California Real Estate License Guide

Quick Facts

california department of real estate logo

California Real Estate Governing Body:

California Department of Real Estate

PreLicensing Requirements:

135 Hours

СЕ Requirements:

45 Hours

Read more below

How to Get a California Real Estate License

Thinking about becoming a real agent in the state of California? We don’t blame you, the real estate out here is unmatched! You could make someone’s dream come true if you help them settle into their perfect home in the Hollywood hills. However, before you start running open houses or calling clients, you need to be a certified real estate agent. Well get ready because we are going to rattle off the steps you need to take to ensure that getting your license doesn’t become a burden.

Licensing for real estate is overseen by the California Department of Real Estate (DRE). They make sure all real estate agents in the state hold active licenses, know what they are doing, and that they can be trusted to follow rules and regulation. They are also the suit-wearing folks that determine the criteria for real estate agents in California. You don’t want to get on their bad side. 

Step 1: Know The Requirements

First, you need to understand what you’re getting into.

These are just the normal, everyday requirements that DRE sets. They are pretty simple and straightforward, so don’t fret you’ll fly through this easily. 

To apply for a California Real Estate License:

  1. You must be at least 18 years of age 
  2. You must be a US citizen 
  3. You must reside in California (You should know that there are special procedures for non-California residents to get licensed)
  4. You must ensure that your application is accurate and truthful. This means all information provided must be correct and up to date. If you have a criminal record of any kind or felony no matter how trivial, you must reveal it. If not, this may get your license denied and damage your future opportunity to get a license.

If you don’t have a criminal record, an arrest warrant, or unpaid fines then this process will move very quickly. 

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

Step 2: Sign Up For And Complete 135 Hours Of The Required Pre-licensing Course 

woman studying on computerNext, you have to take a pre-licensing course that will go over all things real estate. The courses will teach you about real estate transactions, state specific laws you must keep in mind, and will even go over real estate math in a nutshell. 

The courses are to be done via a regionally accredited real estate school. 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 tons of online courses that allow you to listen to your courses on the go, or whenever you have free time. With this option, you won’t have to go through the stress of attending classes to get your license.

In order to satisfy the requirements, you’ll need to take these courses:

  1. Real Estate Principles (mandatory)
  2. Real Estate Practice (mandatory)
  3. And one elective of the following 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

small group of students studyingPre-licensing Course Exemptions

Some folks don’t have to go take prelicensing 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 are able to 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 part.

Step 3: Apply For Your Salesperson Exam/License Application

man with for sale signThis is when you’ll have to submit your fingerprints for a background check. 

Once you have completed your required education, you can 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. 

You also have to submit your fingerprints, especially if you are a first-timer. Don’t worry, the fingerprints are just for DRE to confirm that your records are accurate. 

To save time and hard-earned cash, you can apply for a combined exam and licensing application 📝. This will make sure that you have specific dates on what steps you need to take next. 

Step 4: Take the California Salesperson License Exam

shaking handsThis is the actual exam part. You’ve read, listened, and studied. This is where you show DRE that you actually understand the nitty-gritty details of how real estate transactions work in the state of California. 

There is one thing to note though: You must score at least a 70%. The good news is that your licensing fee will last for two years. That means you don’t have to take the exam right away. Once you apply, you’ll have two years to take the exam before your fee will expire.

The exams can be tough, 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. 

Just remember to bring a valid photo ID and exam admittance form to your exam location.

Step 5: Wait For Your License In The Mail

signing contractYou’ve passed, now crack open a cold one, or take your friends out for a nice little celebration because you deserve it.

In the meantime, you must start looking into where you want to work. DRE doesn’t permit independent brokers. This is because they want real estate agents to be held to high ethical and professional standards. So, 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 needed experience, they will help walk you through the local market, show you how to make your first transaction, and let you know important business secrets. If you choose wisely, they can help you along the way to make sure you’re building a formidable portfolio 💼.

You can begin looking for brokerages you like, whose goals align with yours, and whose work environment matches your energy.  

How To Choose A Broker

pexels-karolina-grabowska-4968651You know you can choose any broker. They can be a digital brokerage or a brick and mortar, but there are several things to consider when trying to decide which is the right fit for you. 

