Congratulations on deciding to become a real estate agent—this is a huge career move that many people, understandably, are afraid to make. The flexible schedule, nearly unlimited earning potential, and complete control over your career’s direction are likely more than enough to convince you that this is the best choice for you. But now one thought won’t leave your mind: What does it take to get certified to sell as an agent?
To get certified as a real estate agent who can sell, complete pre-licensing, ace your state exam, pass a background check, apply for licensure, and join a good brokerage. Your real estate license permits you to work with both buyers and sellers—no additional certifications needed.
Working with sellers is the best way to ensure decent revenue and high conversion rates (“list to last,” as many agents say). However, you’re not the only real estate agent in the country, let alone a 10-mile radius, who’s in search of listings to keep their business above water. To learn about how to get certified as a real estate agent that can sell properties and homes, read on!
Complete 40-180 Hours of Pre-Licensing Classes
As I addressed in my article, the 7 best ways to become a Realtor, there are some steps that the states make you complete before you can become a licensed agent.
Many new agents assume that special certifications are necessary to work with sellers and take listings. The good news is that you don’t need anything more than a real estate license.
What Is Pre-Licensing?
The first step (of many) toward getting your real estate license is completing what’s known as pre-licensing—in simpler terms, real estate school. This training serves as somewhat of a “crash course” into the real estate industry, where you’ll learn about the most important national and state real estate concepts, including:
- Requirements for licensure
- Contracts & agreements
- Deeds & titles
- Environmental laws
- Estates & ownership
- Land usage & property rights
- Agency laws
- Types of properties
- Fair Housing Act
It’s also worth noting what you won’t learn in your pre-licensing courses.
The content doesn’t include business-building strategies (like lead generation or marketing), nor will it mention the processes behind buying or selling properties. But don’t fret: You’ll learn about these things later when you join with a brokerage and undergo new agent training.
How Many Hours of Pre-Licensing Do I Need?
Precisely how long you’ll spend in the classroom—or on the computer, if you’re using an online school—will depend on where you plan on getting your real estate license.
Some states (like Massachusetts) require just 40 hours of training, while other states (like Texas) require a whopping 180 hours. On average, expect to spend 60-80 hours in this pre-licensing stage.
It’s also important to realize that you may have to take more than one class to fulfill this requirement. Many states will require a standard “salesperson pre-licensing course,” while others will divide the mandatory hours among several mini-courses.
These courses overview topics like:
- Contract writing
- Laws of agency
- Principles of real estate
- Business law
The only way you’ll be able to move onto the next step of the licensing process is if you meet your state’s required hours and complete the proper coursework. You cannot cut corners in the pre-licensing stage.
Can I Do Pre-Licensing Online?
Fortunately, all but ten U.S. states allow prospective real estate agents to complete their pre-licensing courses entirely online. The ten states where attendance at an in-person real estate school is required are:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
If you live in the remaining 40 states (plus Washington D.C.), you have the option between traditional classroom sessions and using online modules like Real Estate Express, The CE Shop, or Mbition. Click Here for more details.
However, online coursework is often a more convenient option.
You can complete upwards of 6-12 hours of training per day to fly through pre-licensing and proceed onto the next steps within just a few weeks. You also don’t have to sacrifice your weekends and nights or call out of work to attend in-person courses on a more rigid schedule.
Begin Interviewing Local Brokers & Find Out What They Offer
There’s one mistake that many new agents make in the licensure process: Holding off on finding a broker until after they get their real estate license. Remember that your real estate license is practically useless until you join a brokerage—delaying this decision will also mean having to wait on working with clients.
When Should I Start Interviewing Brokers?
While you’re in the process of completing your pre-licensing course or even studying for your real estate exam, you should begin planning visits to multiple local brokerages (both franchise and mom and pop) to “interview” the brokers.
Choosing a real estate broker and a company is a far more important decision than many new agents seem to realize. When you meet with brokers, learn about the following:
- Commission splits, structures, and fees
- Tech and marketing tools available
- Training offered (particularly new agent training)
- Niches within the office (rentals, beachfront, cabins, co-ops)
- Office atmosphere & company culture
- Availability of leads (does the broker hand them out?)
