Can You Get a Real Estate License With a Felony on Your Record?

Career changes are complicated and stressful for everyone, but when you have less-than-clean record, they're even more daunting.

Getting your real estate license can be an appealing prospect – you'll work for yourself and have unlimited earning potential. On the other hand, it requires you to pass a screening process. After all, you'll be accessing people's homes, driving clients between showings, meeting in empty buildings, and handling large transactions. Clients want to be sure that they're are safe in your hands – personally and financially.

So, does a record automatically disqualify you from becoming a real estate agent? Can you be a real estate agent with a misdemeanor? Is real estate a felon-friendly job? How do you apply for a real estate license if you have a record?

Every state's licensing process is different for real estate agents, so you'll want to check the specifics of the rules where you live. Below, we'll give you the broad strokes for all states, then we'll examine how felons can earn a real estate license in Texas.

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What States Allow Felons To Have Real Estate License?

No states automatically disqualify people with past felonies or misdemeanors from earning a real estate license, but you have to apply for a waiver or approval from the state's real estate commission.

Most states require a fingerprint-based background check or criminal history report as part of your application. A few rely only on voluntary disclosure, but this is becoming increasingly rare.

In either case, if you lie or omit any infractions, you will definitely be rejected or have your license revoked later. If you're honest and provide evidence that you're rehabilitated, you have a chance at a long career as a real estate agent.

How Do You Earn a Real Estate License with a Felony or Misdemeanor?

Certain states won't even consider your application until a specific number of years have passed since your conviction or sentence completion.

In most cases, the wait between two and five years – including in Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Utah. In Alaska, it's a 7-year wait. In Massachusetts, it's 10 years for certain crimes, and in Oklahoma, it can be as long as twenty.

Once you've met any universal eligibility requirements, many states let you submit your documentation ahead of time before you begin the conventional application process. That saves you money, time, and trouble if you're denied.

Each case is judged individually by a review board. There are no hard-and-fast rules that will help you know for sure ahead of time, but some cases are more clear-cut than others.

The decision depends on your crime, to some degree. You'll find it hard to earn a waiver if you've committed a violent, sexual, or financial crimes. You're more likely to earn your real estate license if your crime was non-violent, not a threat to public safety, committed years ago, and you complied with all court mandates.

Aside from the specifics of your crime and compliance, they're looking for signs of reform and evidence that you're honest and trustworthy now. This is partially why any omission on your part can be so damaging.

If your application is denied, most states let you submit again later. If this is the case, you should focus time on demonstrating your fitness.

Can A Felon Get A Real Estate License In Texas?

Criminal offenses don't automatically disqualify you from having a real estate license in Texas. Applicants are evaluated on a case-by-case basis to determine whether they're fit to become a license holder.

The Texas Real Estate Commission (TREC) recommends that any potential applicant with doubts about their eligibility submit the documents for a Moral Character Determination before they start their coursework or application. This process costs $50, which is far less money than studying and applying for a real estate license – it's best to know up front.

TREC will take at least 30 days to review your paperwork. According TREC Rules 545.1(b-c), the commission will make their decision based on factors like:

  • The nature and seriousness of past criminal activity
  • How the crime relates to your ability to perform a real estate agent's duties
  • The age at which you committed the crime and the amount of time that has elapsed
  • Your conduct and work before and after the crime
  • Your compliance with the court-ordered terms and conditions
  • Evidence of rehabilitation
  • Evidence of your present fitness through letters of recommendation

Can I Get a Texas Real Estate License with a DUI?

Unfortunately, a felony involving driving while intoxicated (DWI) or driving under the influence (DUI) are considered a red flag crime.

That doesn't make it impossible, however. If you can prove that your drunk driving days are behind you, then you may be able to earn your license.

What Other Crimes Are Most Likely to Disqualify You from a Texas Real Estate License?

The crimes that are most likely to disqualify you are the ones that directly demonstrate you're unfit to perform the duties and responsibilities required by a real estate license. That includes the ability to represent someone else's interests with honesty, trustworthiness, and integrity.

In addition to DUI/DWI, this list includes:

  • The manufacture, delivery, or intent to deliver controlled substances
  • Crimes of moral turpitude, including fraud, misrepresentation, forgery, falsification of records, perjury, and paying or taking bribes, kickbacks, or illegal compensation
  • Offenses against someone else's real or personal property, against a person, or against public administration
  • The sale or disposition of someone else's real or personal property without legal authorization
  • Sexual offenses
  • Attempting, conspiring to commit, aiding, or abetting any of the above
  • Multiple violations, either of the same criminal statute or different statutes

What Shows Up on a Background Check?

It depends a bit on the type of background check, so look at the specifics of your state's real estate license application and state background check rules. Generally speaking, however, it may include:

  • Your basic information, including maiden names, aliases, and nicknames
  • Residential information going back 7-10 years
  • Felony, misdemeanor, and sex crime convictions from a certain period
  • Court records and arrests, including decrees, docket numbers, judgements, and orders
  • Incarceration records
  • Warrants and pending charges
  • Civil or federal tax liens
  • Civil or federal judgments
  • State or federal bankruptcies

Juvenile records and court-sealed documents usually will not appear on a criminal background check.

In some states, only convictions are included in a background check. In other words, the background check only shows resolved cases that ended in a guilty plea or conviction. Pending charges may still appear. This includes Alaska, California, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, and New York.

How Far Back Does a Real Estate Background Check Go?

The length of your background check depends on where you live and work. It's comprehensive or indefinite unless your state has a law imposing limits.

A number of states have a 7-year limit for criminal background checks, including California, Colorado, Nevada, and Texas. There are exceptions – the employer can go back further if you're applying for a job with a certain salary.  In California, employers can go back 10 years for salaries over $125k. In Colorado and Texas, the time limit doesn't apply for salaries over $75k.

A smaller number of jurisdictions, including the District of Columbia, allow background checks to go back 10 years.

Should You Disclose Things That Won't Show Up on Your Background Check?

Lying or omitting criminal violations will kill your career sooner or later, and these days, it's hard to keep your history a secret. The real estate commission may discover your omission by other means, or someone else may discover it and report you to the commission.

Erring on the side of disclosure may be the best bet.

What Happens Once You're Approved to Apply? 

Once you've passed the review board process and received permission to proceed in earning your license, you'll need to complete the same steps as everyone else. Generally, this involves required pre-licensing coursework, an application, and your licensing exam.

The amount of pre-licensing course hours varies by state. Texas requires 180 hours of coursework, and California requires 135 hours. Some states require much less, like Florida with 63 required hours.

We have commission-approved pre-licensing packages in many states. Our courses are online and self-paced, so you can study whenever and wherever you have the time. You can purchase the courses by themselves or bundle them with license exam prep for a better value. In states like Texas where pre-licensing course finals need to be proctored, we even offer on-demand online proctoring for your convenience.

Ready to get started? Register today and you can begin studying immediately!

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