission.
Is it a good fit? Do you feel comfortable in the office?
Working for a large franchise
Large national franchise like Keller Williams, RE/Max, or Century 21 offer great training, name recognition, and other resources for new agents.. For an in-depth comparison see our guide on the best large franchise to work for in 2017.
Working for a boutique brokerage
Smaller “boutique” brokerages on the other hand can offer new agents more personalized training and mentorship, and sometimes more room for advancement.
If you’d like to learn more about choosing the right real estate broker to work for, check out our in-depth guide on how to choose a real estate broker to work for.
What’s Next? – Your First 30 Days as a Real Estate Agent
Once you pass your exam, get your license, and associate with a brokerage, there are a few more things you can do to make sure you hit the ground running.
1. Join the National Association of Realtors
Once you’ve taken your course, passed your exam, and found a sponsoring broker, you will need to join the National Association of Realtors. The National Association of Realtors is the largest professional association of real estate professionals in the country. They offer a common code of ethics, pre-defined rules that let you split deals with other realtors, and technology and educational resources that will be invaluable to your career development.
Membership in NAR is not a legal requirement, but in order to participate in most Multiple Listing Services (MLS), you need to be a NAR member. That means it would be almost impossible to make money in real estate without being able to participate in the MLS.
New York City is one of the few places in the country where you won’t have to join NAR to work as a real estate agent. Instead, New York City has a professional association called The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), that acts much like NAR does in the rest of the country.
2. Building Your Client/Referral Portfolio
After getting your license, you can begin building your “sphere of influence.”
Your sphere of influence are the people in your life that you may have some degree of influence with, and as a result are your best source of clients when you’re first starting out. Family, friends, and former colleagues should be in your sphere of influence. To get started building out your sphere, put them into an excel sheet or CRM software (Customer Relationship Manager) along with their contact info.
There a many ways to get clients as a real estate agent. An easy way to get started is to take advantage of your brokerage’s marketing and lead generation resources. Your brokerage will likely help you create yard signs and online advertising.
You can also ask more experienced agents and brokers to refer buyers to you in exchange for a referral fee. Though referrals are a great way to build your skills, you won’t get rich working someone else’s leads. You’ll pay around 25% of your part of the commission as a referral fee.
If you’re curious about how to generate leads after you’re already working, check out our guide on the top 43 real estate lead generation ideas. If you’re creative and work hard, you can make a great living in this industry. Bookmark the page and refer back to it once you’re set up with a sponsoring broker.
3. Research CRM Software
CRM (Client Relationship Management Software) allows you to collect, organize, and plan outreach out to potential clients over a long period of time. Since consistent outreach and relationship marketing is key to success in real estate, a great CRM will be your best investment.
To learn more about the best real estate CRMs on the market, check out our in-depth real estate CRM buyer’s guide here.
On a budget? Check out our guide to free real estate CRM here.
4. Create Your Website
Though your brokerage will more than likely offer some kind of web presence, having your own personal real estate website is a must for all agents in 2017. After all, you may end up switching firms after your first year. That means you need to have a site that’s independent of your brokerage.
The best way to build a real estate website in 2017 is on WordPress. While many people think WordPress is just for bloggers, it’s actually used by roughly 25% of all websites online today. Sites like the New York Times, SONY america, and the BBC all run on WordPress. The reason is that it’s easy to use. Once you’re up and running, you can edit your site quickly and easily without having to learn how to code.
For step by step instructions, read our in-depth guide on how to build your own WordPress real estate website for only $3.45 per month (or less!).
5. Choose Your Farm Area
A farm area is when real estate agents focus their marketing efforts on a specific geographic area. There are many benefits to working a farm area as opposed to working in multiple areas.
First and foremost, both buyers and sellers value local market knowledge over almost everything else. In order to become a local expert, you need to find a farm area you’re comfortable working in. To learn more about choosing the right farm area, check out our in-depth guide to real estate farming.
6. Generating Buyer and Seller Leads
In the real estate industry, prospective buyers or sellers of real estate are known as leads. In order to close deals and get paid, you’re going to need leads. Lot’s of them. After all, not everyone you speak with is going to close with you. This is especially true for brand new Realtors. Your own friends and family may decide to hire a more experienced Realtor over hiring you when you’re first starting out. Don’t take it personally! After all, this is a financial decision first and foremost.
