How to Get a California Real Estate License

Chris Heller HeadshotChris Heller, Licensed California Agent9/26/2022
california department of real estate logo

Getting your California real estate license can seem intimidating, but it’s really not that hard once you know what to do. We’ve broken down everything you need to know here including costs, timing, eligibility, and earning potential. Just follow these simple steps to get your California real estate license and start selling real estate ASAP.

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Step 1: Take a Real Estate Course

In California, you must take 135-hours of a pre-licensing course. Don't worry though, there are lots of options, including many that are online.
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Step 2: Submit your California Real Estate License Application

At this stage, you will also have to submit your fingerprints for a background check. This process if for DRE to confirm that your records are accurate.
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Step 3: Take the Real Estate Exam in California

Exam is 3 hours and consists of 150 multiple-choice questions. Each attempt must be accompanied by a new application and a non-refundable fee of $60.
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Step 4: Find a Real Estate Broker in California

Begin by looking for brokerages you like, whose goals align with yours, and whose work environment matches your energy. You should also take commission splits and fees into consideration.
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4 Steps to Get Your Real Estate License in California

Step-By-Step Guide to Become a Real Estate Agent in California

Are you wondering how to become a real estate agent in California? We don’t blame you; the real estate out here is unmatched! However, if you’d like to start holding open houses or calling clients, you’ll need to get your California real estate license

Real estate licensing is overseen by the California Department of Real Estate (DRE). This agency makes sure all real estate agents in the state hold active licenses, know what they are doing, and can be trusted to follow the rules and regulations. These are the suit-wearing folks that determine the criteria for becoming a real estate agent in California. So, you’ll want to stay on their good side!

Step 1: Take 135 Hour Pre-Licensing Course

woman studying on computer

This course is broken down into three parts that are designed to teach you about real estate transactions, state specific laws you must keep in mind, and the basis of real estate math.

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The courses are available through several  regionally accredited real estate schools. The good news is you don’t have to go through the pain of sitting in a physical classroom if you don’t want to; there are a ton of online courses that allow you to listen to your lessons on the go, or whenever you have free time. Check out the best real estate schools in California

To satisfy the 135 hour course requirements, you’ll need to take these classes:

  1. Real Estate Principles (mandatory)
  2. Real Estate Practice (mandatory)
  3. One of the following elective courses: 
    • General Accounting
    • Business Law
    • Common Interest Developments
    • Escrows
    • Legal Aspects of Real Estate
    • Mortgage Loan Brokering & Lending
    • Property Management
    • Real Estate Appraisal
    • Real Estate Economics
    • Real Estate Finance
    • Real Estate Office Administration

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Pre-licensing Course Exemptions

woman studyingIt is not required for everyone to take pre-licensing courses. It’s rare, but if you qualify for any of the following, you are not required to do the coursework:

  • Members of the California State Bar are exempt from the real estate course requirements. Simply show proof that you can practice law in the state.
  • Applicants who can submit evidence of completing the eight statutory college-level courses required for the broker examination can skip this work.

Step 2: Fill Out Your California Realtor Exam/License Application

small group of students studyingAt this stage, you will have to submit your fingerprints for a background check. This process if for DRE to confirm that your records are accurate. 

Once you have completed your required education, you may apply for your license exam. Beware – you will still have to sign a few forms and there may be a couple of extra fees you’ll have to pay as well. 

To save time and money, you can apply for a combined exam and licensing application 📝. Doing this will ensure you’ll have specifics on the next-steps and what date you’ll need to have them completed. 

Step 3: Pass the California Real Estate Salesperson Exam

Happy woman studying and smilingThis is when you will take the actual exam. By this point, you’ve been reading up on the topics, listening to the course lectures, and studying. You now have the opportunity to show DRE that you genuinely understand the details of how real estate transactions work in the state of California. 

You must score at least a 70% on the exam to pass. However, it’s important to note that your licensing fee lasts for two years – this means you don’t have to take the exam immediately. Once you apply, you’ll have two years to take the exam before your fee expires.

