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Becoming a real estate agent is a great goal to have if you possess an entrepreneurial spirit and a love for working with people to help them buy or sell their home.  As you may already be aware, however, becoming a real estate agent isn’t as simple as sending out a resume and doing an interview. A career in the real estate industry is a serious job with a lot of important responsibilities. As such, becoming a real estate agent requires time, planning, studying, and testing before you can actually begin working as an agent.

This entire process can seem confusing at first. Where do you start? How do you pick the right path forward? What steps do you need to take to ensure a smooth transition into your new career? That’s why we’ve put together this easy-to-follow guide so that you can join the ranks of hundreds of thousands of other real estate professionals.

1. Learn the requirements in your state

The requirements for becoming a real estate agent can vary from state to state. What’s true in California may not be true in New York. Learning the basic requirements of your state’s real estate licensing regime is essential to ensuring that you complete the necessary activities to become a practicing real estate agent.

With that said, there are a few general requirements that all states have for becoming a licensed real estate agent. The specifics of each requirement may be slightly different but there is a general outline of the requirements you need to satisfy.

  • First, you will need to be of legal age and an American citizen. Some states even require licensed real estate agents to be 21 years old.
  • In addition to age and citizenship requirements, you may also need to pass a background check and have your fingerprints put on file. Real estate agents need to be able to be trusted by their clients and these basic checks can help weed out the people who may not have the best intentions at heart.
  • One of the most important requirements for becoming a real estate agent is completing a real estate education. Your state will have specific real estate classes that you need to complete and may even require a certain number of coursework hours before you can complete your licensing requirements. As a result, most states have real estate schools that help students complete the required real estate courses and prepare for their career.
  • This brings us to the final important requirement: a final real estate exam. Every single state requires applicants to pass a real estate exam before they can get their real estate license. Attending a real estate school can make passing this final exam much easier, as these schools help you to prepare and study for the exam with prep courses. In addition, most will help satisfy pre-license requirements.
  • Once you’re licensed, you will then be required to take a certain number of hours of continuing education to maintain it.

2. Find a real estate school

Once you have identified the requirements to become a licensed real estate agent in your state, it’s time to begin working on satisfying those requirements. The most significant requirement is typically the coursework, which is completed through a real estate school. The good news is that most states, with a handful of exceptions, allow you to complete your real estate courses through a variety of means including online classes, in-person classes, or a combination of the two.

Although real estate schools cover important topics and help you complete the basic requirements for your state, not all schools are the same. Some schools may offer the bare minimum to complete your coursework requirements, while others may have more advanced programs available which could include final exam prep courses, online classroom sessions with instructors who can answer your questions, and even detailed textbooks to help with studying and coursework.

The real estate school you choose will come down to a range of factors. How you learn best is the most important one to consider.

  • For example, if you know that you’re the type to procrastinate online learning, then you may wish to opt for a real estate school that offers in-person classroom learning.
  • If you struggle with exams, then you should consider finding a real estate school with a thorough exam prep program.
  • If you have a full-time job and are trying to complete your classes in your free time, you should look for a completely online program that’ll give you the ability to learn at your own pace or a program that offers night classes that’ll work around your work schedule.

Cost is something else you’ll want to take into consideration. The cost of real estate school can vary significantly depending on the features offered. Some online-only schools have basic packages, which will help you satisfy the minimum requirements for the lowest cost possible. If you’re on a budget and don’t mind doing self-directed learning, then taking online courses may be a great option. Other schools offer tiered learning plans, where you can customize the courses and learning schedule to your own needs and budget by choosing what’s important to you. For example, a basic course taken online may be fine, but you may also wish to attend in-person classroom study sessions prior to the final state exam.

At a minimum, you should expect to pay $150 for real estate school. With that said, depending on the school you choose, and the type of program offered, the cost for a real estate school can increase significantly to more than $1500.

3. Take the state real estate licensing exam

Once you have satisfied all pre-licensing requirements and taken the required real estate classes, then you’ll finally be ready to tackle the real estate license exam. In most states, you will need to provide proof that you have completed the required coursework before you will be able to take the final exam.  So be sure that you have all your ducks in a row beforehand.

Prior to the exam, you should take a few practice exams online. Your real estate school may even provide practice exams to help you prepare for the pressure of writing an exam. This may or may not be necessary for you depending on how well you do in an exam writing environment.

There is often a registration fee to sign up for the final exam, so be sure you’re ready to take it before you spend money to register for a session. If you fail the exam, you can register to take it again at an additional cost. More than half of aspiring real estate agents don’t pass the exam the first time, so it’s important not to get discouraged. With that said, the right amount of preparation for the exam can definitely help you be amongst those who pass on their first try, which will save you money in the long run.

4. Join a real estate brokerage

Once you’re completed your coursework and exam requirements, you’re ready to find a sponsoring brokerage and continue working towards completing your licensing. New real estate agents must work with a qualified brokerage. You can’t simply begin working as an independent real estate agent right out of the gate.  Plus, having a brokerage on your side can give you the necessary help as you learn the ropes of the industry.

