Starting a career as a real estate agent is an appealing, exciting prospect for all kinds of professionals — from the recent graduate pursuing their first career to the currently employed worker looking to shake things up.
While there's no definitive trajectory in place when it comes to how to become a real estate agent, there are certain activities, costs, milestones, and considerations that almost every aspiring agent's experience is going to cover.
To help you feel the process out, we've put together a guide to give you some context on the typical timeline, fees, questions, coursework, steps, actions, and strategies associated with becoming a real estate agent. Let's dive in.
- How long does it take to become a real estate agent?
- How much does it cost to become a real estate agent?
- Why should I become a real estate agent?
- Should I become a real estate agent?
- Steps to Become a Real Estate Agent
- How to Become a Successful Real Estate Agent
How long does it take to become a real estate agent?
There's no single, definitive answer to that question. It rests on a variety of factors — including your location. States tend to have specific requirements that shape how long it takes to get your real estate license.
Personal availability is another key component that dictates how long the process takes. Typically, obtaining a real estate license includes between 60 to 90 hours of formal education — plus studying and sitting for the licensing exam.
If you have the flexibility to dedicate all your time to getting your real estate license, the process will be more streamlined than if you're pursuing a career in real estate as a side hustle.
All told, it generally takes between three to six months to become a licensed agent, but the process doesn't end there. Once you have your license, most states require you to find a real estate broker who will sponsor your first two to three years as an agent — another component without a definitive timeline.
How long it takes to find a brokerage firm to take you on often rests on your availability. If you only intend to work as an agent part-time, that process can be a bit trickier and more drawn out — as many brokers are wary of bringing on agents who are essentially bound to generate less income than their full-time counterparts.
You'll also likely have to complete additional training — specific to the brokerage you join, the type of real estate you decide to pursue, and state requirements.
For instance, you might choose a national franchise, local or boutique brokerage, or even a virtual brokerage for your first real-world experience — each of which has unique preferences and requirements.
The time it takes to train and get you up-to-speed before becoming a fully independent agent depends on the brokerage you choose, but you'll want to plan on spending at least six months to a year in a training program.
So, how long does it take to become a real estate agent? Likely at least one to three years.
How much does it cost to become a real estate agent?
As you can assume — given the amount of training and continuing education it takes to breach the field — starting a career in real estate isn't free. So once you're committed to becoming an agent, you're probably wondering how much money you'll need to save to get started.
As we touched on, individual states require different degrees of training, so the cost of becoming a licensed real estate agent varies by location. It also rests on which education course you choose. In most cases, you can expect to spend anywhere from $500 to $1,200 total.
That includes your education course, license application fees, fingerprinting and background check fees, as well as state licensing exam fees — but you'll probably need to lean on your savings well after you become an agent.
If you're working for a brokerage that works off commission, you'll probably have to rely on your savings until you close your first deal.
To play it safe, you'll want to plan on having enough savings to fall back on for six months to a year — at least enough to last until you've established yourself as an agent and are closing enough deals to make a living.
One alternative would be to look for a brokerage that pays a salary rather than commission — or you could consider getting a side gig until you feel comfortable with the money you're making from real estate.
Why should I become a real estate agent?
There are plenty of reasons you might want to consider a career as a real estate agent. For one, the field offers more flexibility than most others — real estate isn't a 9-to-5 office gig. You'll create your own schedule.
I spoke with Tessa Sims, CEO at KW Real Estate Schools, Inc., to learn her take on the benefits of becoming a real estate agent.
She told me, "A career in real estate is such a desirable choice for so many people, perhaps because of its flexibility. You can work from home or from an office. You can fly solo or be part of a team. You can work for others or have others work for you. You can create a schedule that fits your lifestyle, and choose both your clients and your niche. You can make a decent living or build an extremely profitable business. The possibilities are endless."
Of course, creating your own schedule doesn't mean working less and still seeing results. To find success as a real estate agent, you'll want to ensure you're available to conduct showings during peak hours — and that often includes nights and weekends.
Still, a career as a real estate agent gives you a little more room to do things like taking a week off for vacation or spending mornings dropping your kids off at school.
