The real estate industry can be a lucrative source of income and a terrific way to help others find the homes of their dreams. But the process of becoming a Realtor is a little lengthy, and many throw in the towel before they reach the finish line. It doesn’t have to be so complicated.
The best way to become a Realtor is by meeting the basic requirements (18+ and a legal resident), completing a pre-licensing course, passing the written exam with a 70-75%, and affiliating with a brokerage. Pass a background check, apply for a license, join the NAR, and start marketing yourself.
Do you have the time, commitment, and motivation needed to become a successful real estate agent in just a few short months? Keep reading to find out how to become a realtor in just 7 steps, starting from the basic requirements and ending with your new career up and running.
Be 18+, a Legal U.S. Resident, & High School Grad
If you’re wondering how to become a real estate agent, you must first start with the basics. All states will require you to have a high school diploma or an equivalent — like a GED — before beginning the pre-licensing process.
Now, let’s take a look at a few other prerequisites to which you’ll likely be held.
The majority of states will require you to be at least 18 years old to become a real estate agent, which fits perfectly with the high school education requirement. Some states like Alabama, Alaska, and Nebraska require all potential candidates to be 19 or older. And for a while, Illinois was once an outlier with all candidates needing to be 21 to be approved by the Commission.
Some states like Georgia will allow you to attend real estate school and pass the exam while you’re still 17, so long as you wait until you’re an adult to activate your license.
You don’t need to be a U.S. citizen to become a real estate agent in America, though you have to be a legal resident in most jurisdictions. However, states like Iowa don’t have any requirements for legal citizenship or residency, requiring that you’re at least 18 years or older before pursuing this career path.
As a real estate agent, you’ll be responsible for tasks like entering into residents’ homes during open houses or showings and handling earnest money and being sure these payments are deposited in the appropriate accounts. Because of these responsibilities, your state will require you to pass a background check.
Certain convictions and crimes in your past will keep that real estate license at bay. For example, your license application will likely be denied if you have charges like tax evasion, embezzlement, forgery, or burglary on your record. Your state may also require you to report new arrests and charges that you face after becoming licensed within 30 days (varies).
Complete a Certified Real Estate Pre-License Course
To take your state’s official real estate exam and become a licensed agent, you’ll need to put in a predetermined number of hours via a local real estate school or online program. But first, you must check that your course is approved and accepted in your state.
Let’s briefly go over what your pre-licensing course will probably entail.
In-Person Courses vs. Online Courses
Though most states allow online coursework for real estate, some states are still lagging in the technological sense. So if you live in places like Rhode Island, New Jersey, Connecticut, Idaho, Arizona, Washington D.C., North Carolina, or Delaware, be prepared to sign-up for an in-person course to fulfill your school hours.
In-person courses keep you on a strict education schedule that you’ll have to work your current schedule around. Some courses are eight hours a day during the weekdays, so you can reasonably finish pre-licensing coursework within two weeks. Others meet for a few hours each night or during long sessions on the weekend.
Other states allow a hybrid program with both in-person and online coursework.
The remaining states allow for schooling to be completed entirely online. While you may prefer to be in a classroom with a certified instructor to whom you can ask questions, online is often the way to go. Online programs allow you to get your business up and running much faster, as you can complete the program at your own pace and when it’s convenient for you.
Most often, real estate school will cost a minimum of $300.
As with most things real estate, you’ll have to check with your state first to see just how many hours of pre-licensing courses you need. Some states will require you to take a basic course that’s fewer than 40 hours in total.
Other states require all applicants to have 120+ hours of pre-licensing — in Ohio, you’ll need 40 hours of Real Estate Principles, 40 hours of Ohio Real Estate Law, 20 hours of Real Estate Finance, and 20 hours of Real Estate Appraisal.
Whether you’re doing online training or in-person courses, you might have the grand idea of condensing most of your coursework into just a few long days of training. Unfortunately, many states will limit how many hours you can put in each day to only eight or ten. With that, it may take you anywhere from two weeks to six months to complete your education.