Brokerages will want to interview you before making you a part of their team. This interview process is also for you to ensure that you join the right real estate brokerage that meets your needs and can help you achieve your career goals.

There are a couple of different ways brokerages earn money from having real estate agents on their team. One of the most common ways is through a desk fee. Realtors that are a part of the brokerage must pay a regular fee to the brokerage to be a part of the team. Generally, this also means you get desk space and access to office materials at the brokerage’s office but with so many people working mobile these days, a desk fee is more of a name that has stuck through the years than an actual fee for renting a desk.

Another way that brokerages earn money from their agents is through commission sharing. When you help a client buy a home or sell their home then you earn a percentage commission on the transaction. Brokerages may claim a portion of your commission and the percentages can vary depending on the brokerage in question.

Finally, you may find some brokerages that have both a desk fee and a commission sharing plan. These brokerages can charge a higher desk fee and lower commission or the other way around. Depending on your sales volume and the cost of the desk fee, you may want to shop around for the payment structure that you feel will best suit your needs.

It should also be noted that searching for a brokerage doesn’t have to wait until you have completed the exam. Some brokerages may appreciate that you are beginning the search for the right brokerage even while you are still in real estate school. Don’t be afraid to start reaching out to real estate brokerages early and moving this step higher in the process of becoming a real estate agent.

5. Submit licensing paperwork

Once a brokerage has agreed to sponsor you and bring you onto their team then you’re ready to submit your licensing paperwork. This is typically when the actual background check process is completed and there are several fees you may need to pay to complete your application process. Typically, at a minimum, you can expect to pay an application fee as well as a background check fee. These two fees combined can cost several hundred dollars depending on which state you are becoming licensed in.

If you are on a budget, you may want to see if your brokerage has any capacity to help pay licensing fees upfront until you begin bringing in business and making sales. This is not a guarantee but it doesn’t hurt to ask if you feel this would be helpful. In any case, these fees are required and they are the final step to actually becoming a licensed real estate agent.

6. Start working as a real estate agent

You’ve put in a lot of hours studying, writing exams, and interviewing with brokerages. However, the work is only just beginning. Once you are a licensed real estate agent, you have to spend time marketing yourself and growing a healthy base of clients. Since real estate is based on commission, you need to start helping clients buy and sell homes to begin earning a living.

This is where it’s great being a part of a brokerage as you can partner with more experienced agents to learn from them, take part in joint marketing efforts, and build your own personal brand on top of the brokerage’s brand. Attending events in your area is a great way to get your name out there but it’s also important to consider things like building a personal website, buying advertising, and even sponsoring events to help make your name the one that people think of when they are looking to buy and sell.

It’s an ongoing process to build a successful career in real estate but, now that you’re licensed, you’re free to put your entrepreneurial ideas to work.

The best real estate school for you

There are a number of real estate schools you can consider when starting your journey. Here are a few schools that you may want to look into as you begin comparing options.

Colibri Real Estate

Colibri Real Estate (formerly Real Estate Express) is one of the most popular real estate schools in the nation, and they provide all of the necessary real estate courses based on your state. In addition to a great coursework plan, Colibri Real Estate has a comprehensive exam prep offering to help you ace your licensing exam and become a licensed real estate agent. Their costs are among the highest of all the real estate schools, but they back up their higher costs with exceptional support and materials, including a guarantee that you will pass your exam, or else you get your money back. Many state requirements are covered by Colibri, and they are one of the most reputable companies available for your real estate courses. Simply reading online reviews from previous students will show why Colibri Real Estate is one of the top-recommended options for real estate schools.


Mbition provides real estate classes to meet the needs of students in many different states. Their pricing is very competitive with other online real estate schools which makes them a very popular choice for students who are on a budget but still want some of the best course materials in the industry. Perhaps their best-known features are their networking and exam prep offerings. Since networking is such an important part of building a successful real estate career, this should be an important consideration when choosing a real estate school. Depending on your state, you can expect to pay as little as $150 for real estate courses through Mbition. Even though learning is done online, students can still take part in group learning sessions to get a more authentic classroom experience.

Kaplan Real Estate Education

Kaplan Real Estate Education logo

Kaplan Real Estate Education is another top recommended real estate school. The customization of their packages is perhaps their best feature with students being able to build the learning and study plan that best suits their needs. This is also great for students on a budget who also just want the basic coursework materials but are willing to do the exam prep and studying on their own without paying for additional exam prep classes. Of course, students who want those extras can customize their learning plan and pay for what they need to ensure success. Their live online classrooms provide an authentic experience for students who don’t want to do all of their classwork in a self-directed online setting. The only major downside with choosing Kaplan is its dated platform that makes it less user-friendly than some of the other options in the industry.

Check out the best real estate schools near you: