(**) Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning our company, JCHQ Publishing will get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through the links, but at no additional cost to you.
To engage in the real estate practice in California, all individuals must obtain a sales associate or broker license from the California Department of Real Estate. This is the regulatory body that grants licenses to real estate agents and brokers, handles the real estate license renewal and regulate the industry.
To become a real estate agent in California, you must:
- Be at least 18 years old;
- Hold a high school diploma or higher;
- Complete the 135 hours of pre-licensing courses;
- Pass the California real estate salespersons exam;
- Submit an application and $245 fee to the California Department of Real Estate (DRE);
- Provider fingerprints to the State Department of Justice (DOJ);
- Work for a sponsoring broker
As a real estate agent in California, your role is to work with clients to buy or sell the right property according to their needs. You would be responsible for showing the property, bringing potential buyers to house tours, and handling the purchase and sale agreement.
Some agents may also help clients in searching for a rental property or lease out their units.
Since you are reading this guide, then you should have some interest in knowing about being a real estate agent in California.
You’ll learn about the step-by-step process to become a real estate agent in California, income updates, career outlook and FAQ about this profession.
But before we start, I want to give a brief disclaimer. This post is not intended as legal advice or state/federal real estate training. It is for general information only. Please always follow your State laws and best practices.
When choosing a real estate school, I prefer one where you could take the courses online. This way, you could study at your own pace whenever and wherever. The CE Shop is a trustworthy real estate education provider. You may click here to see whether they offer pre-licensing course in your state. (**)
6 Steps to Become a Real Estate Agent in California
Step 1: Meet the Eligibility Requirement
- At least 18 years of age
- Have a valid Social Security Number
- US Citizen or lawfully admitted alien
- Hold a high school diploma or higher
Step 2: Complete the Pre-Licensing Education
You need to complete 135 hours of pre-licensing courses from an approved education provider. The curriculum must include:
- Real Estate Principles (45 hours)
- Real Estate Practice (45 hours)
- An additional course (45 hours) from one of the following:
- Business Law
- Common Interest Developments
- Computer Applications in Real Estate
- Legal Aspects of Real Estate
- Mortgage Loan Brokering & Lending, Property Management
- Real Estate Appraisal
- Real Estate Economics
- Real Estate Finance and Real Estate Office Administration
Pre-licensing Education Exemptions: If you are a member of the California State Bar, then you may be exempted from taking these the pre-licensing education.
Step 3: Submit Application to the California Department of Real Estate
You need to complete the Salesperson Exam/License Application. (RE 435)
In addition to the application, you also need to provide.
- Exam fee of $60; License fee $245;
- Supporting legal documents
- Proof that you have fulfilled the pre-licensing education requirement
When you have prepared all the necessary documentation, you could mail them to the Department of Real Estate. P.O. Box 137001, Sacramento, CA95813-7001.
What Happens after the Application is Sent out?
It typically would take 6 weeks to process your application.
Once the Department approves your application, they will provide you with instructions to self-schedule the Real Estate Salesperson Examination. This can be done through their eLicensing online system.
Keep in mind you only have 2 years to pass the exam. Once it’s expired, you’ll need to re-submit the application and fee.
If you need any help on the registration, you could contact the DRE at 877-373-4542.
Don’t Forget to Provide Electronic Fingerprints
After you submit the application, you need to submit one set of fingerprints to the State Department of Justice (DOJ). It will be submitted electronically through the DOJ’s Live Scan Program. There will be a $49 processing fee. Here is more info.
Step 4: Pass the California Real Estate Salesperson Examination
This examination is to test your knowledge and understanding of real estate law, principle and practices, and mathematics.
They are typically administered in testing center located in Fresno, San Diego, Los Angeles Vicinity, Oakland and Sacramento. The test will be in electronic format.
At the day of the exam, you are required to show a valid photo ID which was issued within the past 5 years. (i.e.: State issued driver license, DMV identification card, U.S passport)
Here are some exam tips from the CA Department of Real Estate. I’ll also include more helpful details later in the post. So make sure to read on.
Step 5: Join a Real Estate Brokerage
Although you have applied for the real estate license, you still need a sponsoring broker to place your business with. Once you and your broker decide to work together, you need to fill out the Salesperson Change Application (RE 214)
Finding a good mentor is crucial at the initial stage of your real estate career. A thoughtful and experienced trainer could teach you a repeatable and systematic process in running your business profitably.
Step 6 : Maintain the Real Estate Salesperson License
You need to renew your real estate salesperson license every four years. The Department will also mail you a reminder letter approximately 60 days prior to the expiry date.
To do so, you’ll need to fill out the renewal application. Here’s the Salesperson Renewal Application.
In addition to the application, you must complete 45 hours of approved continuing education courses, which includes:
- Five classes (3 hours each): Agency, Ethics, Fair Housing, Risk Management, Trust Fund handling
- 18 hours of consumer protection classes
- The remaining course work could be related to consumer protection or consumer service courses
When you submit the application, you also need to provide $245 of renewal fee and the continuing education course verification form (RE 251).
A Quick Table Summary of Becoming a Real Estate Agent in California
|US Citizen or lawfully admitted alien|
At least 18 years of age
Have a valid Social Security Number
Hold a high school diploma or higher
|135 hours of pre-licensing course|
45 credit hours of continuing education every four year
140 multiple-choice questions
Required passing score is 70
|Pre-licensing courses from $85 to $315|
Exam fee $60
Background check $49
Application fee $245
Looking to succeed in the real estate industry? Subscribe to our exclusive email list today and gain access to expertly curated real estate guides from industry leaders, as well as discounted CE courses and the latest industry updates. From marketing strategies to virtual staging techniques, our handpicked resources cover everything you need to know to stay ahead of the game. Click here for more details!
Here’s a Snippet of What a Real Estate Agent Think about The Profession
“You can make your own hours, but you have to plan out your week in advance, so you have a work life balance”
– Lori James, Real Estate Agent at Real Living Real Estate
If you want to know what Lori and other real estate agents think about this career, here’s an article you must not miss: “Is Real Estate a Good Career?”
Here are more details about the California Real Estate Salesperson Exam!
How many questions are on the real estate exam in California?
The real estate exam in California consists of 150 multiple choice questions. It covers 7 major areas of real estate subject.
California Real Estate Salesperson Examination Content
|Exam Outline||Approximate Weighting|
|Property Ownership and Land Use Controls and Regulations||15%|
|Laws of Agency and Fiduciary Duties||17%|
|Property Valuation and Financial Analysis||14%|
|Transfer of Property||8%|
|Practice of Real Estate and Disclosures (Includes Specialty Areas)||25%|
How long is the CA real estate exam?
The CA real estate exam is 3 hours and 15 minutes. The required passing score is 70%. The result will be available to you immediately after you write the exam.
Is the CA real estate exam open book?
No, the CA real estate exam is a closed-book exam. You cannot use any notes or books to complete the exam.
Is the California real estate exam hard?
As I’m reading the stats from the California Department of Real Estate, during the Fiscal Year 2019/2020,
- The total number of real estate salesperson exams administered is 28,485
- The total number of real estate salesperson licenses issued is 16,411
Of the 28,485 people who wrote the California real estate salesperson exam, 57% of them passed the exam and became a licensed real estate agent.
However, this is just an approximate figure because some people could have passed the exam but apply for the license at a different fiscal period. Some people decided not to pursue this career path despite that they already passed the exam.
Licensee/Examinee Statistics for Fiscal Year 2019/2020
|Month||# of Real Estate Salesperson Exams Administered||# of Real Estate Salesperson Licenses Issued|
How do I study for the California real estate exam?
You should study for the California real estate exam by focusing on only one to two topics at a time. But be really good at it.
Cramming for the exam is ineffective. Instead, you should study for 45 to 60 minutes, then take a break. Concentration tends to wander if you study for too long.
It will help if you spend more time on topics that have a greater weighting.
The CE Shop is an online school that I like. They offer pre-licensing courses and also have excellent exam prep materials. Their Exam Prep Edge would provide you with feedback on the topics you’ve mastered and the ones you need to focus on. You may click here to view their courses. (**)
How many times can you take the real estate exam in California?
