How to Get Your California Real Estate License


Are you thinking about becoming a real estate agent in California? Step one 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.

How Do You Get a California Real Estate License?

Before you start down the road to becoming an agent, you need to:

If you meet these basic criteria, then there are five main steps to getting your California Real Estate Salesperson License:

  1. Complete 135 hours of pre-licensing coursework from an approved provider
  2. Apply to take the licensing exam by sending in your course transcripts and fees
  3. Pass the licensing exam
  4. Get fingerprinted by the DOJ's Live Scan Program
  5. Submit your license application and send in the required fees

We'll go into detail on all these steps below.  But the exact requirements can change at any time.  You check the California Department of Real Estate (DRE) website for the latest information.

What is the Combined Application and Do I Want It?

The DRE provides two different paths for turning in your paperwork. Either you submit the Exam and License Applications for separate processing, or you submit them at the same time. The paths look like this:

Separate Exam + License Application Process

  • Complete required coursework
  • Submit the Salesperson Examination Application with exam fee
  • Wait 4-8 weeks for the DRE to qualify you for the exam (allow you to schedule it)
  • Schedule, take, and pass the exam
  • Get DOJ Live Scan fingerprinted for a fee
  • Submit Form RE435 for License ONLY with the license fee
  • Wait 4-8 weeks for the DRE to approve your license
  • Get to work

Combined Exam/License Application Process

  • Complete required coursework
  • Submit Form RE435 for Exam AND License with both fees
  • Wait 4-8 weeks for the DRE to qualify you for the exam (allow you to schedule it)
  • Get DOJ Live Scan fingerprinted for a fee
  • Schedule, take, and pass the exam
  • Get your license issued immediately at the exam site (as long as everything else has cleared)
  • Get to work

It's a money/time balance and one you'll have to consider for yourself.  The combined application will be faster by 4-8 weeks, but it requires more money up front. So if you're in a hurry and money's not a concern, the combo application is the way to go. If you're cash-strapped and willing to wait, separate applications might be best.

How Much Does It Cost?

First, you'll need to pay for your pre-licensing coursework and exam prep.  With online coursework, that can be as low as $89 (or $131 with exam prep).  If you opt to take your courses from a state university, tuition will 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. With coursework and exams, you'll be at least $443 out of pocket.

How Long Does It Take?

The length of the process can vary, but generally speaking:

  • Coursework: no less than 54 consecutive days (by CA regulation), but it can take 6 months if you're only studying part-time
  • Application Processing: 4-16 weeks, depending on processing time and whether you choose combined or separate applications
  • Exam Scheduling: you can take a test within days of permission or you can wait; you have up to two years
  • Fingerprinting: if you reside in CA, it should be 3-7 days; if you're out-of-state, hard fingerprinting can take weeks

So the minimum realistic time frame is three months.

What Pre-Licensing Courses Do You Need?

The DRE requires 135 hours of coursework in three subjects:

  1. Real Estate Principles
  2. Real Estate Practice
  3. An elective of your choosing from this list:

If you're not sure what to take, we recommend Real Estate Finance. We have a pre-licensing bundle that will bring your course fees way down.

How Do You Sign Up for the Pre-Licensing Exam?

Whether you submit a combined or exam-only application, you'll need to do the following:

  • Submit the required paperwork, course transcript(s), and fees by mail
    • You can pay by cashier's check, personal check, money order, or credit card
    • Credit card payments require a separate form
    • To get processed faster, check the box to self-schedule on eLicensing (this also gives you more control over your exam date)
    • Submitting by fax is only an option for the standalone exam application and the credit card form
  • Expect to wait around 6 weeks for application processing
    • Check the current processing time frames, updated weekly online
    • Confirm that they received your application by checking payment status
    • When you're authorized to schedule yourself, they'll send an email
  • Schedule your exam. You can sign up as late as 6 am on the day of the exam but signing up earlier is best. You can look up the list of exam dates here.

What is the Pre-Licensing Exam Like?

The general format of the exam will be:

  • 150 multiple-choice questions
  • Covering seven subject areas
  • Conducted electronically (on equipment they provide)
  • You have a time limit of 3 hours and 15 minutes to finish
  • You need 70% or higher to pass the exam
  • You can find exam prep courses to guide your studying

You'll need to make sure you arrive at the right place, at the right time.

  • You may need to plan for travel; exams are only conducted in five places (Fresno, San Diego, La Palma, Oakland, and Sacramento)
  • Exams usually start at 8:30 am or 1 pm
  • Arrive 30 minutes early to be safe—if you're late, they'll shut you out
  • You MUST bring an acceptable form of photo ID, issued within the past 5 years:
    • Current driver's license, OR
    • DMV identification card, OR
    • Passport (U.S. or foreign), OR
    • S. Military identification card
  • Leave EVERYTHING else at home or in your car
    • You'll have to leave electronics, keys, or bags in a potentially unsecured area
    • Food and drink aren't allowed
    • You can't have your phone (not even during breaks)
    • You don't need a pen, and they will provide a basic calculator
    • Watches, lapel pins, tie tacks, and hats/caps are not allowed

What Happens If You Fail?

You'll find out right away. They'll tell you the score in each subject area, so you know where to focus your studies. You can sign up to re-take the exam as many times as you need within 2 years of your application filing date.  After that, you'll have to file and pay the fee again.

Bottom Line

You can take the first step by starting your California pre-licensing courses right now.  You don't have to rearrange your life to make it to a classroom. With our online courses, you can prepare for your next career around your current schedule.  And once you earn your license, we can help with your continuing education requirements as well!

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