This article is part of a larger series on How to Become a Real Estate Agent.
To get a real estate license in California and start earning your first commission from a real estate transaction, you must complete 135 hours of California Department of Real Estate (DRE)-approved coursework. You also need to submit an exam application, get a background check, pass the exam, secure a sponsoring brokerage, and apply for your license. Follow our step-by-step guide on how to become a real estate agent in California and start a bomb real estate career.
1. Meet the Legal Requirements to Become a Real Estate Agent in California
In order to start your real estate journey, you need to fulfill several legal requirements from the state of California. You must be at least 18 years, be a resident of California or apply for an out-of-state license, and be honest and truthful.
Your honesty and truthfulness will be evaluated based on your background, specifically your criminal record. You must disclose any criminal violations or disciplinary actions on your application, which will be reviewed by the DRE. Although a conviction can result in a denial of licensure, your entire history will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Read more about the eligibility requirements in California’s Applicant Eligibility Information form and Frequently Asked Questions about “Background” Reviews and Screening form.
Did you know?
California does not have reciprocity with any other states but is a physical state in terms of portability. A physical location state allows agents and brokers to conduct business in another state but doesn’t allow them to enter the state to conduct real estate business. To learn more about California real estate license portability, check out our guide on real estate license reciprocity and portability.
2. Complete Required Prelicensing Courses
Once state requirements are met, you can begin your prelicensing education. California requires 135 hours of classwork, which can be completed in person or at an online real estate school in California. Prices range from $149 to $448 and are divided into the following categories:
- 45 hours of Real Estate Principles
- 45 hours of Real Estate Practice
- 45 hours from one of the following topics:
- Real Estate Appraisal
- Property Management
- Real Estate Finance
- Real Estate Economics
- Legal Aspects of Real Estate
- Real Estate Office Administration
- General Accounting
- Business Law
- Mortgage Loan Brokering and Lending
- Computer Applications in Real Estate
- Common Interest Developments
Did you know?
Members of the California State Bar or eight college-level courses are eligible to bypass the prelicensing education. Bar members must submit their admission to practice law and both sides of the bar membership card. Those who have completed college-level education must submit a transcript. If you’ve completed college courses outside of the U.S., you may submit the evidence of course completion to qualify for a prelicensing exemption.
To get started on your 135 hours right away, consider courses from California Realty Training. As one of the top California real estate schools, it provides all required courses to get your California real estate license in a variety of formats like livestream, self-paced, and traditional in-classroom instruction. Learn directly from local real estate experts with hands-on experience and industry knowledge. Also, the courses are some of the most affordable options available.
3. Submit Exam Application
To become an agent, the DRE requires all applicants to submit an exam application before sitting for the real estate exam. You may choose to mail in your application, but it is recommended that applicants complete this process online.
To begin the online process, you must create an account on the DRE eLicensing System. Once you have created your account, you can choose to apply for the exam only or complete a dual form that includes both the exam and license application:
Applying for the dual exam/license application is recommended as you will be able to complete all of the application paperwork within one form, but you are welcome to submit it both ways. Both applications will require you to upload your certificate of completion from your prelicensing education provider or transcripts of completed coursework. However, with the exam/license application, you must also submit a Live Scan Service Request form.
The examination fee is $60 and the license fee is $245. If you choose to apply for the exam only, you will be required to pay $60 until submitting the rest of the license application. If you choose to do the exam/license application, you will be required to pay $305 for both the exam and license.
If you are mailing or faxing your application, payment can be made using a cashier’s check, check, or money order made payable to the DRE. You can also pay via credit card using the credit card payment form. If you are completing the application online, you can pay directly on the website using a Visa, Mastercard, American Express, or Discover card.
For more information, read the detailed directions for both options directly on the DRE website.
4. Get Fingerprints & Complete Background Check
All applicants are required to submit one set of fingerprints to the California Department of Justice (DOJ) Live Scan Program in order to perform a background check. Real estate license applicants can choose to have their fingerprints taken after submitting their exam application or after passing their exam. However, if applicants fail to pass the exam, fingerprint fees will not be refunded.
To schedule your fingerprint appointment, visit the DOJ website to select a location that’s convenient for you. Complete Part 2 of the Live Scan Service Request form and bring the form with you to the live scan service provider so they can complete the remainder of the form.
After your appointment, upload the form to the eLicensing System or mail it to the DRE, P.O. Box 137002, Sacramento, CA 95813, Attn: Fingerprint Desk. The fee for fingerprint processing is $49 and can be paid directly to the live scan service provider.
For additional information, refer to the California Fingerprint Information form.