If you fail the exam, you may apply to re-take it using the eLicensing online system. You may retake the real estate CA exam as many times as you need during the two-year period after you file the original application.
How much does it cost to get a California real estate license?
It costs approximately $646 to get the real estate license in California. Here is the breakdown:
- Pre-licensing courses with exam prep is approximately $292
- Exam fee $60
- Background check $49
- Application fee $245
How long does it take to become a licensed real estate agent in California?
It takes approximately four to six months to become a licensed real estate agent in California. But it also depends on the time it takes you to complete the 135 hours pre-licensing course, exam, background check, application, and get sponsorship by an actively licensed California real estate broker.
You may speed up in getting the CA real estate license by taking online courses. This way, you’ll have the flexibility to finish the pre-licensing education at a quicker pace.
Is California reciprocal with real estate license?
Although you do not need to be a resident of California to obtain a real estate license, the California Department of Real Estate has no reciprocity with any other state.
In other words, you still need to write the California Real Estate exam. However, if you have already taken pre-licensing courses in other states, it’s possible it could be used to waive the education requirement.
You can verify with the Department to see if they can accept the classes you took.
Can you obtain a real estate salesperson license with a felony in California?
An applicant with a felony may not obtain a real estate license if the California Department of Real Estate (DRE) determines that the offense is too severe. They would typically be more alarmed on incidents that impact the applicant’s honesty, trustworthiness, character, and integrity.
What is the nature of the crime? Does it have anything to do with the honesty, truthfulness, and reputation of the applicant? Is the applicant currently under probation or parole? All these are factors that may affect a real estate license application.
The DRE will evaluate each case independently. They may also require you to provide further documents and explanation about the incident.
But don’t get discouraged as everyone has a past. The most important is that you can demonstrate that you will serve the public in a fair, honest, and open manner.
Here’s another post that covers how to apply for a real estate license with a felony record. In there, you’ll find practical ideas which could help your application.
How to become a commercial real estate agent in California?
To become a commercial real estate agent in California, you need to complete the 135 hours of pre-licensing courses and pass the real estate salesperson exam. The CA Department of Real Estate does not issue separate licenses for residential and commercial agents. So, the requirement is basically the same one we just went through.
Furthermore, if you are going to pursue a career as a CRE agent, you should look for a brokerage that could give you the right support and resources.
Is Commercial Real Estate Agent a Good Career? – Here’s a Snippet of a CRE Agent’s Response
“As a CRE agent I work with all clients on the landlord, tenant, seller and buyer sides. I help these clients find space or lease/sell space/buildings. I try to focus mostly on office properties with an emphasis on sales rather than leasing. It has been about 2.5 years since I stared at NAI Bergman...
…. It is a great career for me because I am passionate about real estate. It is rewarding helping people and companies with their needs. That being said it is a very hard field to get into and stay in. If you’re not passionate, committed and patient, you will not stay long.
I think the biggest one – Network! If you do not know anyone, you will not do any deals. This is a relationship business, and with that comes being patience, being committed and consistent. You need to be able to do all of these…”
Gueorgui Chikov. Commercial Real Estate Agent at NAI Bergman
Do you want to learn more about the profession to be a Commercial Real Estate Agent? Here’s a complete career guide for you. You’ll learn what it takes to be a commercial real estate agent, the salary info, licensing requirement, and valuable insight from a professional CRE agent about the industry.
Whom should I contact if I have more questions about CA real estate salesperson license?
You may contact the California Department of Real Estate:
- Phone: (877) 373-4542;
- Fax number: (916) 263-8943;
How Much Do Real Estate Agents Make in California?
Real estate agents in California make an average annual income of $74,140, it typically falls between $43,720 and $90,510. Top earning sales agent are making $127,800 per year. (+)
You earning as a real estate agent would depend on the price range of the properties that you work with, the number of transactions you could complete, the commission splitting schedule with the real estate brokerage and other factors.
At the beginning phase in your real estate career, you probably would not make a lot, because you built up the client base and established trust with the prospects.