But as Rich Cawley — President of Massachusetts-based real estate brokerage United Multi Family — stresses, the job's flexibility doesn't mean it takes fewer hours than a traditional 9-to-5.
As Cawley puts it, "There are good pay-offs, and it can be a lucrative career — but the good agents I know are always available for their clients. Especially with all the technology we have now, whether clients want to be reached via text or phone, real estate agents are never truly off-duty."
"So while the benefits are certainly the scheduling flexibility, you also have to love connecting with people because that's a big part of the job."
Personal involvement is another one of real estate's potential appeals. You can't help someone buy or sell a home exclusively via email. You need to directly interface with your clients if you're going to understand their needs and interests. Real estate is a very involved, personal field — making it an ideal lane for people who like connecting with others.
Success in real estate also largely depends on an individual's drive and dedication — and one of its most exciting aspects has to do with earning potential.
A career in real estate doesn't have any concrete salary limits — since your take-home pay is based on commission, what you put into real estate will directly impact what you get out of it.
A few other major benefits to becoming a real estate agent include:
- The opportunity to see really cool, interesting properties
- Flexibility to work from home — this isn't a job where you need to be in an office all day
- No dress code
- You're your own boss
- You don't need a college degree
But a career in real estate isn't without its potential drawbacks. It's worth briefly addressing some of the field's disadvantages to give you a fuller picture of what you're getting into.
For one, the flexibility we mentioned doesn't always pan out in your favor. Since it's not a traditional 9-to-5, you may end up working more hours than you would in an office — particularly since you're working off commission.
Real estate-related activities often take place after work hours. Showings usually happen at night or on the weekends — so you'll likely need to adjust to a unique work schedule that might not fit your ideal lifestyle.
A career in real estate also tends to mean sacrificing some stability. You can't always count on a steady income as an agent. Your financial success in a given month can depend on a lot of factors beyond your control, including the health of the housing market and other broader economic conditions.
Real estate agents also have to be prepared to handle particularly erratic income. You can't expect the same amount each month as you would with a salaried position — which means budgeting and saving will be critical during the slower seasons.
And finally, it's important to consider the emotional aspect of the job. Buying and selling a home is an incredibly stressful process for your clients — so you're bound to deal with moments of tension, anxiety, and frustration.
If you don't think you have the patience and emotional intelligence to guide clients through the tougher parts of the process, you might want to reconsider whether the field is for you.
Should I become a real estate agent?
Now that we've covered some pros and cons, you might be thinking: Okay, well … Should I become one?
Obviously, that's your call — but if you're on the fence, you might want to consider shadowing a real estate agent for a day or conducting informational interviews to learn more about the industry.
As with any new position, there's no guarantee that a career as a real estate agent will pan out for you — but if you're someone who has a passion for real estate, creativity, and a knack for problem-solving, then this might be your ideal lane.
Additionally, while a career as a real estate agent can be lucrative, social, and exciting, it's rarely simple. It requires independence, quick thinking, and drive — you don't have a boss telling you what to do, so charting a successful trajectory in the field is almost exclusively on you.
There are different types of real estate, including residential, industrial, commercial, and land.
- Residential real estate: The buying and selling of property for residential purposes, including homes, condos, duplexes, and townhouses.
- Commercial real estate: The buying and selling of property for business purposes, including hospitals, gas stations, apartment complexes, and restaurants.
- Industrial real estate: The buying and selling of property for manufacturing, production, distribution, or storage purposes. Think: warehouses, power plants, or factories.
- Land real estate: The buying and selling of vacant land for future development or tapping into natural resources.
When you're considering whether you should become a real estate agent, you'll want to think about which type of real estate feels like the best fit for you.
Within residential real estate, additionally, you might choose a niche type of home or specific client on which to focus.
For instance, perhaps you choose to focus on luxury homes, apartment buildings, new construction, single-family homes, or homes that offer waterfront views or historic value. Alternatively, maybe you focus on a given neighborhood.
