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How to Get a Real Estate License

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Getting a Real Estate License

Many people have found success in the real estate industry. Real estate agents help their clients buy and sell commercial and residential properties and may also provide rental property management services. Because agents are involved in high-value transactions, all states require real estate professionals to hold a license to practice.

Real Estate License Basics

Real estate license requirements vary between states. However, there are a few basic principles that remain consistent:

  • Age: Agents must be 18 or older.
  • Education: A college degree isn't required, though some brokerages may give preference to agents who do hold a degree. All real estate licensees must complete pre-licensing courses.
  • Examination: Potential agents must pass a comprehensive licensing exam.
  • Background check: Many states require applicants to submit to a criminal background check. While having a criminal history won't always disqualify you from becoming a real estate agent, you may be required to appear before your state licensing commission to explain the situation.


If you live near a state border, you may want to look into obtaining your license in both your own state as well as the neighboring one. This allows you to maximize your pool of potential clients. Some jurisdictions have reciprocity agreements with neighboring states, which means you may not have to complete a lengthy course, exam and licensing process to obtain a second license. Check with the licensing commissions in both states to learn whether reciprocal licensing is a possibility.

Pre-Licensing Education

Before you can sit for a licensing exam, you must complete and pass a pre-licensing course. The number of hours required, as well as topics covered, vary by state. You may have the option of completing your education either at an approved "course provider," which may be a proprietary real estate school or a vocational school, or to take specific real estate classes at a college or university.

Here are the requirements for a few states:

  • California: 45 hours, minimum. 
  • Kentucky: 96 hours in a proprietary school, six academic credit hours at an accredited college or university
  • Maryland: 60 hours
  • New York: 75 hours


Pre-licensing courses must be approved by the licensing body in your state. Never assume that a school or course provider has this approval: Visit your real estate commission's website and check its list of approved, pre-licensing course providers.

Examination and License Application

After completing your pre-licensing education, you must register to sit for your state's licensing exam. Your school will provide you with the information you need to register for the exam, although you can also find this information on your state licensing commission's website. Exams range in length between 60 to 100 questions. If you fail, you usually have multiple opportunities to retake it.

Once you've received a passing grade, you can apply for licensure. In most states, you can do this online. Pay close attention to requirements for fee payment.


Even with a license, you can't practice as a real estate agent until you are affiliated with a licensed broker in your state. If you aren't taking your pre-licensing education course through a brokerage, start researching area brokers as soon as possible. Doing this will give you an idea of which broker you might like to work with once you have your license.

Post-Licensing Education

Some states, such as Virginia, require new real estate agents to complete a post-licensing course within a specific timeframe, often six months to one year, after receiving their license. The length of the course varies by state – for example, Virginia requires 30 hours while Louisiana requires 45. As you will probably be very busy in during the first year of your real estate career, make completion of your post-licensing requirement a priority, so you don't risk license suspension.

How Much Does it Cost to Get Started as a Real Estate Agent?

The cost to get started in your real estate career vary by state. In addition to the cost of pre-licensing expenses, you will also need to pay examination and licensure fees. Further, after you've received your license and joined a brokerage, you will have incidental expenses, such as business cards and promotional materials.

According to an article on, pre-licensing courses can cost between $200 to $300, exam fees can run between $100 to $300, and licensing fees vary between $200 to $400.


Lainie Petersen is a full-time freelance writer living in Chicago. She holds a master’s degree in library and information science from Dominican University and spent many years working in the publishing, media and education industries. Her writing focuses on business, career and personal finance issues. Her work appears on a variety of sites, including MoneyCrashers, Chron, GoBankingRates and 8th & Walton News Now.

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