A successful real estate career starts with knowing how to get your real estate license. This process is straightforward and easy to understand, and can be broken down into five simple steps. As a licensed real estate professional, I’ve been through this process myself, and while there are some hoops to jump through, you can do it.
In this article, we’ll walk you through how to get a real estate license, giving you a simple formula to follow, complete with cost, time requirements, and some helpful resources to get you across the finish line and ready to launch your new career.
At a Glance: How to Get Your Real Estate License in 5 Steps
We’ll take some time to go through each of these steps in a little more detail later in this article, but in case you just want a quick rundown of exactly how to get a real estate license, here are the requirements:
1. Learn your state’s prelicensing education requirements
2. Take a prelicensing course
3. Take some practice tests
4. Pass your state exam
5. Register your license with your state
Now that you know the basics, let’s dive into each step to learn a little more.
1. Look Up Your State’s Prelicensing Education Requirements
Time commitment: Five minutes
Helpful resource: Table below
The first step in learning how to get a real estate license is to complete the required number of prelicensing education class hours. You can fulfill those hours in a physical classroom with other students and an instructor, or remotely with an online class at your own pace and on your own schedule (but more on that later).
Each state has different requirements, so your first step is to find out what you need to do in your state in order to qualify for the licensing exam.
To help with that, we’ve put together a table with every state’s prelicensing class hour requirements. Find your state below to determine what your prelicensing requirements are.
Required Real Estate Prelicensing Class Hours by State
|New Hampshire||40 Hours|
|New Jersey||75 Hours|
|New Mexico||90 Hours|
|New York||75 Hours|
|North Carolina||75 Hours|
|North Dakota||45 Hours|
|Rhode Island||45 Hours|
|South Carolina||60 Hours|
|South Dakota||116 Hours|
|West Virginia||180 Hours|
2. Take Your Prelicensing Education Course
Cost: Between $120 and $500, depending on your state
Time commitment: Between 40 and 180 class hours, depending on your state
Helpful resource: Best Online Real Estate Schools of 2020
There are lots of options for taking your prelicensing classes, but we suggest the online route. This option is generally cheaper than local in-person classes, much more convenient, and allows you to work at your own pace.
Our favorite place for getting these requirements knocked out online is Real Estate Express. They offer prelicensing classes in just about every state, as well as packages that include test prep and a “Pass or Don’t Pay” guarantee. If you want to learn more about other options, check out our guide of the top online real estate schools here.
💡 Come to class with your thinking cap on. Real estate licensing courses cover everything from business fundamentals to fair housing, and even the states with the most relaxed requirements still ask students to learn a lot in a short period of time.
3. Take Some Practice Tests
Cost: Varies; usually about $99
Time commitment: One to two weeks
Helpful resource: 7 Hacks for the Real Estate Practice Exam (+ Free Mini-test)
Once you’ve completed your real estate prelicensing course, you’re free to take the actual exam whenever you’d like, but we suggest you spend some time taking some practice exams. Taking standardized tests can be difficult, especially if it’s been a year or ten since you were last in school. Even if you feel confident in your understanding of the concepts and knowledge needed to be successful, it’s a great idea to practice applying that knowledge a couple of times before sitting for the real test.
Brett Ringelheim, a licensed agent with Compass Realty in New York City, gave us this advice:
“When I was preparing for my licensing exam, I took over 20 practice tests. I found that the questions were almost always the same, just worded differently. Seeing that level of consistency from test to test gave me direction on what I needed to study more and confidence that I was going to perform on test day.”
Most of the providers on our top online real estate schools list also offer some element of test prep and practice tests; make sure to take full advantage of this feature. The Exam Prep Master feature on Real Estate Express has 17 full-length practice exams to prepare you for the real thing.
4. Pass Your State Exam
Cost: Varies by state; usually about $75
Time commitment: Three hours
Helpful resource: Cambridge Coaching’s “7 Essential Tips for ANY Standardized Test”
Once you’ve completed your state’s prelicensure requirements and prepped with some practice tests, it’s time to take your licensing exam. The format of this test does vary by state, but most states now administer a computer-based test. All the information about your state’s test, including your closest testing site, will be available on your state’s licensing and regulatory affairs website.
Since the test takes about two hours in most states, plan on setting aside either your morning or your afternoon so you can get there early and won’t feel rushed.