No matter how you choose to take your pre-licensing training, you’ll have to pass an exam to certify the course’s completion.
Best Way to Get a Real Estate License Online
So you’ve decided to fast-track your licensing and enroll in an online pre-licensing course. Fortunately, there are plenty of reputable online programs that’ll leave you with tons of useful knowledge and a guarantee that you’ll ace your exam.
Here are a few programs you may want to try:
- The CE Shop: This is an awesome program that’s easy to navigate, is mobile-friendly, boasts a 90%+ pass rate, and an exam prep program that’ll ensure a license in-hand.
- Real Estate Express: This nifty online program is flexible with scheduling, gives you the chance to ask the best in the biz some important questions and has exam prep too.
- Mbition: This cool program makes real estate easy-to-understand with real-world examples, is completely self-paced to fit your schedule, and comes with exam prep.
All of these are great options and can get your career started when it’s convenient for you, not on your instructor’s schedule.
Pass the Real Estate Exam With a 70-75%+
The one thing standing between you and your future in real estate is passing your state’s real estate exam with a passing score. And since only about 50% of candidates will pass the real estate exam on the first go-round, you need to make sure you’re adequately prepared.
Let’s review what this exam is all about and the best ways to ensure you pass with flying colors.
Studying for Your Exam
Many of the best online real estate schools also offer exam prep programs that you can register for immediately after. These programs offer tons of sample exams and are a great way to practice your test-taking skills and see the sorts of questions you might come head-to-head with on your big day.
So here are some tips for studying for your real estate exam:
- Keep taking the online practice exams until you can consistently score 90% or above.
- Focus your studying on the areas you’re struggling most with.
- Read every word in questions and answers, as real estate terms are a little tricky and easy to confuse.
- Consider purchasing the Real Estate Express Exam Prep Module to acquire a sample test system.
- You can also check with PSI, the company likely administering your test.
Studying for your exam is highly important, but you need to keep a close eye on the calendar. Many states will require you to take your real estate exam within six months or a year of passing your course. Plus, it’s a great idea to schedule your test shortly after you pass the pre-licensing course, as this is when the information is most fresh in your mind.
What the Real Estate Exam Looks Like
Just like anything in 2020, your state will likely administer its real estate exam via a computer at a testing facility. Exactly what’s on your exam will vary state to state, but most states have a state portion and a national portion, with the national part making up a bulk of the exam.
Your real estate exam will likely have a time limit of two to four hours, have 100 to 150 multiple-choice questions in total, and require you to score a 70-75% to pass. Many problems are also scenario-based, so you won’t be asked directly about mortgage rates, but rather what a hypothetical client may pay in monthly mortgage fees at a specific rate.
Signing Up for Your Real Estate Exam
You can register for your exam as soon as you complete the necessary coursework in your state. Since your exam is likely administered by PSI (or AMP), check out their website to find the PSI Testing Center closest to your home. Be prepared to arrive early to check-in for your time slot and leave all of your personal belongings in a locker before entering the testing room.
Failing your real estate exam doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t be a real estate agent, but rather that you’ll have to retake the exam to earn a passing score. In New Jersey, you can take your exam as soon as the next day. In Florida, you might have to wait an additional 30 days before retaking the exam.
And in some states, failing the exam too often might force you to complete remedial education or retake your pre-licensing course entirely.
The goal is to pass your exam the first time to streamline your licensing and save yourself in exam fees, usually a few hundred dollars apiece.
Affiliate With a Brokerage in Your State
You cannot get your real estate license in many states until you affiliate with a brokerage first. As much as you want to affiliate with any broker to get your career off the ground, choosing the right broker can get your business off to an even better start than you could imagine.
Unlike most career paths, real estate brokerages always seem to be hiring. After all, having more qualified agents under their roof means a higher commission for the brokerage overall. With that said, it’s your role as an up-and-coming real estate agent to interview local brokers, not the other way around.
