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How to Become a Real Estate Agent

How to Become a Real Estate Agent

Posted by: Kaplan Real Estate Education 
Updated: November 22, 2021

Deciding to become a real estate agent is a major career shift. People enter the real estate industry from various occupations and careers and at various stages of life. Everyone has different reasons for choosing real estate as the best career choice for them. But, one question consistently comes from people looking to enter the real estate industry: "How do I become a real estate agent?"

It mostly depends on where an individual wants to practice real estate. Becoming a real estate agent requires a state license. Each state regulates its own real estate licensing process, and each state’s regulations or rules are slightly different. But, there are a few basic requirements that are always consistent when getting started in your real estate career.

General Requirements to Become a Real Estate Agent

To be eligible to become a licensed real estate salesperson or agent, you must:

  1. Be at least 18 or 19 years old (depends on the state)
  2. Have legal US residency
  3. Complete your required prelicense education
  4. Pass your state real estate license examination

These items represent the high-level checklist of what it takes to become a licensed real estate agent. But there are a lot of decisions you need to make along the way that will determine your level of success in your real estate career.

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Is Becoming a Real Estate Agent Right For You?

The first step in this process is making sure that real estate is right for you. As a real estate salesperson, each day is spent working for you. This means handling your own office management, paperwork, prospecting leads, developing relationships, managing contacts, and dealing with buyers and sellers.

As for the salary range of a real estate agent, that amount depends on the number of properties you sell and your commission percentage for those sales. This earning structure is known as performance-based commission. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the salary of an average real estate agent is around $62,990 (2020).

Reach out to local real estate agents and brokers and ask them questions about what the day-to-day work is like. Ask questions about real estate as a long-term career. Starting a full-time career as a real estate agent can’t be treated like a hobby. It requires a full commitment.

Thinking about starting a real estate career? Download the Launching Your Real Estate Career eBook.

What Can You Do With a Real Estate License?

More than becoming a real estate agent, getting your real estate license opens the door to other opportunities within the housing industry. Here are just a few examples of real estate-related careers:

  • Real Estate Broker: Manages a team of real estate agents.
  • Appraiser: Verifies the value of a real estate property.
  • Property Manager: Oversees and maintains real estate properties.
  • Real Estate Investor: Buys and sells real estate properties for financial gain - similar to house flippers.
  • Real Estate Attorney: Provides or examines the closing documents of a real estate transaction.
  • Home Inspector: Inspects the condition of a property before purchase.
  • Mortgage Loan Officer: Works with a financial institution to originate property loans.
  • Real Estate Photographer: Captures interior and exterior images of commercial and residential real estate properties.
  • House Stager: Ensures a property looks its best for potential buyers.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Real Estate Agent?

On average, it takes four to six months to complete your required real estate courses and pass the licensing exam. However, there are a few factors that influence the time it takes to become a real estate agent. These factors include whether you take your real estate courses online or in-classroom, which state you’re obtaining your real estate license, and how many times it takes you to pass the licensing exam.

Online vs. In-Classroom Real Estate Courses

One of these factors depends on your learning style. If you prefer learning in a traditional classroom setting, that could take around four to six months to complete your courses and get your real estate license. But if you’d rather take your real estate courses online, it could take a mere eight weeks.

State-Specific Real Estate Education Requirements

Each state has its own requirements before issuing a real estate license. Overall, states require specific pre-licensing courses before you take the exam. These requirements, including the number of credit hours needed, can vary from state to state.

How Many Attempts You’ll Need to Pass Your Real Estate Licensing Exam

The topics covered in a real estate licensing exam can vary in each state. Passing your exam on the first try might be ideal, but it doesn’t always work out that way. In the event that you need a second attempt, consider these variables:

  • How many times can I take the exam in my state?
  • How often is the real estate exam offered in my state?
  • Is there required downtime between exams in my state?

How Hard is it to Get Your Real Estate License?

In short, getting your real estate license doesn’t have to be difficult or overly complicated. Just understand the time and effort needed to:

  • Complete your required real estate prelicensing courses
  • Study for the real estate exam
  • Pass the exam
  • Register your new real estate license with your state

How Much Does it Cost to Get a License and Become a Real Estate Agent?

It might not cost as much as you expect - from a couple of hundred dollars to just over a thousand. How much you’ll spend on real estate school depends on your preferred learning style and the required education hours in your state. Find your state from this list to see what you can expect.

A few different options are available to you, including live online courses, on-demand courses, home study, and prelicensing education.