But as you continue to gain experience and sharpen your knowledge, you should be able to notice a significant improvement to your earning.
Here’s an article that uncover numerous important factors that could significantly affect your earning.
(+) Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2019)
How is the market for real estate agents in California?
California is a state with over 40 million residents, with three cities with population that exceed one million people.
There are 9,750 real estate sales agents in California, which works out to be 0.561 real estate agents per 1000 of workers. (+) As of Nov 2020, there were 508,820 home sold YTD. (*)
Source: (+) Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2019); (*) California Association of REALTORS
Here’s a comprehensive slideshow that covers the sales and price figures of California’s real estate market!
[scribd id=488510788 key=key-12z6ZxvXLBS5DPpJA5LI mode=slideshow]
Practical ideas to build a real estate career in California
Tip#1: Choose the right real estate mentor
When choosing a real estate brokerage, many people only focus on the commission split, but there are many other factors you also need to consider.
For example, what type of training will they provide? Will they equip you with the skills in finding qualify prospects and closing a sale? Is there a shared office space you could use? Can the brokerage provide you with adequate administrative and marketing support? Will they provide you with leads to work on? Do they utilize up-to-date technology (i.e.: CRM, software subscription) to streamline the daily workflow.
All these would be extremely important especially at the beginning phase of your career.
Below are the top real estate brokerage in California based on their sales volume in 2018. The figures are obtained from RealTrends.com.
|Real Estate Brokerage||Cities||Sales Volume|
|Pacific Union International||San Francisco||$14,139,205,239|
|Alain Pinel Realtors||Saratoga||$12,223,891,988|
|Keller Williams - Forward Management||Beverly Hills||$6,140,881,024|
|First Team Real Estate||Irvine||$5,800,926,195|
|RE/MAX Gold||Fair Oaks||$5,329,811,410|
|Rodeo Realty||Beverly Hills||$5,209,455,330|
|RE/MAX Estate Properties||Palos Verdes Estates||$4,461,896,609|
|Pacific Sotheby's International Realty||San Diego||$3,944,354,290|
|Keller Williams - Cunningham Group||Santa Monica||$3,853,840,651|
|Sereno Group||Los Gatos||$3,457,000,000|
|Golden Gate Sotheby's International Realty||Mill Valley||$3,345,827,396|
|Lyon Real Estate||Sacramento||$3,002,538,966|
|Allison James Estates & Homes||Carlsbad||$2,929,084,056|
|Surterre Properties, Inc.||Newport Beach||$2,605,620,706|
|Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Drysdale Properties||Danville||$2,548,309,571|
|CENTURY 21 Select Real Estate, Inc.||Yuba City||$2,441,322,563|
|J. Rockcliff Realtors||Danville||$2,425,853,034|
|Bennion Deville Homes||Rancho Mirage||$2,408,612,578|
|Zephyr Real Estate||San Francisco||$2,293,853,267|
|Paragon Real Estate Group||San Francisco||$2,263,606,000|
|CENTURY 21 M&M and Associates||Oakdale||$2,238,196,728|
|Keller Williams Realty Carmel Valley/Del Mar||San Diego||$2,132,450,090|
|CENTURY 21 Award||San Diego||$2,120,064,006|
|H?M Sotheby's International Realty||Newport Beach||$2,040,830,780|
|Keller Williams Realty - Roseville||Roseville||$1,999,910,894|
|RE/MAX Premier Properties||Arcadia||$1,970,749,354|
|Keller Williams Realty||Los Gatos||$1,900,818,495|
|Keller Williams Realty - Walnut Creek and Danville||Danville||$1,667,558,114|
|Legacy Real Estate & Associates ERA Powered||Fremont||$1,635,813,122|
|Vista Sotheby's International Realty||Palos Verdes Peninsula||$1,596,098,349|
|PMZ Real Estate||Modesto||$1,579,746,000|
|HomeSmart Evergreen Realty||Irvine||$1,540,537,337|
|Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties||Cerritos||$1,537,004,694|
|Dilbeck Real Estate||La Canada||$1,522,816,715|
|Coldwell Banker West||Bonita||$1,498,590,567|
|Keller Williams Realty - Meggers Management Group||Visalia||$1,459,232,020|
|Keller Williams Realty - The Hilgenberg Group||Rancho Mirage||$1,452,919,382|
|Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Reliance Partners||Auburn||$1,428,434,985|
|Windermere Homes & Estates||San Diego||$1,389,253,480|
|Keller Williams Realty - Silicon Valley||Campbell||$1,383,169,194|
|Intero Real Estate Services - East Bay||Fremont||$1,244,227,876|
|RE/MAX Gold Coast||Ventura||$1,195,575,313|
|Willis Allen Real Estate||La Jolla||$1,177,330,802|
|McGuire Real Estate||San Francisco||$1,142,104,410|
|CENTURY 21 Masters||Walnut||$1,141,291,740|
|Village Properties||Santa Barbara||$1,135,972,530|
|RE/MAX of Valencia||Santa Clarita||$1,122,719,639|
|Keller Williams - Temecula Valley Real Estate, Inc.||Temecula||$1,116,429,551|
|Keller Williams Realty Palo Alto/Menlo Park||Palo Alto||$1,115,944,314|
|Today Sotheby's International Realty||San Carlos||$1,095,730,544|
|RE/MAX Olson & Associates||Northridge||$1,087,825,814|
|Coldwell Banker C&C Properties||Redding||$1,086,790,697|
|Keller Williams Westlake Village||Westlake Village||$1,064,648,263|
|HomeSmart Realty West||Carlsbad||$1,017,108,176|
|Keller Williams Realty Pacific Estates||Long Beach||$1,005,293,363|
|Keller Williams Pasadena/Arcadia||Pasadena||$988,260,031|
|Intero Real Estate Services - So Cal||Rancho Cucamonga||$981,967,186|
|Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate J. F. Finnegan Realtors||San Mateo||$939,487,000|
|Coldwell Banker Brokers of the Valley||Napa||$932,207,650|
|Realty Executives Santa Clarita||Santa Clarita||$931,861,159|
|Nourmand & Associates||Los Angeles||$864,503,500|
|David Lyng Real Estate||Santa Cruz||$855,043,380|
|Keller Williams Realty San Diego North Inland||San Diego||$822,323,964|
|Keller Williams Realty||Mission Viejo||$816,356,983|
|Keller Williams Realty Larchmont||Los Angeles||$810,366,296|
|Red Oak Realty||Oakland||$792,429,722|
|Keller Williams Realty LA Harbor||Rancho Palos Verdes||$784,094,421|
|Keller Williams Realty||Newport Beach||$767,857,255|
|Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Realty||Thousand Oaks||$766,349,121|
|CENTURY 21 Allstars||Pico Rivera||$734,366,511|
|Realty ONE Group Complete||Rocklin||$704,543,875|
|Keller Williams Realty Bakersfield||Bakersfield||$697,206,100|
|Keller Williams Silicon Beach||Marina Del Ray||$688,272,089|
|Coldwell Banker Kappel Gateway Realty||Vacaville||$687,717,271|
|RE/MAX College Park Realty||Los Alamitos||$681,836,132|
|Miramar International - Bakersfield||Bakersfield||$662,459,305|
|Nationwide Real Estate Executives||Buena Park||$641,374,623|
|Keller Williams Realty Modesto||Modesto||$635,025,682|
|Keller Williams Realty Antelope Valley||Palmdale||$631,156,468|
|RE/MAX Premier Realty||Irvine||$627,903,487|
|Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties||Torrance||$623,758,746|
|CENTURY 21 Real Estate Alliance||San Francisco||$618,425,794|
|Keller Williams Tri-Valley Realty||Pleasanton||$598,897,467|
|Keller Williams Realty||Cupertino||$586,729,173|
|RE/MAX Town & Country||Redding||$585,071,097|
|Keller Williams Realty Sacramento||Sacramento||$580,281,475|
|Bailey Properties Inc.||Aptos||$579,519,990|
|CENTURY 21 NorthBay Alliance||Santa Rosa||$578,499,565|
|Keller Williams Corona||Corona||$576,725,084|
|RE/MAX Top Producers||Diamond Bar||$574,980,421|
Tip#2: Select an area with demand for sales agents
When you are selecting the neighborhoods to conduct your real estate business, you should consider areas that have a high population. After all, transactions can only occur when there are people.