So here are some things to ask about when you’re meeting with local brokers:
- The commission split (what you’ll take home vs. your broker on sales you make)
- The resources and tools implemented to help new agents succeed (such as mentorship, training classes, etc.)
- The reputation of the brokerage (mom and pop vs. franchise)
- The brokerage’s niche (summer rentals, commercial, residential, etc.)
It’s essential to weigh all of these things before deciding which brokerage is right for you. For example, one brokerage might offer a 5% lower commission split but will have you work with a skilled mentor for six months and guarantee X listings by year’s end.
You may also want to be talking to brokers before you complete your coursework and pass your exam, as you can speed your way through the licensing process.
Get Fingerprinted & Pass a Background Check
Most states will have a unique protocol for getting fingerprinted, which fingerprinting services are verified by the state, and where to send your prints once they’re taken.
It’s a good idea to call up your local fingerprinting service as soon as possible, as appointment slots fill up quickly, and you may have to schedule a week or more in advance. Walk-ins are often discouraged. And even if you do plan well ahead of time, you’ll likely be sitting in a packed waiting room with others looking to be fingerprinted for a new job or passport.
Make sure you arrive at your fingerprinting facility with the appropriate payment (usually less than $100) and a valid photo ID (like a driver’s license). You’ll then be called into the room, have your prints taken, and then they’ll be compared with the FBI database.
Once you get fingerprinted, you’ll need to bring a copy of your prints and the paid receipt from the service to your new broker. This, along with your application for licensure, will be sent over to your state’s real estate commission shortly.
Send Your License Application to the Commission
You’ve passed your course, aced the exam, and have proven you possess the moral turpitude to become a real estate agent. Now, you’re wondering how to get a real estate license and get your career going.
Let’s talk about the process of actually completing and sending out your license application.
What You’ll Need to Submit
Applying for your real estate license isn’t like applying for your regular old job, as there are several documents and pieces of evidence you must submit to prove you’re a worthy candidate.
Here are some things you may have to do in the application process:
- Fill out the application, either online or via a written document (depends on state).
- Provide proof that you passed your course via a school seal or instructor signature.
- Have your broker fill out the broker portion of the application.
- Include your driver’s license number and any child support payments you may owe.
- Send over your receipt from an approved fingerprinting facility.
There’s also a fee that must be submitted and made out to your state’s real estate commission, often ranging between $200 and $400. Be aware that it may take a week to a month for your state to look your application over and give you the seal of approval.
Once Your License Is Approved
You’ll likely be working one-on-one with your broker as you get your feet wet in the real estate world. But before you start looking for listings and capturing leads, there are a few other housekeeping items you’ll have to get done.
For example, you’ll sign-up for your regional or local MLS, the most useful tool you’ll use as a real estate agent. This service is what’ll give you access to all local listings, help you find your clients the homes of their dreams, schedule showings, and send your new listings to sites like Trulia and Zillow. Access to this service doesn’t come without a fee, usually between $200 a year and a few thousand.
Then, your state may require you to get E&O insurance to protect you from lawsuits if you make an honest mistake while in the business. And depending on how many agents your office has, you may also need to pay a monthly rent on office space or a desk.
Join the Local & National Association of Realtors®
Many people will use the terms “Realtor” and “real estate agent” as if they’re one and the same. But they’re actually two very different terms, and you might find yourself in hot water if you refer to yourself as a Realtor if you’re not a member of the National Association of Realtors.
If you’re curious about how to become a Realtor, you’ll first need to pay your dues to your regional and national associations of Realtors. Doing so, you’ll get a few benefits that the average agent won’t get.
For example, the title of “Realtor” comes with great respect, you may be privy to discounts on everyday items or loans, and you’re eligible to attend Realtor networking events to build your base and referral network.
And if you’re a member of a franchise brokerage rather than an independent brokerage, you might be required to register as a Realtor before you’re able to accept new listings.
