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Updated Jan 08, 2024

How to Become a Real Estate Agent

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Max Freedman, Business Operations Insider and Senior Analyst

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There are millions of active real estate licenses in the United States, demonstrating that many professionals have found rewarding and lucrative careers in this field. If you’re highly motivated with a knack for sales and building strong client relationships, helping people find a new home could be your calling. Here’s everything you should know if you’re considering a real estate role, from getting your license to what a typical workweek looks like. 

Becoming a real estate agent

Here’s a look at what it takes – and what you should know – to become a real estate agent. 

1. Understand the necessary qualifications and state requirements. 

Though the business licenses for real estate agents and brokers differ, you must meet the same basic requirements:

  • You must be at least 18 years old (in nearly every state). 
  • You must possess a high school diploma or equivalent.
  • You must pass a written exam.
  • You must complete a specific number of hours of real estate courses. 

Here are additional important considerations to understand:

  • Know your state’s requirements. It’s crucial to understand your state’s requirements and exam details. Some states have more requirements than others. Additionally, most licenses are not transferable between states. Every state has a body that administers real estate exams. For example, in Pennsylvania, you’d schedule your real estate exam via the Pennsylvania Real Estate Commission. You can find exam details through this body to put yourself in the best possible position to obtain your license. 
  • Becoming a broker requires additional training. Real estate agents with several years of experience selling properties – and who complete additional training courses – can obtain broker’s licenses. In some states, brokers may substitute a bachelor’s degree in place of industry experience.
  • Becoming a Realtor brings additional benefits. You can also opt to become a Realtor, which officializes your National Association of Realtors (NAR) membership. As a Realtor, you’re bound to the NAR’s Code of Ethics. This distinction may help potential clients feel more secure when using your services. Realtors can also access exclusive real estate market intelligence, business tools, educational opportunities and more.
Did You Know?Did you know

Although many people use the terms “real estate agent” and “Realtor” interchangeably, they’re not the same. Realtors are agents with special licensure binding them to certain ethical behavior guidelines and specific legal practices.

2. Take real estate classes.

Because of the popularity of this career, many colleges and universities offer courses and certificate programs in real estate. Some institutions even have associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in real estate. You can also take online courses from anywhere at any time through platforms like Colibri Real Estate and 360training.


You can take real estate classes online from home as well as on traditional university campuses. Remote classes are particularly helpful if you’re going back to school for a career change.

3. Maintain your real estate license.

Most U.S. states require broker and agent licenses to be renewed every two to four years. Many states also require real estate professionals to attend continuing education classes throughout their careers. For a comprehensive list of the requirements for sales agents and brokers by state, visit the National Association of Realtors website.

4. Work with a real estate firm to gain experience. 

Once you’ve obtained your real estate license, you’ll likely fare best if you start your career as part of a brokerage firm. Though you could theoretically start your own real estate business right away, this might not be a career risk worth taking – at least initially. 

Here’s why working with a real estate firm at the beginning of your career (at least) can help: 

  • A real estate firm brings you credibility. Clients may hesitate to trust real estate professionals who lack a successful track record or a trustworthy supervisor. When you join a firm, you get the latter and start building the former.
  • A real estate firm ensures you understand legalities. At a firm, you’ll work under a state-licensed supervising broker who keeps you abreast of legal and ethical standards
  • A real estate firm handles leads. You can also forget about the stress of lead generation that comes with flying solo. Successful brokerages always have plentiful leads.
  • A real estate firm may help you save money. In some cases, working for a firm helps you cut business expenses. After all, brokerages have all the necessary infrastructure ready to go. On the other hand, in some cases, you might need to pay the firm ongoing fees for a desk, website, marketing and more. In almost all cases, you’ll earn solely commission with no salary under this arrangement.
Did You Know?Did you know

Small businesses can boost real estate values in their communities. Their success fuels jobs, opportunities and business innovation.

What real estate agents do

Those pursuing a real estate career typically become licensed as a broker or sales agent. The two jobs have similar responsibilities. However, brokers typically have more industry experience and are licensed to manage their own real estate businesses.

Sales agents must work with a broker, and many agents become brokers after gaining several years of experience and obtaining a broker’s license. As mentioned above, the term “Realtor” identifies a real estate agent who is a member of the NAR.