  • Live Online: $300 - $900+: Combines the stability of having a scheduled class time with the convenience of a live instructor from the comfort of your own home.
  • On-Demand: $200 - $800+: Complete the work on your own time! This is a great option for busy parents, students, and professionals who aren’t able to attend courses on a set schedule.
  • Home Study: $180 - $600: For those working with a tight budget and have the drive to complete courses independently.

What is the Difference Between a Real Estate Agent and a Real Estate Broker?

Simply put, you have to be a real estate agent first to become a broker. But real estate agents aren’t always brokers. Real estate agents must achieve and maintain a professional license to help their clients buy, sell, and rent real estate properties. A broker is a real estate professional with further education, training, and license requirements. Brokers might work independently, but often hire a team of real estate agents to work for them.

How to Become a Real Estate Agent

While the specifics vary by state, there are five steps that every individual must take to earn their license and become a real estate agent.  

Step 1 to Becoming a Real Estate Agent: Understand Your State’s Real Estate Licensing Requirements

Each state’s real estate licensing requirements are different. Your state’s real estate commission website will list the official prelicensing requirements. Kaplan Real Estate Education offers a couple of resources that narrow this knowledge gap down. The Steps to Licensing resource below is designed to show, in simple steps, what it takes to become licensed in each state, including California, Minnesota, and North Carolina. In addition, Kaplan offers a page dedicated to each state’s real estate licensing and continuing education requirements.

Step 2 to Becoming a Real Estate Agent: Enroll in a Real Estate Prelicensing Course

There are a variety of ways you can complete your real estate prelicensing education requirements. For example, live classrooms at real estate schools, some realty firms, universities, and technical schools offer real estate licensing programs with home-study and online course opportunities.

This is an important decision in your journey. Make sure you enroll with a school that has an excellent reputation, offers quality content and instructors, and is focused on positive student outcomes. Your real estate licensing education will be comprehensive, but it will also be the springboard to a successful career as a real estate professional. Kaplan Real Estate Education offers a variety of convenient ways to complete your education.

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Real Estate Agent Reciprocity

By and large, real estate is a state-specific profession. This is because real estate laws very often differ from each state. However, real estate license reciprocity allows current agents from certain states to apply for a real estate license in a different state without taking all of that state’s required pre-licensing courses.

For example, the state of Colorado allows license reciprocity for all 50 states. Being able to fulfill your job duties in multiple states can lead to a diverse and exciting career. With a career in real estate, the possibilities are endless!

Step 3 to Becoming a Real Estate Agent: Apply To Take the Real Estate Salesperson Exam

Timing is important at this step. Make sure you are following the application process with your state so you can sit for your real estate agent exam soon after you finish your courses. This process will be state-specific and include a fee. Check with your state’s real estate regulatory authority for complete details on how and where to take your real estate exam.

Some states require you to submit fingerprints and pass a background check. This can take weeks to process. In many states, the application process must be complete before you can register or schedule your exam date. Don’t let the paperwork become a roadblock to getting started in your new real estate career.  

Step 4 to Becoming a Real Estate Agent: Pass the Real Estate Salesperson Exam

Passing the real estate exam takes more than finishing the educational requirements—it takes preparation. Not everyone passes the exam the first time. Preparing yourself to pass the state exam takes additional study time.

Kaplan highly recommends enrolling in a real estate exam prep class. Because the ultimate goal is to help you pass the exam, most of Kaplan’s prelicensing packages include the comprehensive Exam Prep Course. Taking practice exams, measuring your strengths and weaknesses, and working through the comprehensive topical reviews will sharpen your knowledge and prepare you for exam day.

Show up to the exam location with a positive attitude, answer the questions using the massive knowledge bank you accumulated in your studies, and walk out with a passing grade on your real estate exam!

Step 5 to Becoming a Real Estate Agent: Find a Real Estate Broker

Your passing grade on your real estate licensing exam doesn’t quite mean you have a license yet. A real estate salesperson (agent) is licensed to act on behalf of a broker, however,  may not act as a real estate agent independently. Consider finding a real estate broker early in your licensing process.

Once you have completed your prelicensing education requirements and passed your exam, you and your broker will both need to complete the final paperwork with the state. After your form is accepted, your license will be issued, and you may practice real estate under the sponsorship of the broker. Keep in mind that there are a number of items to consider when finding the right real estate brokerage.

Good luck on your journey to becoming licensed, as well as your eventual successful career as a real estate agent! Each day can be unique and different for a real estate agent, and it can be a very rewarding and exciting career! 



To get started obtaining a real estate license where you live, simply select your state from our list of real estate course options.