💡 If you’re nervous about the test itself, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Standardized tests can be challenging for some students, even if you know the material back to front. Cambridge Coaching offers a fantastic tip-list for how students can prepare for any standardized test; make sure to review it in the days leading up to your test date.
5. Register Your License With Your State
Cost: Varies by state; typically less than $150
Time commitment: 30 minutes to complete paperwork, one to two weeks for confirmation
Helpful resource: What’s the Best Real Estate Company to Work for in 2020?
After you pass your state’s licensing exam, one of the final steps necessary to becoming a full-fledged real estate professional is to register your status with your home state. This process generally requires a form and a registration fee to be mailed or electronically submitted to your state’s real estate licensing board.
Some states require you to be signed with a brokerage before they will actually issue you a license to practice real estate. If you are in a state like this, you’ll need to have a brokerage lined up before you can complete this step. Need some suggestions on which brokerage to join? Check out our article on the best real estate companies to work for in 2020.
What’s Next: Starting Your Career as a Licensed Real Estate Agent
At this point, you should stop and congratulate yourself; you’re officially a real estate professional! A lot of hard work and resources have gone into getting you this far, but the journey is just beginning. Here are the next steps necessary before you can get to your first transaction.
1. Choose Your Brokerage
If you haven’t yet, you need to choose a brokerage. Every licensed real estate agent needs a managing broker before they can start representing buyers and sellers.
After you’ve interviewed with all the local brokerages that interest you, chances are you’ll have a number of offers. It’s time to line those offers up next to one another and pick the spot that is going to be best for you and your business. Here are some factors to consider:
- Split: There’s no universal model for how agents divide each of their commissions with their brokerage (known in the industry as their “split”), so find a brokerage whose offer works with your financial planning. A typical split is anywhere from 50 / 50 for new agents to 75 / 25 (or higher) for experienced agents.
- Cap: There’s a maximum amount that a brokerage will take from your commissions each year through their split, known as the “cap.” Make sure the cap that a brokerage offers is in line with the value they provide for you.
- Desk fee: Some brokerages will charge what’s called a “desk fee,” or a monthly fee for having you as a part of their team, regardless of how many transactions you close. These sorts of fees are fine for high-volume agents, but can be a burden on new agents just getting their feet wet.
- Mentorship and training: Most brokerages have in-house training programs designed to set their agents up for success, but not all these programs are created equal. Check to see if the materials and opportunities available to you align with your learning style and goals.
- Company culture: Just like in any workplace, the attitudes, opportunities, and activities of a company can have a big impact on your success there. Make sure to ask yourself, “Does this feel like the sort of company I want to be a part of?”
- Location: Though attitudes have changed significantly about work-from-home real estate businesses, many agents still love having an office they can escape to, host clients in, and use to separate themselves from the craziness at home. If the brokerage you’re considering has a physical office, is it a place you would want to bring clients? Is it in a place convenient to where you live and the area you’ll be working?
2. Join Your Local MLS
An MLS, or Multiple Listing Service, is an online database where real estate agents share information about listed property. When you list a property for sale, all that property data, as well as price and terms, are entered here so that agents who are representing buyers can access it and match their buyers with properties.
Joining the local MLS provides a ton of benefits. Here are a few:
- Access to historical market data: In addition to access to the properties currently for sale, an MLS gives you access to the historical data for properties that have already sold. This data will be critical when you’re putting together a comparative market analysis for buyers or sellers in order to accurately price a home.
- Access to a community: You also get a roster of all the agents participating in that board, as well as access to mediation services, discounts on continuing education, and opportunities to participate in the leadership of your new industry.
- Access to larger professional associations: Most local MLSs also include the cost of membership in your statewide real estate association, as well as the National Association of Realtors (NAR).
3. Explore the Benefits of NAR
Since membership in your local MLS also grants you membership into the National Association of Realtors, don’t forget to explore what opportunities and benefits that now affords you. These benefits include many discounts with service providers, large-scale lobbying, representation, advocacy for real estate-related issues on a national scale, and designations to help you specialize your business.
4. Research Your Continuing Education Requirements
In order to maintain your real estate license, you’ll need to complete regular continuing education. Real estate continuing education requirements vary from state to state, but no matter where you live, you need to complete a certain number of hours of professional development training every one to three years (depending on your state’s rules) in order to keep your license.