In order to start generating buyer leads and seller leads, your best place to start will be with what’s called your “sphere of influence” or SOI. Your SOI is everyone you know that may be planning to buy, sell, or rent real estate in the near future, or who may know someone who is and recommend you. The idea is to let them know that they now have access to a real estate insider in their circle of friends or colleagues. You!
To learn more about getting leads, check out our guide to getting buyer leads and seller leads in 2017 here.
7. Bringing it all Together
Have a few minutes and want a deep dive into setting yourself up for success during your first 30 days as a real estate agent? Check out Mario Jannatpour, author of The Honest Real Estate Agent, run you through the crucial next steps you need to take to succeed in your first thirty days as a Realtor below. This is not a short video, but essential viewing for anyone who is serious about succeeding in real estate.
Maintaining and Renewing Your Real Estate License
Most states require you to renew your real estate license every few years. In order to renew your license, you’ll need to complete required continuing education real estate courses.
There are many different approved courses to satisfy your continuing education requirement. You can take courses on green building techniques, commercial real estate, and many other topics. Often, there is a required course on fair housing laws. All of these courses can help you become a better real estate agent.
Here are the continuing education requirements in New York, California, Florida, Texas, Illinois and Pennsylvania (contact your state’s division of licensing or real estate board if your state is not listed on here):
Number of Hours of Real Estate Continuing Education (CE) Courses Required by State
|New York||22.5 hours of CE courses every 2 years|
|California||45 hours of CE courses every 4 years|
|Florida||45 hours of CE courses in first two years of license and 14 hours every two years thereafter|
|Texas||90 hours in first two years of license and
9 hours thereafter before every renewal
|Illinois||30 hours every two years|
|Pennsylvania||14 hours of every even numbered year|
How Much Does it Cost to Get a Real Estate License?
Although your earning potential as a real estate agent is pretty much unlimited, getting a real estate license isn’t free. It can cost about $400 to $1000 and can take 2 to 3 months. Here’s a quick look at how much it will cost you to get a real estate license. You’ll need to pay for:
- Your real estate pre-licensing courses
- The license application fee
- Fingerprinting/background check fee
- Examination fee
Check out the table below to get a sense of what it will cost you to get your real estate license. As mentioned above, if you don’t see your state on here, call your state’s division of licensing or real estate board for more information:
Real Estate Licensing Costs by State
|License Application Fees||Fingerprinting Fee||Typical pre-licensing course fees*||Exam Fees|
|New York||$50 for two year license||Not required||$379 to $449||$15|
|California||$245 for four year license||$49||$199 to $699||$60|
|Florida||$89 for two year license||Approx. $80||$198||$31.50|
|Texas||$215 for two year license (extra charge if you dont submit application online)||$39.70||$499 to $899||$54|
|Illinois||$125 for two year license||Not required||$599||$46|
|Pennsylvania||$96 for two year license||Not required||$379 to $599||$54|
As you can see from this table, the cost of getting your real estate license varies widely from state to state. Florida, the cheapest of the 4 states we’re highlighting, costs $398.50, while Texas comes in the highest at $1008.70.
How Long Does it Take to Get Your License After You Pass the Exam?
Once you pass the real estate exam and submit your application, getting your license can take between one week to a month or more. The processing time shown in the table below is the time it takes for the state’s real estate authority to process your application.
Real Estate License Processing Times by State
|New York||Instant online approval once your Broker confirms your application; 4-6 weeks for mailed applications|
|California||About 3 weeks to 1 month|
|Florida||About 4 weeks|
|Texas||About 7-10 days|
|Illinois||Illinois offers a Paperless License (E License) which is emailed to new agents after applying for their license. The process takes a matter of hours.|
|Pennsylvania||About 10 days|
Useful Links: State Real Estate Commission Websites
Even though we’ve done a ton of research for this article, laws and regulations can and do change. In order to get the most current information on real estate licensing regulations in your state, here’s a list of the real estate licensing commissions for all 50 states.
The Bottom Line
Okay. Now that you know how to get a real estate license, you’re ready to start one of the most exciting and challenging careers available today. Your earning potential is unlimited. You’re only bound by how hard you want to work, and having access to great real estate training materials right from the start. Luckily, you know us. If you want to get a head start on your real estate career, check out our full real estate marketing and lead generation section here. Interested in learning more about investing? Check our real estate investing section here for investment strategies, reviews, tips from the pros, and more.
Ready to start your licensing courses? Don’t forget to visit Brightwood, our recommended provider of real estate courses.
If you need more personal advice on how to get a real estate license, leave a comment below or join the forum. I love hearing from new real estate agents. Good luck!