Getting Your Real Estate License? Here’s a Checklist to See You Through

Choosing a real estate career is exciting, but getting started can feel overwhelming. To help you plan your career move, we’ve put together a checklist of the basic steps you’ll need to complete on your way to getting licensed and going to work. Each state is different, but in general you’ll need to do these things.

  • Find and bookmark your state’s real estate licensing organization website. This government body is the last word on qualifying for and maintaining a real estate license in your state. The name is different in each state: Texas Real Estate Commission, Washington State Department of Licensing, California Department of Real Estate, and so on. If you’re having trouble tracking down your state’s group, go to (your state).gov and search for “real estate license.”
  • Understand the industry terms for real estate agents. Brand-new real estate license holders are called salespeople or sales agents in many states, while their more experienced employers who’ve taken more classes and exams are called brokers. But in some states, the newbies are referred to as brokers (or associate brokers) and their bosses are managing brokers. REALTOR® is a registered trademark that can only be used by members of the National Association of REALTORS®.
  • Make sure you meet the age requirement. Unless you’re still a high school student, you almost certainly do. In most states, you must be at least 18 years old to qualify for a real estate sales license.
  • Check the state’s residency requirements. This is one rule that can vary a lot by state. For example, in Texas, only Texas residents who are also US citizens or “lawfully admitted aliens” can get a real estate license. In California and many other states, real estate licenses are open to residents of other states who meet all the other requirements.
  • Understand the background check process. Each state has its own process for background checks. At some point before you can work as a real estate agent, probably before your exam, you’ll have to submit your information to state law enforcement. In Colorado and some other states, you may have to go to your local police or sheriff’s department to get fingerprinted.

You may also be asked to provide documents to the real estate commission if you have any civil judgments (lawsuits) or professional disciplinary hearings in your work history. In Georgia, you have to bring a copy of your state Crime Information Center report to your license exam site.

  • Know the general education requirements. Most states require real estate license applicants to have a high school diploma or the equivalent.
  • Study the real estate education requirements. This is the biggest, most time-intensive part of the whole pre-license process for most applicants. A few states will let you skip some or all of the specialized real estate education requirements if you’re a practicing attorney, have a college degree in real estate, or hold an active real estate license in another state.

But the vast majority of people who want a real estate license must complete somewhere between 40 hours (Massachusetts) and 180 hours (Texas) of state-approved real estate pre-license courses. For most people, online real estate courses are the most practical and efficient way to satisfy this requirement and get ready for the exam. Be sure to check student reviews and the exam pass rate before you choose a real estate school. When you complete the course, you’ll get a certificate you must show to register for your state exam.

  • Plan to meet the exam requirements. In most states, you’ll have to register in advance for your real estate license exam and go to a state-approved testing site. Make sure you understand what you need to bring with you (a photo ID, any forms required for admission) and what you can’t bring (textbooks, calculators) into the testing room.
  • Get insurance. After you pass your exam, you’re almost ready to start working as an agent. Some states, like Colorado, will require you to buy an errors and omissions (E&O) insurance policy before you begin work, unless your employer will include you on a group policy.
  • Find a sponsor. Brand new real estate salespeople are required to work for a more experienced broker in virtually every US state. Choose someone who will be a good mentor and who you’ll enjoy working with. In most cases, you’ll need a work sponsor for two years before you can become an independent salesperson.

Remember that each state has its own specific rules. If you’re in doubt at any step along the way, check in with your real estate school instructors or your state real estate board to make sure you’re on the right track.