Not sure of what your continuing education requirements are, or where to take classes that count toward your total? Check out our guide, “The 5 Best Real Estate Continuing Education Providers for Realtors.”
[Bonus Resource] The Ultimate New Real Estate Agent Checklist
There’s a lot that goes into becoming a successful real estate agent. As a real estate coach and trainer, I’ve worked through the process of launching new agents many times, so I know what it takes to get your business off the ground.
To help you keep track of all the things you need to do as a new agent, we put together a comprehensive checklist of all the different marketing and operations systems you’ll need to help you launch your business in the right direction. Click below to download our free Ultimate New Real Estate Agent Checklist.
Frequently Asked Questions About How to Get Your Real Estate License
Getting your real estate license and becoming a real estate agent is a big decision, and it often comes with a lot of questions. Here are some of the most common questions I hear from people considering getting their license.
If you have a question that we don’t answer here, please feel free to ask us in the comment section.
Are there legal requirements for getting a real estate license?
There are some legal requirements that all applicants must fulfill. These requirements will change slightly depending on the state you’re in, so make sure to double-check with your state’s licensing and regulatory affairs commission to make sure you know every requirement.
Generally, the legal requirements for real estate licensure are as follows:
- Be 18 years of age or older
- Be legally allowed to work in the United States
- No pending criminal indictments against you
- No criminal convictions for violent or home invasion-related offenses
It’s important to point out that the last two qualifying criteria, related to an applicant’s criminal background, are determined in most states on a case-by-case basis. A conviction doesn’t necessarily disqualify an applicant, but trying to hide something in the application process almost certainly would. The application determination process has a character component to it; act with integrity, own your mistakes, and make a fresh start.
Is getting a real estate license worth it?
Yes. The personal and financial upsides to real estate can be huge if you’re willing to put in the effort to build a business. On average, full-time real estate agents (40+ hours a week) with two or more years of experience make more than $50,000 a year. The top 10% of agents in the U.S. earn an average income of over $110,000.
Apart from the financial opportunities, becoming a real estate professional gives you a lot of personal freedom and control over when you work, how much you work, and how you want to structure your leisure time. As a real estate agent, you are your own boss, which means you can take as much or as little vacation as you’d like. This sort of independence and control over your own success is one of the reasons why many real estate agents love this field.
If you want to test out real estate before quitting your day job, consider starting out part-time first.
Is it hard to get a real estate license?
No. Getting a real estate license is very straightforward. All you need to do is put your time in fulfilling your prelicensing education requirements, study for the state exam, pass the test, and register your license with the state.
Even for people who struggle with standardized tests, don’t have a business background, or have limited experience in sales, getting a real estate license is easy.
How long does it take to get a real estate license?
The time it takes to go from nothing to fully licensed will depend largely on the state you’re trying to get licensed in. You can estimate needing between six weeks and six months of prelicensing training, depending on how extensive your state requirements are.
Here’s an example of the expected timeline for three different states:
Texas: Texas requires 180 hours of prelicensing hours; it typically takes most online applicants about eight weeks to complete online. Add to that another week for test prep, a week for finding a brokerage, and a week for application submission and approval, and the entire process takes about three months from start to finish.
California: California requires 135 hours of prelicensing hours, and that typically takes most online applicants about six weeks to complete online. Add to that another week for test prep, a week for finding a brokerage, and a week for application submission and approval, and the work takes just shy of two months to complete. However, due to mandatory educational waiting periods, the entire process actually takes close to six months.
New York: New York requires a 75-hour prelicensure class, which typically takes about four weeks to complete online. Add to that another week for test prep, a week for finding a brokerage, and a week for application submission and approval, and the entire process takes about seven weeks from start to finish.
How much does it cost to get a real estate license?
The cost of getting your real estate license varies by state. You will need about $1,200 to cover your actual exam, local membership application and dues, and, of course, your prelicensure class and test prep.
Your MLS membership will vary by your locality; we’ve estimated them at $600 for each state. Here’s a detailed breakdown of how you should expect to spend that $1,200.
Note: Prelicensing and test prep costs were estimated using the offering of Real Estate Express.
How to Get a Real Estate License: Final Thoughts
Getting a real estate license is your first step to a new and fulfilling career. Real estate professionals wear a lot of hats: They are marketers, property experts, contract and negotiation experts, and community advocates. Are you a newly licensed agent or someone considering starting the process of getting a real estate license? Share your experiences in the comments below.