  • Training – Since you are just starting out, you will want to look into what training opportunities are available. Some companies put more emphasis on training and can provide a mentor program, or have 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 what each company offers and decide how much hands on training you’d like to get from your brokerage. 
  • Comp PlanIt’s simple, you want to make money. Look into the commission splits each brokerage provides. A 60/40 split is common, and so is a 70/30 split. However, each company is setup in a different way. 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 have access to a CRM, while others include access to those tools in the commission splits.
  • Company’s History, Reputation and Work EnvironmentA good company will have a reputation for being fair and honest to their agents. Look at retention rates, and see if there seems to be a mass exodus before committing to a brokerage. Also, ask around in your community. A good company will also employ agents who make their clients happy.

Check out our guide below to see how we’ve rated the top real estate schools in California. We’ve looked at each school in detail, and have the most accurate and up to date rankings for you to get started. Don’t forget to have the best career ever 📈.

Compare California Real Estate Schools

aa-trophy-smallWant to see the full, in depth editor reviews for each school? Check out our 100% free guide to the best real estate schools in California (includes the latest 2021 pricing, reviews, pass rates, and more).


Here’s the quick take:

School Reviews Editor's Score Pricing
real estate u logo
  • full star
  • full star
  • full star
  • full star
  • full star

based on 56 reviews

A $
The CE Shop
  • full star
  • full star
  • full star
  • half star
  • full star

based on 83 reviews

A- $$
aceableagent logo
  • full star
  • full star
  • full star
  • full star
  • full star

based on 56 reviews

C $$$
ca realty training logo
CA Realty Training
  • full star
  • full star
  • full star
  • full star
  • half star

based on 15 reviews

B $$$
kaplan logo
Kaplan Real Estate Education
  • full star
  • full star
  • full star
  • full star
  • full star

based on 39 reviews

B- $$$
Real Estate Express
  • full star
  • full star
  • full star
  • half star
  • full star

based on 83 reviews

A+ $$

California Real Estate Licensing FAQs

man studying for licensing examCalifornia pre-licensing courses are required by the state 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 70 percent of the examination itself – so it’d be wise to pay attention to the course content to make sure you’ll pass.

The cost per license for a real estate agent in California is $245 annually, as well as 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 chance of passing the state real estate exam.

classroom setting with studentsThere 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.

So, 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.

The average real estate agent in California makes $74,140. The top 90% can earn as much as $123,700. However, there are many agents who are earning more than this amount because of the competitive real estate market across the state.

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

DRE is basically the one stop shop when it comes to real estate licensing in California. They control everything from how to get your license, to maintaining your license, and help hold 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, it’s not that hard.

California has one of the most rigorous requirements to become a real estate agent 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 own 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 if you’re prepared, it isn’t too bad. One requirement of becoming an agent is finding a brokerage – but it’s not too hard to find 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 business to last, find the support they’ll need, the prospecting they’ll need to do, etc. A “real life” what does it take to be successful would have been an important addition to real estate licensing school.”

zillow-flex-main photoNo, a college degree is not required 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. Any of the schools listed on this page will be able to help you fulfill this requirement.

Acceptable forms of ID 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, both 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, but 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 after having taken the exam only once.

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 even prepare with a prep course – which of course, is highly recommended. If you’re prepared through 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 someone who is licensed to help people buy, sell, or rent properties, both commercial and residential. A broker, on the other hand, is as much responsible for the oversight for the day to day operations of an agency as they are for sales. It requires more of an understanding and experience of the real estate industry than just a standard real estate sales license.

However, becoming a real estate broker associate with a qualified brokerage firm is generally considered to be 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. In other words – most brokerages are “qualified” to sponsor you. 

Think of this process of one where you are 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 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 who will be happy to 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? It’s simple.

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 Realtor has sworn a professional oath to put their clients’ interests first. This doesn’t mean a licensed real estate agent is unqualified or not professional– far from it. But the official license of a Realtor grants an agent the added qualification that home buyers actively look for. 

There are portions of the exam you’ll need to take that are more broad national questions, as well as testing your state-specific knowledge of California real estate.  Real estate law is particularly stringent in California and requires 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.  However, 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 if you want to bypass the national portion of the exam.

Being licensed as an employing broker in California indicates that you can choose to work independently or for a full-scale brokerage firm. Employing brokers typically don’t tend 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.