Job demands are broad for these individuals. People hire real estate professionals because buying, selling, and renting personal properties and commercial real estate is nuanced and time-consuming. Brokers and agents can ensure no part of the process is overlooked.

Here’s a general breakdown of what real estate professionals do: 

  • Real estate professionals handle the entire buying and selling process. The job of a broker or an agent begins with soliciting potential clients and does not end until a property is bought or sold and all terms of the purchase contract are met. 
  • Real estate professionals advise and mediate. Real estate professionals advise clients on different aspects of local markets, helping clients compare properties and mediating negotiations between buyers and sellers. 
  • Real estate professionals maintain sales portfolios. Real estate professionals are responsible for keeping updated, detailed portfolios of properties for sale.
  • Real estate professionals promote properties. Real estate professionals are responsible for promoting properties with open houses and listing services. 
  • Real estate professionals handle paperwork. Real estate professionals prepare documents such as deeds and purchase agreements.
  • Real estate professionals understand neighborhood nuances. Real estate professionals must be knowledgeable about their market. They must understand quality-of-life factors like area crime rates, school systems, and access to public transportation, hospitals, and grocery stores.
  • Real estate professionals stay updated on trends and legalities. It is also important for those in this line of work to stay abreast of trends in financing and the best mortgage options, government programs, zoning regulations, and fair housing laws.

Because trends and laws in the real estate industry are continually changing, many states require brokers and agents to participate in ongoing educational and professional development programs to maintain their licenses.

Where real estate agents work

More than half of all real estate brokers are self-employed independent contractors, while others work for real estate firms. Sales agents – who must work for brokers – typically find employment with a brokerage, leasing office, or other real estate establishment. Because of the vast differences in real estate markets in various areas, workplaces can range from one-person businesses to large firms with numerous branch offices.

Here’s what you need to know about where real estate agents work: 

  • Some real estate professionals work for national brokerages. Some brokers have franchise agreements with national or regional real estate companies. In these arrangements, brokers pay a fee to be affiliated with well-known organizations like Century 21, Coldwell Banker and Sotheby’s.
  • Real estate professionals are often out of the office. Brokers and agents typically spend much of the workday away from the office, scouting and showing properties or holding meetings with clients. New sales agents also typically invest time in networking events to build a reputation within their communities.
  • Real estate professionals work long hours. Real estate professionals notoriously work long, irregular hours. They must be available to clients on weekends and after business hours. Many agents and brokers work more than the typical 40-hour workweek, though some keep part-time real estate careers and work at other jobs as well.

What real estate agents earn

Brokers and agents earn most of their direct compensation through commissions on sales. Commission rates depend on the type and value of the property sold. 

Real estate incomes depend on your work area, industry experience and motivation to sell. According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median pay earned by real estate brokers was $62,010 annually as of 2021. Sales agents earned $48,340 on average in that same year.

How the housing market affects real estate agents’ success

As the housing market experiences fluctuations in home prices and demand, real estate agents must adapt to remain successful. Real estate jobs tend to remain secure even during periods of economic hardship, but brokers’ and sales agents’ overall income may decrease. If housing prices have dropped or fewer people want to buy, real estate agents take home less commission. 

That doesn’t mean that earning the same income during a recession is impossible; it just might require some extra effort. For instance, you might be able to gain additional clients through increased marketing efforts. This could also be a good time to study and refresh your knowledge of market trends and client needs. The key to maintaining your real estate business during any period is to stay driven and be willing to learn

FYIDid you know

Ensure your website landing page reflects the location of your real estate business so you appear in your local audience’s searches.

Real estate could be the career for you

If you’re a self-starter with a competitive mindset, real estate just might be the right career path for you. However, it takes time and effort to grow your business as you learn the landscape. And even if you work best independently, it might make sense to get your feet wet as part of a real estate firm. However you decide to navigate your real estate career, the most important part is being ready to adapt and staying hungry for marketplace knowledge. 

Natalie Hamingson contributed to this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

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Max Freedman, Business Operations Insider and Senior Analyst
Max Freedman has spent nearly a decade providing entrepreneurs and business operators with actionable advice they can use to launch and grow their businesses. Max has direct experience helping run a small business, performs hands-on reviews and has real-world experience with the categories he covers, such as accounting software and digital payroll solutions, as well as leading small business lenders and employee retirement providers. Max has written hundreds of articles for Business News Daily on a range of valuable topics, including small business funding, time and attendance, marketing and human resources.
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