The exam can be challenging, but most exams have a pattern. With just a little bit of studying, and some practice exams under your belt, no doubt you’ll breeze through this. 

On the day of your test, remember to bring a valid photo I.D. and exam admittance form to your testing location.

Step 4: Find a CA Real Estate Broker to Sponsor You

studying for licensing examThis is the most rewarding step of all; you’ve passed! It’s now time to crack open a cold one, or take your friends out for a nice little celebration – you deserve it.

In the meantime, you should start looking into what brokerage you want to work for. The DRE requires real estate agents to be held to high ethical and professional standards, so you have to find a sponsoring broker. You’ll want to start asking questions and looking into what kind of brokerage will best suit your needs.

Because sponsoring brokers have built up the necessary experience, they will help walk you through the local market, show you how to make your first transaction, and let you in on critical business secrets.

Begin by looking for brokerages you like, whose goals align with yours, and whose work environment matches your energy.  

California real estate license requirements as per DRE

man studying for licensing examThese are just the standard, everyday requirements that DRE sets. They are simple and straightforward, so don’t fret – you’ll fly through this quickly. 

To apply for a California Real Estate License:

  1. You must be at least 18 years old
  2. You must be a U.S. citizen
  3. You must reside in California (there are special procedures for non-California residents to get licensed)
  4. You must ensure that your application is accurate and truthful, meaning all information provided must be correct and up to date. If you have a criminal record of any kind or felony, you must reveal it,  no matter how trivial. If you don’t, you may have your license application denied and damage any future opportunities to get a license. 

If you have a criminal record, there are still some circumstances where you can get a real estate license in California.

Step 5: How To Choose a Broker

Students studying in group settingYou can choose any broker, be it a digital brokerage or a brick-and-mortar location, but there are several things to consider when trying to decide which is the right fit for you:

  • Training – Since you are just starting your career, you will want to investigate available training opportunities. Some companies put more emphasis on training than others and have a mentor program, or a video library that you can gain access to. Others, however, have more of a sink or swim mentality. It’s best to look into each company’s offerings and decide how much hands-on training you’d like to get from your brokerage. 
  • Comp Plan – The entire point of this process is to make money; consider the commission split each brokerage provides to see how much you get to take home. It’s simple, you want to make money. Look into the commission splits each brokerage provides. A 60/40 split is typical as is a 70/30 split, but each company is setup in a differently. Some will give you more in commission, but you may have to pay more in fees – ask questions to see what is included. For example, certain brokerages make you pay to access a CRM, while others include access to those tools in the commission splits.
  • Company’s History, Reputation and Work Environment – A good company will have a reputation for being fair and honest to its agents. Look at retention rates and see if there has been a mass exodus before committing to a brokerage. Ask around in your community as well. A good company will also employ agents who make their clients happy.

What is the cost of getting a real estate license in California?


The cost for a real estate agent license in California is $245 annually, with a $60 examination fee in addition to the cost of the preliminary course requirements as listed above.  The pre-licensing courses range wildly in price – from $99 to $500 if you’re taking the course online. When you’re budgeting for the new career, be sure to include the cost of a test prep course – it can significantly improve your chances of passing the state real estate exam.

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How long does it take to become a licensed real estate agent in California?


Pre-licensing courses are required by California’s real estate commission to be 135 hours of “credit.”  The preliminary three-semester units should take approximately 135 hours. The exam itself is made up of 150 multiple choice questions given over three hours.

Keep in mind that the length of time is entirely contingent on passing a minimum of 70 percent of the examination itself – so it’d be wise to pay attention to the course content to make sure you’ll pass.

How much does a real estate agent make in California?


California’s average real estate agent makes $76,750, and the top 90% can earn as much as $123,700. This breaks down to about $36.90/hour, which is significantly higher than the national average. However, many agents are earning even more than $76k because of the competitive real estate market across the state.

