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How to Become a Real Estate Agent
Becoming a real estate agent is an alluring career path for those from all walks of life. This includes those straight out of high school to those who have been in the same profession for twenty years. Whether you are more like the former, the latter, or somewhere in the middle, however, it can be difficult to know where to start.
So, for that, we’re here to help. Keep on reading to find out how to best navigate this path and achieve the real estate career of your dreams!
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1. Research your state’s real estate licensing requirements
The first thing you should know: there’s no such thing as a national real estate license. Before you take any further steps, it’s incredibly important that you research what your state’s requirements are. A great place to start this research process is to check your state’s real estate regulatory office website, which you can typically find by searching “[your state] real estate regulatory office” on any search engine. Alternatively, you can visit the Association of Real Estate License Law Officials (ARELLO)’s regulatory agency directory for direct links to real estate regulatory agencies both nationwide and around the world.
Once you arrive at your region’s real estate regulatory office website, be sure to check for these requirements (as they typically vary by state):
- Educational requirements (e.g. high school diploma, GED, etc.)
- Pre-licensing and post-licensing requirements
- Exam eligibility
- Application process and associated fees
- Background checks
- Continuing education
- How to obtain additional licensing
- Reporting criminal history
As you look through these requirements, we recommend keeping some notes on each one. This way, you can quickly refer back to them whenever you need to.
Reciprocal licensing agreements
It’s also important to note that some states have reciprocal licensing agreements with one another. This allows you to get a license in one state and use it in the other without taking another licensing examination. Some states, such as New York, even have such reciprocity with multiple states. New York state has reciprocal licensing agreements with a whopping nine other states! Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia all accept NY licensure. If you obtain your real estate license in New York and move to one of those states, you won’t have to do the whole process over again! Remember, each state has unique requirements for obtaining a license through reciprocity, so be sure to check those out too.
To find out what states share reciprocity with one another, be sure to check out this real estate license reciprocity guide.
2. Enroll in a pre-licensing course
Once you’ve figured out, written down, and possibly even memorized your state’s real estate licensing requirements, it’s time to enroll in an ARELLO-accredited pre-licensing course. While each state requires prospective real estate agents to take an accredited real estate pre-licensing course, the required number of hours your class must take varies by state.
Most states also offer such pre-licensing courses in a variety of formats, including online classes, at in-person real-estate schools, and classes that can be taken at local community colleges. To make sure you pick the best class for you, we highly recommend researching before finally settling on a class. Not only will this make your experience more enjoyable and convenient, but it may also save you some money.
Lastly, make sure to consider your schedule and be realistic in which format will work best for you. If you’re too busy for an in-person class, online courses may be a great option. Alternatively, if you feel as though you learn much better in-person, we might recommend going with an in-person option! Ultimately, it’s all about picking the class that you think will work best for both you and your schedule.
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3. Take the real estate licensing exam
When you feel that your class has fully prepared you for your real-estate licensing exam, it’s time to sign up for the real thing! This process differs slightly for each state. Therefore, we can’t offer simple, all-encompassing instructions on how to schedule and register for your licensing exam. However, one’s course instructor will typically inform their students on how to register, schedule, and pay for the exam. If they have not, however, we recommend simply looking up “how to sign up for the real estate licensing exam in [state]” on any search engine. A quick guide and/or instructions should pop up to help you out!
No matter where you take your exam, though, some things are constant across all states. For one, they are all computerized and share a similar two-part structure. The first of these sections is nationwide, testing general real estate principles and practices. The second is state-specific, covering the specific real-estate laws and policies in your state.
As for other similarities across the exams, they are all multiple-choice. However, the number of questions and the time allotted per each varies by state. So, to find out what the specifics for your state’s exam are, we would recommend looking up “What is on [state]’s real estate license exam?” on your preferred search engine. Ideally, the top results should give you an outline of the test, how many questions there are, and maybe even what percentage you must answer correctly in order to pass. Here’s an example for the California real estate license exam.
You’re probably curious about how the exams are scored. Well, each section is scored separately, and test-takers must have passing scores on both sections in order to pass. If you happen to fail either or both of the sections, however, the exam can always be re-taken! The number of times you can retake the exam and how often you can do so vary by state. The good news is that this information can likely be found by a quick google search of what’s on your state’s licensing exam.
