How to Become a Real Estate Agent in California
Are you thinking about becoming a real estate agent in California?
The first step is understanding what's required to start your career. The process can be a bit confusing to navigate. We'll walk you through exactly what you need to earn your California real estate license, below.
California 135 Hour Basic Salesperson Prelicense Package
Duration Hours: 135
Get required DRE-approved pre-license courses plus free real estate math practice.
Before you apply for your real estate license in California, you have to complete 135 hours of pre-license education with an approved provider. This DRE-approved Basic Package includes the 3 required courses, along with a free real estate math course for practice on the math piece of your state license exam. By the DRE's rules, you have to spend at least 18 days studying each course before taking the final. Your course finals...
General Requirements for Becoming a California Real Estate Agent
To be eligible for real estate licensing in California, you need to:
- Be at least 18 years old
- Have California residency or meet the out-of-state requirements
- Be willing to disclose any criminal convictions, violations, or disciplinary actions from your past.
The last one is key if you have any blemishes on your record. Certain infractions will bar you from a license, but so will lying about your criminal history on your application. Plus, you'll forfeit the application fee.
But if you're honest, you may be able to earn rehabilitation for licensing purposes.
The Steps to Obtain a Real Estate License in California
There are five main steps to getting your California Real Estate Salesperson License. There are actually two ways to go through the steps in California (the fast way and the slower way), which we'll explain later.
First, we'll go into detail on what each step requires. However, keep in mind that the exact requirements can change at any time. You should check the California Department of Real Estate (DRE) website for the latest information.
California 135 Hour Premium Salesperson Prelicense Package
Duration Hours: 135
Includes mandatory pre-license training, state license exam prep, and more!
The California Department of Real Estate (DRE) requires you to complete 135 hours of DRE-approved pre-license training and pass the state licensing exam in order to earn a California real estate license. As a DRE-approved online training provider, we developed this Premium Package to set the stage for success in your new career. You'll get the required pre-license courses, a full exam prep package to help you study and gauge your progress, and a free...
Step 1: Complete Your Pre-License Education
The DRE requires 135 hours of pre-licensing coursework from an approved pre-licensing course provider like us.
California's pre-licensing coursework is divided up into three 45-hour courses:
- Real Estate Principles (required)
- Real Estate Practice (required)
- An elective of your choosing from this list.
We recommend Real Estate Finance as your elective. In our experience, it's your best bet for license exam preparation.
Step 2: File Your Licensing Exam Application
Once you've completed your courses, you should apply to take the licensing exam.
You can submit the required paperwork, course transcript(s), and fees online, by mail, or by fax. They take a broad range of payment forms. Applying online with a credit card is the fastest.
- To speed things up and give you more control over your exam date, check the box to self-schedule on your exam application.
- Confirm that they received your application by checking your payment status.
- You can check the actual application processing time frames online, updated weekly.
Expect to wait around 6 weeks for application processing. They'll send a notice when you're authorized to schedule your exam.
Step 3: Pass the California Real Estate License Exam
While you're waiting for your exam application to process, it's a good idea to keep studying key concepts so you don't get rusty. Exam preparation courses can be helpful – ours include condensed study guides so you can focus on testable information, as well as unlimited practice tests with detailed feedback.
Courses are conducted electronically via test center computers with 150 multiple-choice questions covering seven subject areas.
You can sign up as late as 6 am on the day of the exam but signing up earlier is best. This is especially the case if you don't live near a testing center – exams are only conducted in five places (Fresno, San Diego, La Palma, Oakland, and Sacramento), so you may need to travel.
The testing centers are kind of fussy in their rules, so you should be careful to:
- Arrive early – if you're even a minute late, they'll shut you out.
- Bring a required form of photo ID (driver's license, DMV identification card, passport, or military ID) issued within the past 5 years.
- Leave EVERYTHING else at home or in your car. Calculator, phone, food, drink, everything.
You need a score of 70% or higher to pass the exam, and you'll find out your score right away.
If you don't pass, you can sign up to re-take the exam as many times as you need within 2 years of your application filing date. After two years, you'll have to file and pay the fee again.
Step 4: Get Fingerprinted for a Background Check
Sometime between your application for the exam and your license application, you need to get fingerprinted for a background check.
California uses the DOJ's Live Scan Program. If you can be physically in California, you can visit a third-party service provider. If not, you'll have to mail an FBI Applicant Fingerprint Card to the DRE. This process takes longer.
Step 5: Submit Your License Application
Finally, you'll submit your license application with the required fee.
If you have already found a sponsoring broker, they'll need to sign your application at this stage. Otherwise, you can get an inactive license.
You can check application processing times for better accuracy, but the average wait is another 6 weeks.
How Much Does It Cost to Get Your California Real Estate License?
All told, you'll be at least $454 out of pocket.
First, you'll need to pay for your pre-licensing coursework and exam prep. With online coursework, that can be as low as $100 (or $115 with exam prep). If you opt to take your courses from a state university, tuition could be in the thousands.
Application fees for an entry-level "salesperson" are:
- Examination Fee: $60
- License Fee: $245
- Fingerprint Fee: $49
The $49 fingerprint fee goes to the Live Scan service provider (unless you're out of state). The remaining $305 goes to the DRE.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Real Estate Agent in California?
The minimum time frame for most folks is 3-4 months (if you and the DRE both fly like the wind), but six months to a year is more realistic.
It depends on a few factors at each step.
By California regulation, your pre-license coursework can't be completed in less than 54 consecutive days – that's just shy of 8 weeks. The maximum would be however long your school gives you access to the course material (usually a year). Even if you're only studying 5-6 hours a week, though, you should be able to finish the coursework in 6 months.
Once you have permission to take the licensing exam, you can pass within as little as a few days. If you don't feel ready, you have up to two years from the licensing exam application date.
Processing your fingerprints and background check can usually be handled concurrently with other steps. Live Scan turns around in 3-7 days, but if you have to use hard fingerprinting, the process could take weeks so get started as early as possible.
The part that's the most out of your control is application processing. Processing each application you submit can take the DRE between 4 to 8 weeks – it depends on the volume of applications received. You won't know the estimate until you turn the application in, at which point you can check the DRE's website for likely processing time.
The steps described above are the traditional application path, where you submit your exam and license applications separately. There's an alternative process that can shave up to two months off your journey because the DRE only has to process one application instead of two.
It's called the Combined Application.
Should You Do the Combined Application for Your California Real Estate License?
It's a personal decision. The combined application process will save you a month or two, but it also requires more money up front.
In the normal process, you pay out the $60 exam fee first, then the $245 license fee and $49 fingerprinting fee can wait until after you've got a passing grade.
In the combined application, you shell out $305 in application fees before the exam. Your fingerprinting fee can be incurred before or after the exam – if you pass the background check beforehand, it's possible to get your license issued immediately at the exam site.
The traditional process will be more manageable if your budget is tight, and the combined application also introduces an element of risk. If you fail to pass the exam or have a change in life circumstances during that time, you'll forfeit between two and three hundred dollars of money you might not have spent if you'd chosen the separate applications.
If you're determined to earn your real estate license in California and your financial, health, or family situation is unlikely to change in the meantime, there's no reason you can't eventually pass the test. California gives you unlimited tries over a two-year time span, and unlike other states, there's no additional fee for subsequent attempts.
For some people, though, minimizing their upfront investment with separate exam and license applications will make more sense.
Start Your California Real Estate Licensing Journey Today!
You can take the first step by starting your California pre-licensing courses right now. With our online courses, you don't have to rearrange your life to make it to a classroom. Preparation for your next career can be arranged around your current schedule and from the comfort of your own home.