In total, the cost to become a Realtor from start to finish is a few thousand dollars.
Now That You’re Licensed…
Getting licensed to be a practicing real estate agent was complicated enough, but you’re not done just yet. That’s because many states require all agents to pursue continuing education (CE) credits every license cycle to stay up-to-date on real estate practices and new rules.
This continuing education requirement might be 12 hours of relevant training over a certain period. Your state may even have specific requirements for the type of continuing education coursework you pursue, such as ethics, core topics, and electives. Regardless, be sure that the place you’re getting your CE credits from is approved by your state (not all online programs).
Additionally, you’ll have to renew your license every two to four years (on top of paying annual fees for things like your MLS access). Each state has its own license renewal process, but renewal often comes with a renewal fee of a few hundred dollars and proof of your CE.
Renewing your license late or not renewing it at all will cause your license to lapse. That means you’re not able to practice real estate, may have to pay an extra fee to reactivate the license, or even have to retake the course and pass the exam again if you’re unlicensed too long.
What’s Next? Tips to Get Business Going
Now that you’re a real estate agent and have the coveted title of “Realtor” to your name, it’s time to get business booming and start bringing in clients. But this can be a little complicated if you’re new to the industry and awaiting name recognition in your local area.
If you’re not sure where to begin, here are a few tips you may want to consider:
- Tell everyone you know. How will anybody know that you’re new to real estate if you don’t tell them that you’re now in real estate? Tell everyone you know that you’re now licensed and which brokerage you’re affiliated with. Then, ask them if they or anybody they know is looking to buy or sell soon.
- Build an online presence. The days of EDDM routes, cold-calling, and door knocking might well be past us, although a few agent still are successful with these techniques. Other new agent looking to be successful and show up with a Google search needs a business profile on Facebook, Instagram, and even Twitter. Make sure you use keywords related to your niche (like “Rentals”) and the towns you serve.
- Attend training courses. Nearly every franchise brokerage with locations throughout the country will offer in-house training courses, either online or in-person. Most are free and will give you the information you need to know to be successful. You can learn how to use your county’s MLS, the forms you need for a listing, and how to make a website.
- Decide on a marketing strategy. In the real estate world, any marketing style can work so long as you commit to it completely. Are you going to take the strictly online approach? Are you planning to go door-knocking in your neighborhood? Figure out a strategy that you can stick to and pursue it.
You might be wondering, “Can’t I just ask the other agents at my office what they do to build their business?” The answer is yes, but many agents are finicky about revealing such information. Though you’re both members of the same brokerage and on the same team, you’re also competing for the same listings. Try not to take it too personally.
Here’s a video describing a few tips to send your business soaring by one of the nation’s most reputable agents:
How to Become a Real Estate Broker
Once you’re a successful real estate agent for a few years, you may want to think about taking a step up in the industry by becoming a broker. The exact requirements will vary by state, but here are some things you may need to have under your belt before pursuing this option:
- Completion of a certified real estate broker course (usually hundreds of hours, split among a general course and an ethics course)
- At least two to four years of uninterrupted licensure within your state
- Pass the broker’s exam in your state
- Have your broker license approved by the Commission
Now you don’t have to pursue the title of “broker” just because you’re a real estate agent. After all, being a broker comes with a lot of responsibility that you don’t have as an agent. For example, you may be responsible for onboarding and educating new agents so that they follow your state’s laws to a T.
On a more positive note, brokers have the potential to earn more money (due to commission earned by your agents) and have a more flexible schedule.
If you commit and plan out the process of getting your license, you may become a licensed real estate agent in as little as two or three months. However, you need to be sure that you’re looking at your state’s requirements, as there are plenty of differences from one state to the next.
For example, you wouldn’t want to assume that a convenient online course is a good way to fast-track your licensure only to find out your state doesn’t accept online programs.
You can check out your state’s requirements here.