When meeting with a broker, ask them to take you on a tour of the office. You can get a feel for the office’s vibe, see the equipment available (printers, computers, office supplies), and check out desk availability. Ask yourself if you can envision yourself working there.
Which Brokerage Should I Choose?
Never agree to join a brokerage while still in your initial meeting with the broker. You want to give yourself time to meet with multiple brokers, weigh the pros and cons of each, and see which one matches most closely with what you want. Give yourself at least the night to think it over, but don’t hesitate to drag out the process for a week or more.
Most importantly, look at the bigger picture when choosing a broker.
A 100% commission brokerage sounds fantastic, but not when it comes with no available training and little support for new agents. Try not to let the financial aspect distract you and don’t decide on a single factor alone.
Also, don’t put too much weight on brand recognition, as you’ll be relying on your personality and skills when trying to get clients, not the recognizable yard sign.
Here’s a video showing you what questions you should ask and what you should look for when choosing a brokerage:
Study for the State Exam (Practice Exams, Flashcards)
Before you jump ahead and schedule your real estate exam, you want to make sure you’re going into your big day fully-prepared. That means taking a slight step back and allowing yourself some time to review the content and practice your test-taking skills.
The best way to do this is by investing in an exam prep program for your state, available from many online real estate schools.
How Do I Study for the Real Estate Exam?
Given the massive amount of content and tricky concepts on the real estate exam, the most important thing you can do is study. Make good use of digital flashcards to get the terminology down pat, take online practice tests until you can consistently score a 95%+, and focus your studying on concepts you struggle to grasp.
You’re ready to make your testing appointment when you can come up with answers immediately when using flashcards or taking practice tests.
What’s the Real Estate Exam Like?
You can’t adequately prepare for your real estate exam unless you know when to expect when you arrive on test day. The real estate exam will cover both national and state concepts, emphasizing general real estate topics a bit more.
The test usually lasts between two and four hours, with 100-150 questions in total.
You’ll also have access to a pencil, scrap paper, and a calculator when you take this computer-based test—cell phones, notes, and textbooks are not allowed in the exam room. The score you need to pass will depend on the state you live in, but it’s often 70-75%.
Take & Pass Your State Real Estate Exam With a 70% or Higher
Once you finish studying for your real estate exam, give your nearest testing center a call and make an appointment (or sign up online).
You must select a specific time slot and arrive 15 to 30 minutes before your exam time so that the workers at the testing facility can check you in. Most facilities will require you to bring a testing voucher to ensure that you’ve fulfilled the pre-licensing requirements in your state as well as a form of photo ID (like your driver’s license).
What Are Some Test-Taking Tips for the Real Estate Exam?
The real estate exam is like no other test you’ve ever taken, in length, complexity, and content. Some tips to make sure you perform well on test day and, more importantly, pass, include:
- Pace yourself (don’t rush, but don’t overthink, either)
- Look for negative wording (not, no, never, shouldn’t)
- Read every word in questions and answers
- Skip questions you don’t know and go back to them
- Double-check your answers before you click “submit”
- Use your resources (scrap paper, pencil, calculator)
Remember that there’s a time limit for the exam (up to four hours, in some states), so you can afford to slow down a little while taking your test. It’s better to take your time during the test than to rush to get your results quicker.
Schedule an Appointment at Your Local Fingerprinting Facility
Real estate agents take on a lot of responsibility in their day-to-day tasks. You’ll take the lead on things like filling out legal paperwork, handling money and checks, and entering other people’s houses. With that in mind, the next thing you need to do is prove you’re an excellent agent candidate by passing a background check.
That means making an appointment at a fingerprinting facility and getting your fingerprints taken.
If the thought of a background check makes you nervous, that’s completely understandable. You may have charges on your record from when you were a juvenile or even dropped charges within the last few years.
The charges that are often “red flags” and may disqualify you from becoming an agent include:
- Drug convictions
- Money crimes (tax evasion, fraud, bribery)
- Sex crimes
- Robbery, burglary, theft
- Murder and manslaughter
Make sure you show up early for your appointment and bring a form of photo ID (like a passport or your driver’s license). On your way out, the fingerprinting facility will give you at least one receipt—keep this safe, as you will need it shortly.
Join a Local Brokerage & Send in Your Application
In most U.S. states, you must have a sponsoring broker to get an approval on your real estate license application. Now is the time to reach out to the broker you want to work with and let them know that you’re at the final steps of the licensure process.
They’ll likely call you in for a meeting to fill out the application paperwork.
Both you and your new broker will have to fill out portions of the application so that the state can approve your license promptly. At this time, you’ll also have to provide your broker with the receipt from the fingerprinting facility to prove that you fulfilled this obligation as well.
Your broker will also ask for your original birth certificate, social security number, and possibly proof of auto insurance. Office admins will copy these to include in your application and office files and return the originals to you.
Slip the application or license fee (usually $100-$200 into the envelope and send the entire package to your state’s real estate commission.
Allow your state to process your application, approve your license, and then you’ll be able to get the ball rolling with the onboarding at your office in a few weeks.
Learn the Ropes at Your New Office
The first few weeks with your new brokerage will, undoubtedly, be a tad overwhelming. This onboarding process includes:
- Getting your brokerage email
- Registering for the MLS
- Attending new agent training
- Designing business cards
- Meeting the other agents
- Creating your website & social media profiles
While it’s admirable to want to speed through this process and get to work with clients, slow down a bit. These first few weeks are prime-time to learn about using the tools available to you and the fundamentals of being an agent.
You don’t want to show up for a listing presentation with a potential client, not knowing how to add their home to the MLS, explain how you decided on the list price, or without a business card to give them.
Do I Have to Do New Agent Training?
Real estate is one of those industries where you learn how to do the job while on the clock.
The last thing you want to do is delay working with clients so that you can spend even more time learning the fundamentals—as if real estate school wasn’t enough. The thing is, pre-licensing didn’t teach you a thing about how to be an agent, so it’s a good idea to take your broker up on the offer of new agent training.
Whether your broker calls it “new agent training,” “onboarding,” or “orientation,” attending is for your own good. You may learn how to use the MLS search tools, set up a marketing campaign on Google Ads, or the scripts that convert the most clients.
Think About Pursuing Additional Specialities, Certifications, & Designations
Many franchise brokerages or companies require their agents to join the National Association of Realtors and even the local (or regional) Realtor association.
Becoming a Realtor won’t suddenly convince buyers or sellers that you’re more qualified to take on their next investment, but it does have a few benefits you may appreciate.
What Are the Benefits of Being a Realtor?
Paying those $150 annual NAR dues gives you access to plenty of useful resources and tools that agents seem to love. Besides discounts and deals on things like personal insurance and car rentals, you also gain access to the ever-convenient RPR Mobile app and national Realtor conferences to expand your referral network past state lines.
Should I Get NAR Designations and Certifications?
The NAR designations and certifications sound great on paper, but these extra vectors on your business card won’t make or break a client’s willingness to work with you. If anything, the coursework behind these designations and certifications are far more valuable than the letters you can add at the end of your name.
Consider passing up on these certifications and enroll in NAR virtual (or online) courses instead.
You can learn about topics that you genuinely want to be more of an expert with, such as working with FSBOs, senior citizens, foreclosures, or the Fair Housing Act.
Find a Mentor, Attend New Agent Training, & Learn the Fundamentals
The fact that you’re an independent contractor is either the best or worst part of the job title for you. Many new agents find it difficult to get a firm grasp of how the industry works, as it seems they leave you to your own devices as soon as you join the brokerage.
Since real estate paperwork and strategies are not a guessing game, you may want to talk with your broker about working with a mentor—whether it’s an official mentorship or not.
When you have a mentor, you’re able to lean on a top-producing agent’s experience and expertise. Your mentor may be a hands-on mentor, where they check in with you every week to see how you’re doing or tag along with you when you schedule your first listing appointment. Or, they may be a call away if you have questions or concerns about how you’re doing.
If there’s another agent in the office that’s willing to take you under their wing, accept the offer.
They may not be your “mentor” in that exact term, but they may allow you to shadow them as they host open houses, bring buyers on tours, or give listing presentations to see how a skilled agent does each.
A mentor can be a fantastic source of confidence and motivation so that you’re fully prepared to work with clients when you start generating leads.
Begin Generating Leads & Building Your Sphere of Influence (Network)
A real estate agent simply does not exist without clients or leads. As such, finding these will be your primary goal during your first few months as an agent, as you need to establish your sphere of influence (also known as your network or database), and then work to expand it.
Whether you’re using a CRM, Excel document, or handwritten note pad, the first people you’ll add to your sphere are your family and friends. Make sure you add their names, email addresses, phone numbers, and even their birthdays (that way, you can send out birthday greetings every year).
It’s time to get into agent mode.
How Do I Build My Sphere of Influence?
Reach out to everybody within your sphere via phone call, text message, or even in-person meetings. Directly inform them that you’re now in real estate (everybody in your life should know), and then ask: Who’s the next person you know that is looking to buy or sell?
Get their phone number, name, and email address and reach out to them.
Do not ask: Do you know anyone looking to buy or sell? They may not know anybody looking to buy or sell right now, which means you don’t get a single lead out of the encounter.
How Do I Expand My Sphere of Influence?
Unless you know thousands of people, then most of your clients will end up being people you don’t personally know. That means you need to make an effort to get your name out there, build your brand, and convince the public that you’re the right agent for the job.
Some fantastic real estate marketing strategies include:
- PPC advertisements (Google or Bing)
- Handing out business cards
- Hosting social media advertisements (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram)
- EDDM mailers (geographical farming)
- Creating a website and writing blogs
- Email marketing campaigns (drip campaigns, newsletters)
- Signing up for Zillow Premier Agent
- Creating a Google My Business profile (be found locally)
- Hanging up fliers
- Attending networking events
- Creating informational and educational YouTube videos
It’s important to point out that there’s no single best method for getting leads and turning them into clients. You may find that social media gives you the highest conversion rates, while another agent swears by using Zillow to find clients.
Dabble in several marketing strategies at first, find the one that works best for you, and then stick to the methods that are producing positive results.
Be sure not to let your spending on marketing get out of control during your early days as an agent, which is easy to do if you set up automated campaigns on social media or PPC ads.
Set a budget (preferably 10% of your income), and then stick to it.
Want a few more ideas? Here’s a video explaining ten nifty digital marketing strategies for real estate agents:
“List to Last” & “Buyers Are Liars”
Real estate agents love to throw around one-liners to help describe the cliche business strategies for a successful agent. There are two phrases that you’ll likely hear time and time again as a new agent: “List to last” and “buyers are liars.”
While listings are the best way to ensure closed deals, believing these two phrases to be correct regardless of circumstances is only going to hurt you in the long run.
List to Last
“List to last” makes sense in broader terms. When you have a listing, your client usually signs on for 180 days (about six months). Assuming you can negotiate a deal within that period, you can typically guarantee a commission check in your bank account.
However, this mindset implies that it’s easier to work with sellers—it’s not! Sellers want to get as much money as they can for their home, always insist their home is worth more than it is (even after you present them with comps), and may reject every “lowball” offer that accurately mimics market value.
Buyers Are Liars
“Buyers are liars” follows the assumption that buyers aren’t truthful to their real estate agents. The first mistake here is taking anybody for their word—if a buyer tells you that they’ve been pre-qualified or pre-approved, it’s your responsibility to verify this by asking them for proof.
Choosing to cart a buyer around to dozens of properties for six months without them signing an exclusive agreement with you is your fault for assuming they were serious buyers (not just looking for interior design ideas by touring listings).
The point here is this: You can earn a commission whether you work with buyers or sellers.
Don’t avoid working with buyers purely because you think listings are “easy passive income,” or a buyer will take advantage of your generosity every time.
Don’t budge on a list price you’re confident in, limit your property tours to specific hours, and require all clients to sign exclusive agreements (for buyers, you’ll want to ask for mortgage pre-qualification or pre-approval as well).
Now that you know how to become “certified” as a real estate agent that can sell, it’s time to get the ball rolling on your new career.
Your first step is enrolling in a real estate school, preferably an online school that allows you to complete your education when it conveniently fits into your schedule.
Mbition, Real Estate Express, and The C.E. Shop are three of the better schools worth attending. You even have the option to spend a few extra bucks on their exam prep programs to ensure you pass your real estate exam on the first try.
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