5. Take the California Real Estate Exam
According to the DRE, in October 2021, California administered 5,854 salesperson exams and issued 2,990 salesperson licenses. Although there are many factors to consider, by strictly looking at these numbers, the pass rate is about 51% on the salesperson exam.
When studying for the California real estate license exam, you must review the following topics: Property Ownership and Land Use Controls and Regulations, Laws of Agency and Fiduciary Duties, Property Valuation and Financial Analysis, Transfer of Property, Financing, Contracts, and Practice of Real Estate and Disclosures. The exam is administered on the computer, and results are provided to you immediately upon exam completion.
If you pass, you will not be provided with your final score, but you will receive a successful notification. If you fail, you will not be given your actual score. However, you will be given the percentage of questions you’ve answered correctly in each of the subject areas. This information can be used to study and retake the examination.
After you receive your notification of failure, you can reschedule your examination directly on the eLicensing System. Luckily, you may retake the exam as many times as needed within a two-year period of filing your exam application. After two years, you must submit a new application and fee.
California Real Estate Exam Details
Items to Bring to the Exam
2 valid forms of identification (ID) with signatures:
70% to pass the California Real Estate Salesperson Exam
Schedule Your Exam
After you’ve submitted your exam application and secured approval, you can schedule an exam date yourself, or the DRE will schedule it for you. Exams are offered in a variety of locations throughout California, like Fresno, San Diego, Los Angeles Vicinity, Oakland, and Sacramento.
By selecting “YES” on item #14 on your exam application, you will receive an email that allows you to schedule your own exam. By selecting “NO” and proceeding to items #15 to #17, the DRE will schedule your exam on the earliest date available in your location of preference.
The exam fee is $60 and will be paid when submitting your exam application. You must pass the exam within two years of the original exam date. For more information regarding the exam contents, read through the Examination Description.
To guarantee you’re fully prepared to ace your licensing exam and become a real estate agent in California, use an exam preparation tool like PrepAgent. It provides tools like flashcards, vocabulary worksheets, and an e-book to use as study materials. In addition, PrepAgent allows students chose from a variety of formats, such as live online webinars, audio, and video to tailor learning to their needs and jump-start a successful real estate career.
To learn more about PrepAgent and other California exam prep providers, visit our article on the six best California real estate exam prep providers.
6. Pick a Company to Work For
To hold an active real estate license in California, you must find a sponsoring brokerage to affiliate your license. Your broker of record must complete items 19 through 26 on the license application. If you’re applying through eLicensing, an email will be sent to the sponsoring broker to submit these items.
To make your brokerage choice a little bit easier, check out our in-depth article explaining how to choose a real estate company to work for. Although there are many successful brokerages in the Golden State, below you’ll find the top five brokerages reported for 2022:
The Altman Brothers Team
The Tse Group
Intero - A Berkshire Hathaway Affiliate
Sally Forster Jones Group
Caskey & Caskey and Associates
(Source: Real Trends 2022)
California Cities With Highest Median Sales Price 2022
Although California is a huge state, it’s important to be familiar with the prices of homes in your area as well as surrounding areas, so you know how to get into real estate in California. Having this knowledge will be helpful in providing advice to clients, understanding market trends, and estimating your income.
To get a sense of which cities are bringing in the bucks in California, check out this sales data from HomeSnacks.com below:
7. Apply for Your California License
After you’ve passed your license exam and found a sponsoring brokerage, you’re ready to complete and submit your license application. If you’ve chosen to complete the exam/license application, you are already ahead of the game and have completed most of the application prior to this point.
If you choose to complete the exam-only application, you must also complete the remainder of the license application on the eLicensing System. In addition to the application, you must upload the following documentation:
- Certificate of Completion/Transcripts for education
- Completed Live Scan Service Request
- License fee of $245 (if not already paid via eLicensing) by cashier’s check, check, or money order made payable to DRE or credit card
Processing times are currently about two to three weeks, but you can check your license status on the eLicensing System.
8. Start Your Real Estate Career
Now that you’ve learned how to become a real estate agent in California, you’re ready to start your professional real estate journey. For more information, here are some of our articles with content that is perfect for new real estate agents:
- Our article with 14 real estate agent tips covers the basics that every agent should know when they are starting out, including how to write a real estate business plan.
- Learn how to generate real estate buyer leads.
- Get nine strategies to help with real estate seller lead generation.
- Jump-start your career with the top 25 new real estate agent tips from the pros.
- Get the tools you need to build a strong real estate business out of the gate using the best real estate software and tools.
Pro tip: After successfully obtaining your license, don’t forget to keep up with your continuing education to build your skills and knowledge as well as maintain your California real estate license. For more information, read through our guide on how to renew your California real estate license.