California Real Estate License FAQs

classroom setting with studentsYour test may have some questions that your courses did not prepare you for. There might be tricky sections that you are unsure how to answer, or you may become overwhelmed and stressed out – which sets the tone for the entire test-taking session. There are some things on the test your courses may not have prepared you for. There may be tricky questions that you are not sure how to answer. You may become lost and stressed out which will set the tone for the entire test taking session.

To help, we’ve made a list of the top California real estate exam prep providers:

  1. PrepAgent – Gives you access to live online group webinars, e-books, online training tools, and thousands of state-specific practice questions.
  2. Kaplan – This is the highest rated – and most popular test prep in the state.
  3. Mbition – Known to help prepare students for the math portion of the licensing exam.
  4. Real Estate Exam Scholar – Provides affordable tests to help simulate the exam-taking. experience
  5. AceableAgent – This is the most convenient test prep. Students can access it on the go using a mobile app.
  6. Real Estate Express – Students can prepare for the exam by talking to agents who are already licensed and experienced.

california department of real estate logoThe California Department of Real Estate provides services and valuable online tools for consumers, businesses, and professional across the state. The DRE’s mission is to safeguard and promote interest in real estate through regulation and education.

The California’s real estate department is the one-stop shop when it comes to real estate licensing in California. They control everything from getting your license, maintaining your license, and holding real estate agents accountable.

Chris Heller Headshot

“The California Department of Real Estate is an agency that real estate agents should get very familiar with. Everyone in the business must make sure they are keeping up with the state’s continuing education requirements, and are adhering to the real estate laws across California. The department really acts as a safeguard.” – Chris Heller, Former CEO of Keller Williams, San Diego, CA

There are 422,496 total licensed agents in California (including both Salespersons and Brokers) as of 10/27/2020.

Brokers react as Compass gobbles up GlideFor starting a brand-new career, the process to become a real estate agent isn’t that hard. 

Real estate license requirements in California has one of the most rigorous in the country. Depending on how fast of a learner you are, the 135 hours of courses can be taxing.  That said – you can complete the courses on your schedule, which helps make it a bit easier than being on someone else’s course schedule.

The state real estate exam is relatively difficult if you don’t take a test prep course first, but it isn’t too bad if you’re prepared. One requirement of becoming an agent is finding a brokerage – but finding one willing to take on new licensees isn’t particularly difficult.  In general, students who take a prep course before the final exam have a higher chance of passing on the first try.

Perspective from a real estate pro:

catherine-myers (1)Catherine Myers
Broker Associate in Walnut Creek, CA
Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Drysdale Properties

“It isn’t as easy as just obtaining the license, in fact that’s almost the easy part. What new licensees need to know is how to select a broker, how to get clients, engage their sphere, build a lasting business, find the support they’ll need, and the prospecting they’ll need to do, etc. A “real life” course on what it takes to be successful would be an important addition to real estate licensing school.”

zillow-flex-main photoThe CA real estate license requirements do not include a college degree. Therefore, you don’t need one to become a California real estate agent – you just need to make sure you’ve met all of the other requirements described on this page.

The California Department of Real Estate requires at least three college-level courses as part of your preliminary training for a real estate license. However, they do not need to be from an accredited college or university, and any of the schools listed on this page can help you fulfill this requirement.

Acceptable forms of I.D. for the real estate examination in California include a driver’s license or DMV identification card, a government-issued passport (including your country of birth), or a U.S. military-issued identification card.

It depends. California state law requires you to disclose any previous criminal conviction to the Department of Real Estate including misdemeanors and felonies. Failure to do so may result in the forfeiture of your real estate license. That said – a previous criminal conviction is not necessarily a bar to obtaining your real estate license. The California Department of Real Estate is your best resource to let you know if you’re eligible or not.

woman studying on computerThankfully, there’s no hard limit on the number of times you can take the California real estate license exam during a two-year period. Still, a good recommendation is to wait at least 18 days between each exam. Each attempt must be accompanied by a new application and a non-refundable fee of $60. 

While some agents indicate that it can take up to four times to pass the sales agent exam on average, much of it will depend on how prepared you are and how thorough your understanding is of the required preliminary courses. It’s certainly not unheard of for agents to have passed on their first attempt.