Ideally, though, you will pass the test the first time and won’t need to retake the exam at all. To best ensure this outcome, we recommend checking out some of these helpful exam practice resources:
Besides these, we would also recommend looking up practice resources specific to your state’s exam. With these in hand, we wish you good luck!
4. Obtain your real estate state license
Once you’ve successfully passed your real estate licensing exam, it’s time to obtain that license! To do so, simply send an application and any required documents and fees to your state’s real estate regulatory agency.
If your application is approved, you will be mailed your real estate license certificate and will be officially (real estate) licensed! Just bear in mind that you’re not officially licensed until your state’s regulatory agency issues your license. Hold off on working as a real estate agent until you have your license in hand.
5. Determine your ideal career pathway
If you’ve always had a clear idea in mind for what type of real estate career you want to pursue, you may have already completed this step. If not, it may be time to consider what type of real estate career you really want. With your license, you are officially a real estate agent. However, if you choose, you can take it one step further and become a realtor.
“What’s the difference between the two?”, you ask. Great question! Although both real estate agents and realtors help buyers and sellers navigate the real estate transaction process, realtors are members of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and must follow its strict Code of Ethics.
Although this may not sound appealing on its own, there are a few perks to becoming a realtor, including increasing your credibility. Besides this, you’ll have access to plenty of benefits, such as:
- Business tools
- Real estate market research, data, and statistics
- Learning opportunities
- Discounted programs dedicated to teaching you how to succeed in business
So, if those sound interesting to you, check out how to join NAR. Whether you choose to do so or not, though, your next step is to find a real estate broker.
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6. Find a real estate broker
All real estate agents work under the guidance and supervision of real estate brokers. Brokers are responsible for overseeing their real estate transactions and making sure they follow necessary legal and ethical standards. Thus, after you pass the licensing exam (and decide to become a realtor or not), your next step is to find a broker!
It is of utmost importance that you find a broker that is right for you, as they can influence many aspects of your job, including:
- How much you’re paid
- How you get paid
- What type of real estate you work in (your niche)
- The resources available to you
Further, depending on the agreement with your broker, you might have to pay for desk fees, tech fees, business cards, marketing materials, and anything else necessary to conduct business. To make sure you find the right broker for you, we would recommend doing thorough researching, interviewing, and even negotiating. You can also check out “How to choose a real estate broker” to help ensure you find the right person for you.
In addition to the costs you’ll negotiate with your broker, you’ll have to pay one-time and ongoing expenses for things like renewing your license yearly, continuing education, memberships, and more. As these costs can certainly add up, it’s important to factor them into your budget to discern whether real estate is a feasible career for you.
7. Complete necessary post-licensing coursework
With all that completed, you’re ready to work as a real estate agent (or realtor)! Still, you’re never really done learning, right?
That’s right, according to many state real estate regulatory agencies across the country! For that reason, many (but not all) states require licensed real estate agents to fulfill post-licensing requirements within 6 and 12 months of obtaining their license.
To find out if your state has such a requirement and to find out how many post-licensing hours are required of you, be sure to read “What is post-licensing in real estate?”. You’ll not only get an overview of what post-licensing is, but also be able to find how many post-licensing hours your state expects you to complete.
Once you fulfill those, you’re completely done and will be able to fully dedicate yourself to your new career, without thinking about the next step to complete.
With that, we’ll send you off. Good luck, do business, and have fun!
Frequently asked questions about becoming a real estate agent
How long does it take to become a real estate agent?
Although it won’t happen overnight, becoming a real estate agent is a relatively quick process! On average, it takes between four and six months to (1) finish real estate school and (2) pass the licensing exam. While this time may vary based on a number of other factors, it’s generally still a much quicker process than that for most professional careers.
Do real estate agents get paid well?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, real estate brokers and sales agents made an average of $51,220 in 2020. However, this average varied across industries (and locations), with some making more than others. Real estate brokers working in real estate, rental, and leasing made an average salary of $59,980 in 2020, while real estate agents working in construction earned a median of $54,660. There is also plenty of variety when looking at the top-paid real estate agents compared to the lowest-paid. While the lowest-paid 10% of real estate agents made less than $25,100 in 2020, the highest paid 10% earned over $112,410 on average.