How to Become a Real Estate Agent

Real estate can be an exciting and varied career—you might help a family find their first home one day, then help someone sell their luxury condo so they can sail around the globe the next. The exact requirements vary by state, but typically you can become a licensed agent in 4 to 6 months.[1] Here, we’ve compiled answers to your most common questions about how to become a real estate agent.


[Edit]Do you need a college degree to become a real estate agent?

  1. No, but getting a degree can make you more competitive. Most states require you to take several hours of college-level courses before you can take the license exam—but that’s just the bare minimum. Getting a degree gives you a greater depth of knowledge in the field.[2]
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    • Many colleges and universities offer 2- or 4-year degrees in real estate. If a specific major in real estate isn’t available from the school of your choice, consider a business or marketing degree.
    • Some real estate brokerage firms require a bachelor’s degree if you want to work for them, even though it’s not technically required to join the profession. This is worth looking into if you’re not decided on whether to get a degree before you start your career.

[Edit]Can you become an agent without any experience?

  1. Yes, an agent is considered an entry-level real estate professional. Because you need a license to act as a real estate agent, you can’t really get any experience as an agent until you become an agent. You could work in a real estate office as a secretary or receptionist, but it certainly isn’t required.[3]
    • After working as an agent for about 3 years, you can take courses and sit for an exam to become licensed as a broker. Brokers can own their own real estate firms and supervise agents and other brokers.[4]

[Edit]How do you qualify to get a real estate license?

  1. Each state has its own requirements related to your age and background. Generally, you need to be at least 18 and a legal resident of the US. Beyond that, you also need to pass the licensing exam, which tests your knowledge of real estate principles and practice.[5] Visit and scroll down the list to find the link for your state’s real estate commission.
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    • States require varying numbers of hours of education to qualify for a license. For example, you only need 60 hours of training to get your license in Virginia, while you need 135 hours in California.[6]
    • Most states also require you to pass a criminal background check.

[Edit]What courses are required to become licensed?

  1. Most states require completion of college-level courses on real estate. The specific requirements vary among states, so check with your state’s real estate commission to make sure any courses you take are approved. Generally, you’ll need courses in the following subjects:[7]
    Become a Real Estate Agent Step 2 Version 3.jpg
    • Real estate principles, including basic property law
    • Real estate practice, including the basics of buying and selling property
    • Real estate finance and economics, including mortgage lending

[Edit]How do you apply to take the licensing exam?

  1. Check the website of your state’s real estate commission. Each state administers its own licensing exam and has its own procedures for taking the exam. Generally, start the process about 6 weeks before the exam is scheduled so you’ll have time to get everything in order.[8]
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    • Most states require you to pass a criminal background check, so you’ll need to get fingerprints taken for that and submit them to the appropriate law enforcement agency. You’ll likely pay fees for this (usually less than $100).

[Edit]What if you don’t pass the licensing exam?

  1. Each state has its own rules regarding how to take the exam again. Typically, you’ll get a letter from your state’s real estate commission letting you know that you didn’t pass. That letter includes information on what to do if you want to take the exam again.[9]
    • Some states limit the number of times you can retake the exam, so be careful! If you didn’t pass the first time, that’s a sign that you need to study more before you try to take it again.

[Edit]How much does a real estate license cost?

  1. Generally, it costs between $300 and $700 total to get your license. The fees vary among states, but you can expect to pay between $100 and $300 to take the real estate licensing exam. Provided you pass your exam, it costs $200 to $400 to activate your license.[10]
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    • Don’t forget to factor in small fees for other things, such as getting your fingerprints taken or a background check completed.
    • You’ll usually pay tuition for pre-licensing courses as well. Financial aid in the form of grants or loans might be available in some circumstances, typically from the educational institution offering the courses.

[Edit]Do you need separate licenses for multiple states?