There are seven areas covered during the exam. Your pre-licensing course, along with a simple test prep course, should prepare you to succeed on the state real state exam. The seven pieces of the real estate exam are:

  • Property Ownership and Land Use Controls and Regulations,
  • Laws of Agency and Fiduciary Duties
  • Property Valuation and Financial Analysis
  • Financing
  • Transfer of Property
  • Real Estate Practice and Disclosure
  • Contracts

Roughly fifty percent of all people who take the California real estate examination complete it with a passing grade of 70 percent or more. That said, don’t let the state pass rate dissuade you. Many people don’t prepare with a prep course – which of course, is highly recommended. If you’ve trained with a prep course, you’ll be in much better shape to pass the state exam.

taking notes during classYes – and the difference is very important to understand.  A real estate agent is licensed to help people buy, sell, or rent properties, both commercial and residential. On the other hand, a broker is responsible for the oversight of the day to day operations of an agency. As they exist primarily for sales, it requires understanding and experience of the real estate industry than just a standard real estate sales license.

That said, becoming a real estate broker associate with a qualified brokerage firm is generally considered one of the most thorough and quickest ways to gain experience in property sales. This doesn’t necessarily mean it will be easy, but it will give you the confidence, knowledge, and tools necessary for success in real estate.

Finding a real estate brokerage to sponsor you as a recent licensee isn’t very difficult  – most brokerages are “qualified” to sponsor you. 

Think of the process as interviewing the broker to decide if you want to work there – not the other way around.  Use third-party informational resources like those available on AgentAdvice.com to help you make the right decision.

As you’re selecting a qualified real estate brokerage, make sure you choose one who excels in training new agents, and will show you the ropes of real estate sales.

real estate instructor teaching studentsIt’s a common misconception that a real estate agent is the same as a licensed Realtor. They aren’t – only an official membership in the National Association of Realtors gives you the right to call yourself a Realtor. Why is this designation so prestigious?

An agent is 100% licensed to sell properties – and if you earn a real estate license, this is entirely your right.  That said, most brokerages in California insist on the Realtor designation. A licensed California Realtor has sworn a professional oath to put their clients’ interests first. This doesn’t mean a licensed real estate agent is unqualified or unprofessional – far from it. But the official license of a Realtor grants an agent the added qualification that home buyers are actively looking for. 

There are portions of the exam you’ll need to take that are broad national questions, while others will test your state-specific knowledge of California real estate.  Real estate law is particularly stringent in California, ensuring that a successful agent will have a fair understanding of California-specific obligations, including conveyance, contracts, transactions, and deeds.

No. Only an official license in the state of California grants you the right to act as either an agent or broker in the real estate industry.

The only exception: if you’re an attorney who is barred in California, you may be able to just sit directly for the exam – no pre-licensing course needed.  To be sure, it’s a good idea to double-check with the California Department of Real Estate.

US map

California is known to be a fairly strict state, and therefore, does not offer reciprocity with other states. Those moving to the state or looking to obtain their real estate license in California will need to take and pass the state portion of the real estate exam. You must also have two years of real estate experience in another state to bypass the national part of the exam.

Being licensed as an employing broker in California indicates that you can work independently or for a full-scale brokerage firm. Employing brokers typically tend not to be salaried. Instead, each successful close will result in a commission-based fee – sometimes more than thirty percent of closing costs.  If you don’t have your license yet, you should be focusing on becoming a sales agent first.

Chris Heller Headshot

About the Author

Chris Heller is a licensed California agent who has built one of the most successful real estate teams in the United States. From his selection as Rookie of the Year in 1989, to being the top-producing agent in San Diego County and the #1 Keller Williams associate in all of North America, Chris has earned the respect of colleagues and clients for the exceptional results he delivers. For more than 32 years, Chris has succeeded in a highly competitive marketplace through his leadership, drive and ability to assemble and empower high-performing teams.

Last Updated: 9/26/2022

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