So the question "Should I become a real estate agent?" becomes: "Should I become a real estate agent — and which type of real estate interests me? And what would I like my specialty to be?"
Of course, only you can answer that one. If you're unsure, keep reading — the "How to Become a Successful Real Estate Agent" section, below, will highlight tips from the pros, and should give you a better sense of what you'll need to put into the job to get the most out of it.
If you're confident real estate is the job for you, let's dive into the steps you need to follow to become one.
Steps to Become a Real Estate Agent
- Learn your state's licensing and education requirements
- Take a pre-licensure course, and other classes if need be
- Get your real estate license
- Choose a sponsoring brokerage
- Join the National Association of Realtors (NAR) to become a Realtor
- Create marketing materials, including business cards, brochures, etc.
- Start networking and grow your community.
The first few steps in this list are covered in How to Get a Real Estate License in 7 Steps, so I won't cover those in-depth. If you're interested in learning more about the pre-licensure course or how to get your real estate license, check out that post before continuing.
Along with a pre-licensure course, your state may require additional courses (to learn more about your state's requirements, select your state on the drop-down menu on Real Estate Express' website). Here's a list of real estate courses you might be expected to take depending on your state requirements:
- Pre-licensing courses
- Exam preparation classes
- Post-licensing classes
- Continuing education classes
But as I mentioned, becoming a real estate agent doesn't end once you have your license. Most states require a real estate broker to sponsor your first few years as an agent — so if you're going to start a career in real estate, you'll need to find a sponsoring brokerage.
There are different types of brokers you can consider joining: National franchises, like Keller Williams Realty; boutique-style brokerages, which are smaller or local brokerage firms; and virtual brokerages, with operations that take place entirely online.
Once you've found a sponsoring broker, you'll want to consider whether joining the National Association of Realtors (NAR) is the right choice for you.
You must join NAR to call yourself a REALTOR®, which is required if you want access to Multiple Listing Services (MLS), which enables you to see other realtors' listings. And while not technically necessary, joining NAR can help you advance your new career and increase your earning potential.
Next, you'll need to create marketing materials, like business cards and brochures. Having clean, sleek, personalized marketing materials can help you project legitimacy and grow your own personal brand — critical components for expanding your reach, finding new leads, and growing your community.
That leads me to my last point — you're going to need to network effectively. The last step in becoming an agent is forging connections with the right people and, in turn, getting valuable exposure and establishing yourself in your local real estate landscape.
As an agent, meeting someone new is always an opportunity to expand your reach and collect new leads — so you'll need to be constantly ready to connect.
Keep your card on hand to pass your name along whenever you hear of someone who might be interested in buying or selling property — and don't be reluctant to strike up friendly conversations with potential clients or industry peers.
Creating a clean website that displays your successful listings and personal information can also provide a major boost to your career. You need to have an online destination that demonstrates the value of your services and gives visitors a sense of what you're like.
Potential clients will be more inclined to trust you if you offer some perspective on who you are, what you've accomplished, and what it will be like to work with you. Here's an example from realtor Anne Mahone:
A solid social media presence can also go a long way in helping you more effectively appeal to potential clients. Maintain fully-fleshed, active profiles across multiple platforms, and make sure you engage with followers and potential clients — whether that be through answering questions posted in relevant groups or actions like responding to reviews and comments.
Requirements to Become a Real Estate Agent
While the full requirements vary state-by-state, here's a quick rundown of what you'll likely need to become a real estate agent:
- Pre-licensing education
- State approval to take the licensing exam
- Real estate license
- Sponsoring broker
- Acceptance into National Association of Realtors (optional but recommended)
How to Become a Successful Real Estate Agent
Becoming a real estate agent is one thing — becoming a successful agent is another.
To set yourself apart as a real estate agent, there are additional steps you'll need to take beyond the ones listed above.
Here, I spoke with real estate agents to uncover their strategies for succeeding in the industry. Let's explore those, now.
1. Do your research before showing up to a property.
Rich Cawley told me it's vital as a real estate agent that you take the time to learn about the history of a property.
Cawley says, "You want to be as knowledgeable as you can about the history of a house. When you show up, you should already know everything you can about the property — that's what sets successful agents apart. At UMF, our tagline is 'we help you sell a story,' and that's really what you're doing in real estate."
"You're not selling a house, you're selling a story."
Beyond knowing facts about the surrounding neighborhood, property value, or school districts, consider what makes the specific house unique — and be able to articulate why you feel the house's personality matches your buyer's.
As Cawley puts it, "Real estate is matchmaking. It's about knowing the right type of properties to show your clients, and not wasting their time with mass email sends, but rather being strategic about the messaging you send them and ensuring you're choosing the best properties for their specific needs."
2. Be a strong communicator.
Real estate is about connecting with people. As Cawley told me, he's never met a good real estate agent who didn't have a natural ability to connect with people. It's about learning how to create trust and form strong relationships with your clients.
And one key trait of a good relationship is strong communication.
As Summer House Realty agent Gerilyn de Laurentys puts it, "You can set yourself apart from other agents by learning how to be a great communicator. Meet people in person, or call them to have conversations that aren't about real estate.""People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. Listen twice as much as you speak."
To practice your active listening skills, you'll want to truly listen to your client — that means ignoring distractions, putting your phone away, and listening without simply preparing for what you're going to say in response.
Additionally, you might try feeding your client's words back to them, confirming you heard your client correctly or asking relevant follow-up questions to deepen your understanding of their needs.
Real estate is all about selling, so it's vital you practice the communication skills that are important for any sales job.
3. Keep in-mind why you're passionate about real estate.
It's almost a given that there will be months or even years when you're not making the earnings you want as a real estate agent — that's why many real estate agents I spoke with encouraged new agents to have savings to fall back on when building a client list, during dips in the market, or if they want to branch out and start their own brokerage firm.
It's a particularly uncertain field, and passion is the best motivation to ride out that kind of volatility. When the going gets tough, you'll want to remember why real estate is important to you — beyond the money.
As Sims tells me, "Setting yourself apart from the crowd requires you to understand your 'big why' — in other words, knowing why you committed to a career in real estate. Your 'big why' will pull you through the highs and lows of building a strong business model for yourself."
4. Choose the right brokerage firm with which to partner.
When you're first starting out, you need to choose a brokerage firm with which to partner. This firm will introduce you to the industry, help you form connections, and provide you with mentorship opportunities.
Choosing a "sponsoring broker", as they're typically called, is a key part of becoming successful as an agent. When searching, ask various brokers about their education opportunities — whether it be online courses, pamphlets, or sit-down classes. Additionally, you'll want to find out how their cost structure works. Will you be paying them a flat fee, or will they split commission with you?
Sims adds, "It's critical you partner with the right broker — for the first 18 months of your career, your broker is key to providing mentors, productivity coaches, and support, all of which will help you develop the fundamental skills required for building a strong book of business."
To figure out which brokerage firm fits with your needs, try sitting down with a minimum of three to five before making your decision. Ask these firms how they plan to help you develop in your career, which is key to becoming a successful agent.
5. Stay up-to-date on technology.
These days, some clients might expect you to send along text updates of properties, while others expect an email, website notification, or phone call.
As Cawley told me, "Successful real estate agents know how to use whichever technology their clients prefer to make it easy for clients to connect with them quickly, and on their own terms."
To do this, ensure you remain up-to-date about communication methods your clients' prefer. Ask other agents what they use, take yearly courses to refresh your knowledge, or simply ask your clients what they'd prefer using.
Additionally, to stay on-top of all the clients and properties you're juggling, you'll want to consider investing in a CRM platform to organize your contacts, create a streamlined social media or email strategy, and boost your SEO rankings.
You might also want to explore how SMS messaging can help you manage automated text messages to clients, like texts that confirm a time or place for a showing.
And there you have it! You're well on your way to becoming a successful real estate agent.
Whether you're just starting out or you've been in the industry for decades, it's important to remember the importance of constantly expanding your knowledge of real estate to remain authoritative when helping your clients find — or sell — they're dream homes. Good luck!
Editor's Note: This post was originally published in September 2021 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.