  1. Yes, you usually need a separate license for each state. Some states have reciprocity agreements that recognize some of your training and coursework you completed for your license in another state. However, you typically have to sit for the exam and get a separate license.[11]
    • Most real estate agents only need a license in one state, but if you live near a state border, licensing in more than one state can make you more competitive.
    • Getting licensed in more than one state can also be helpful if you live in a large metropolitan area where people commute from other states. For example, a real estate agent in Charlotte, NC, might benefit from getting a license in South Carolina.

[Edit]Where do real estate agents work?

  1. Real estate agents work under a broker, usually at an established firm. Look for a real estate office with listings that reflect the types of property and areas where you want to sell. If you live in a larger metropolitan area, large real estate firms might have several offices that specialize in particular neighborhoods, residential, or commercial property.[12]
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    • Do background research on real estate offices before you decide where you want to go. Choose one with a sterling reputation that’s well-respected in your area.

[Edit]Do real estate agents make good money?

  1. Some real estate agents make great money, but income is extremely varied. While the top 10% of real estate agents earned more than $174,100 in 2020, the lowest 10% earned less than $25,460. When you consider that most real estate agents work 40 hours a week or more, that means many real estate agents are technically earning less than minimum wage.[13]
    • It’s also important to keep in mind that not all real estate agents work full time (although most do). Annual income figures don’t account for the number of hours each agent works.
    • Individual income can also be highly varied depending on the general demand for property in the area where you work. You might have 15 listings worth a total of $1 million in commissions for you, but you’ll only make that money when you sell those properties.[14]

[Edit]How do real estate agents get paid?

  1. The bulk of an agent’s income comes from commissions on sales. Commissions vary dramatically depending on the type of property sold (commercial or residential) and its value. The commission is typically a percentage of the total sale price, divided among the buying and selling agents, brokers, and their firms.[15]
    • An agent’s commission is typically around 5-6% of the total sales price—although this total percentage is often split between the buyer’s and seller’s agents.[16] So, for example, if you sell a home for $150,000, you might expect to earn anywhere between $3,750 and $4,500.

[Edit]How can you improve your chances of success?

  1. Make connections in your community to build your personal network. Most people don’t buy and sell homes frequently. If people know you and like you, they’ll be more likely to use your services. Here are some ways to forge connections and raise your standing in your community:[17]
    • Maintain a relationship with clients after the transaction is completed (for example, by sending holiday and birthday cards)
    • Volunteer for nonprofit and community projects
    • Get to know your local market and keep abreast of changes in zoning and other local ordinances that impact real estate
    • Get involved in local activities and organizations
    • Get your broker license, as well as certifications or designations for particular specializations, such as mortgages, appraisals, residential property, or commercial property.[18]

[Edit]What’s the difference between an agent and a Realtor?

  1. Realtors are members of the National Association of Realtors (NAR). The NAR is a trade association with a strict code of ethics. Membership is open not only to real estate agents but also other professionals in the real estate industry, such as property managers, appraisers, and brokers.[19]
    Become a Real Estate Agent Step 19 Version 3.jpg
    • The terms “Realtor” and “real estate agent” aren’t interchangeable. You can be a real estate agent without being a Realtor (although it’s not common). You can also be a Realtor without working specifically as a real estate agent.
    • Membership in the NAR costs about $200 a year. With your membership, you also gain access to a lot of resources and assistance only available to members.



  • Success in real estate often comes down to hustle. Be available on short notice and really go the extra mile to make the sale—your efforts will be rewarded.[20]


  • This article discusses how to become a real estate agent in the US. If you live in another country, the process might be different.
  • Real estate licenses have to be renewed every 2-4 years. Many states require you to complete continuing education courses before you can renew your license.[21]

[Edit]Related wikiHows


[Edit]Quick Summary

  5. [v160957_b01]. 15 October 2018.
  17. [v160957_b01]. 15 October 2018.
  20. [v160957_b01]. 15 October 2018.
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