How to Become a Licensed Real Estate Agent In California

Helpful Tips


All The Steps

A career in real estate can be rewarding, exciting, frustrating, and emotional.  It has the possibility to bring financial independence into your life and on the flip side, leave you flat broke. For better or worse, a career in real estate most likely means you will be owner and employee in a business. 

As owner, you are responsible for the success of the business. There are many factors to consider when thinking of a career change into the real estate field. You have to consider the time to take the courses, pass the test, and then pay for the fees to enter into the marketplace.  As an agent who has entered the market place three times and failed my first two attempts, I hope to shed light into a career in real estate. 

Courses and the Test

First and foremost, you will need to complete your classes and pass the CA real estate exam.  At the time of this writing in late 2019, you will need a total of 135 hours of BRE approved curriculum.  Depending on your learning preference, you can take courses online, or at a local community college or CSU.  Many of us with busy lives will opt for online courses.  I did the online courses through this website.

Things to consider while taking these courses; much of what you learn will be the legal aspects of real estate and your duty to clients. While it is very important to learn this content, it holds very little to what you will actually be doing as a real estate agent on a day to day basis. 

Gearing up for the test. 

The test may seem like a very daunting obstacle to overcome in this process to becoming an agent. There are many test prep courses and options. Some are online test taking and review, and others can last an entire weekend and cover all material. This goes back to your way of learning.  Some may opt for just online review consisting of test questions. Others may want a full review in class with an instructor. I opted to do an online review with practice tests.  

Finding a Brokerage

You passed the test!  Now you’re ready to go out into the marketplace and make your claim, right?  Close.  The CA DRE has now issued you a license to do business with, but you need it endorsed by a broker.  This is a crucial part to your business.  As a new agent, you need to interview multiple brokerages to see how their culture, training and support systems will help you.  Not all brokerages are equal and they all have different commission splits, requirements and support. 

Last note on brokerages, you can negotiate your commission splits.  I wouldn’t go overboard with it, as most standard splits are 80/20 or 70/30, and some brokerages have CAP amounts at a certain point of commission, so you can keep all your commission after you’ve paid into the brokerage.  Splits aren’t a bad thing.  The money goes into the brokerage that is taking a risk doing business with you, providing overhead, a way to brand and  some give training to help make you a better agent.

Now you are ready to go sell all the houses, right?  Nearly there.  You need to be a member in your local association of Realtors.  This can be, and usually is a substantial amount, but is required if you will be doing any transactions.  It sets up a couple of services for you.  It allows you access to the local MLS to view and input inventory and market statistics.  Second, it gives access to a lockbox service so you can get into other agent’s listings and they can get into yours.  Last, it gives you access to the California Association of Realtors and with that comes access to all the contracts needed to do business here in California.

Costs and Fees

Let’s take a look at what it takes to get to this point where you are ready to start doing business.I have been in three different markets here in California, and this is a close estimation of what a new agent may be paying  when entering the market. 

  • The test is a total of $305 for the first exam and license if you pass.
  • Plus the livescan background check, which is about $45. 
  • The courses run $288 and up, plus any pre-test prep. 
  • Local association fees range from about $1100 to $2000 annually where I currently am.  This also includes the key fee and MLS access. 
  • After that, expect to pay the brokerage a monthly fee for desk space, or in my case the technology and marketing. 
  • Plus some brokerages ask for an initiation fee, which could be several hundred dollars. 
  • I would budget for at least $3000 to just to get your feet in the door. 

Are we finally ready to go sell your first home?  Yes, you are finally an agent ready to hit the pavement and get your first listing.  How do you do that?  Nowhere during the courses and test did it actually tell you how to find business or brand yourself. 

First Days in the Business

Through the first few months of your career, vendors and marketing agencies come out of the woodwork to get you to sign up with their service “to get you leads”.  Getting nickeled and dimed out of the gate is something I chose not to do.  I stuck with basics: door knocking, cold calling, open houses, and some mailers.  Lots of long hours, but I have kept my overhead low for the time being.  Once you start making a profit, then start looking into spending more in your budget for these things.  You’re open for business and you need to let as many people know that as many times as possible.  Unless you come into the business with people ready to hand you business, the first year is very difficult and hard to predict.  It will test your resilience and will power. 

For the first few months of your career in real estate, you should be holding as many open houses, door knocking, contacting people you know and practicing real estate scripts.  Scripts are usually thought of in a negative light, but if you are new in this business, you probably don’t know the language.  Start practicing with other agents before you practice with potential clients.  These are some of the easier tasks to get a baseline on.  Most agents will start working with buyers as first clients, and open houses, I believe are one of the best ways to find them.   

Early Marketing

For the marketing and branding, now is the time to keep it simple.  Nothing over the top, don’t be spending money here until you know you are able to.  I’ve seen many agents, new and experienced, spend too much time in this process of making marketing materials and branding.  I’ve been in it too.  Prospecting and actually getting business is a much more predictable way to operate.  Simple flyers, monthly newsletters, neighborhood stats, are all very simple and a way to get your face in front of people.  Remember, once it leaves your hands, it will usually end up in the trash once it has been seen.   

Make the best use of social media.  Facebook pages, instagram and Linkedin are free ways to connect and start branding yourself as an agent.  Once you get going, you can easily budget in ads within these platforms to generate an audience and gather leads.  Canva.com is a great way to generate marketing material and make designs. 

Being Self-Employed and the Job

Another part of this business is, as hard as this gets, it is easy to give yourself breaks and slack.  No one is telling you what to do, or what time to be in the office, or giving you a schedule.  You know what else they aren’t giving you?  A paycheck.  The check is something you will have to generate through your efforts in the field.  My advice on this is to get someone who is NOT financially or emotionally tied to you, and share what activities you are completing on a daily basis to get to your goals.  Many call this an “accountabili-buddy”. 

What you are getting into is a sales job that requires constant and consistent prospecting in order to grow.  If you fear the phone, prospecting, or rejection, you either need to find a strategy to overcome that as I mentioned above, or rethink this business.  The proper handling of contracts is what keeps the business funded and that is what you as a business owner needs to handle.  On the flip side of that, you as the employee, your job is to find your business through lead generation that works for you.

Last Thoughts

Understand that I love this business.  Even though it has been and continues to be a challenge.  In my market, homes are so unique and there are very few areas of mass tract homes.  It is hard, and I find that many new agents fail to grasp to intensity needed to gain traction in this business.  The place I see a lot of new agents is in the perfection loop.  They want everything perfect before they get out there.  It’s better to get out there first, make the mistakes, fix it, and try again.  Understanding the beginning is a lot of trial and error, will put you ahead of the curve pretty quick.  If you have the work ethic, willing to sacrifice and are willing to learn, a career in real estate can be very rewarding.

If you have more questions about my market, or my brokerage, feel free to email me.

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RE Agents Team