Also, consider working on properties that have decent value, as this is one of the major factors when calculating your commission.
Median Home Prices of the Top 10 Highest Population Cities in California
|Cities in California||Population||Median Home Price|
The median value of homes in California is $547,400, with a listing price per square foot of $311. The median monthly rent in California is $2,750. (-)
Source: (-) Data as of Dec 2018 on Zillow.com
Tip#3: Connect with other real estate professionals
Meeting with like-minded professional certainly can help you gain more profound insights about the real estate industry. There are many real estate related trade associations in California. Here’s the list:
|California Association of Realtors|
525 South Virgil Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90020
|California Association of Real Estate Brokers|
515 N. Anaheim Blvd.
Anaheim, CA 92804
|California Mortgage Association|
Charles Hershon, President
530 Bercut Drive, Suite G
Sacramento, CA 95814
|California Association of Mortgage Professionals|
1225 8th Street #425
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 448-8236
Fax: (916) 442-3616
|California Association of Business Brokers|
1608 West Campbell Avenue, Suite 248
Campbell, CA 95008
|California Mortgage Bankers Association|
980 Ninth Street, Suite 2120
Sacramento, CA 95814
|California Building Industry Association|
1215 K Street, Suite 1200
Sacramento, CA 95814
|California Association of Community Managers|
2171 Campus Drive, Suite 260
Irvine, CA 92792
|Executive Council of Homeowners|
1602 The Alameda, Suite 100
San Jose, CA 95126
150 North Wacker Drive, Suite 920
Chicago, IL 60606
In addition, you should build a referral network with other real estate professionals. such as mortgage agents, lenders, notary loan signing agents, and appraisers.
Here’s a list real estate professional groups on our resource page. Hope this will be useful to you.
Tip#4: Become a licensed real estate broker
Once you have established a solid client base and develop the necessary skills, then you could consider expanding your business to become a real estate broker.
This allows you to build a team of real estate agents, where your brokerage could be providing training, marketing, administrative support, office space, and a subscription to industry software.
In return, you would get a share of the commission from the transactions that your real estate sales associates handle. Thus, lead to a scalable business model.
Here’s a post on how to become a real estate broker in California.
Tip#5: Just enjoy it!
Becoming a real estate agent in California could be a rewarding career. Not only in terms of financial sense, but you also get the chance of meeting many people and working on different properties every day.
It is very fulfilling when you can help out your clients in finding their dream home or locate the right buyers for their property.
Honesty, hard work, and always putting your client’s interest first are the key components to your long-term success.
So that’s all I have to share for now. Do you like this guide? If so, please share it.
A Video Summary on How to Obtain a Real Estate License in California
If you are reading up to this point, I bet you must be interested in getting a real estate license. Your first step is to complete the pre-licensing courses. You should select one that has an excellent reputation and long-term track record of satisfying students. The CE Shop is exactly that! You may click here to check it out yourself. (**)
(**) Affiliate Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you. Our company, JCHQ Publishing will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase after clicking on the link. Please understand that we include them based on our experience or the research on these companies or products, and we recommend them because they are helpful and useful, not because of the small commissions we make if you decide to buy something through the links. Please do not spend any money on these products unless you feel you need them or that they will help you achieve your goals.
Disclaimer: The information in this post is for general information only, and not intend to provide any advice. They are subjected to change any notice, and not guaranteed to be error-free. For full and exact details, please contact the California Department of Real Estate.
- California Department of Real Estate (source)
- State of California Department of Real Estate- Examination Description (source)
- Real Trends: 2018 Real Trends 500 by Volume (source)
- Bureau of Labor Statistics
- California Association of REALTORS (source)
- Zillow – California Home Values (source)
- World Population Review – Population of Cities in California (source)