California is the most populous state in the Union, with nearly 40 million people. Its population is still growing faster than the average state. That makes California an excellent place to start a real estate career. Here’s how to get a California real estate agent license.
Related: Learn how to become a real estate agent by reading our complete guide to jump-starting your career.
California Real Estate License Requirements
Before you do anything, you’ll need to know if you meet the requirements to get a California real estate license. These include:
- Be at least 18 years old
- Complete the required pre-licensing education
- Pass the state real estate agent examination
- Undergo a fingerprint criminal background investigation
The California requirements also include honesty as a basic requirement. An applicant convicted of a crime may be denied a license. So may anyone who fails to disclose a previous criminal violation or disciplinary action.
Unlike many states, California has no reciprocity with any other state. Having a real estate agent license in another state won’t let you avoid any of the requirements to get a California license.
California Real Estate Regulatory Agency
In California real estate licensing is handled by the state Department of Real Estate. Its headquarters are in the state capitol, Sacramento. There are offices in Fresno, Los Angeles, Oakland, and San Diego. The main office, open from 8am to 5pm Monday to Friday, is at:
Department of Real Estate
1651 Exposition Blvd.
Sacramento, CA 95815
California has a high standard for pre-licensing education. Applicants have to complete three college-level courses to qualify to take the exam. Two of the courses are on real estate principles and real estate practices. The third can be on any of the following topics:
- Real Estate Appraisal
- Property Management
- Real Estate Finance
- Real Estate Economics
- Legal Aspects of Real Estate
- Real Estate Office Administration
- General Accounting
- Business Law
- Mortgage Loan Brokering and Lending
- Computer Applications in Real Estate
- Common Interest Developments
If you are a lawyer who has passed the California bar exam you can skip the pre-licensing education. To get this exemption, show a California State Bar membership card.
Each of the courses has to be at least 45 hours long. The courses can be taken through a college accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges or similar agency. Or they can be taken from by a real estate school approved by the California Real Estate Commissioner.
Aspiring agents can go the college route at the University of California, California State University, or a community college. The state has an online tool applicants can check to see which private real estate schools are on the approved list.
The California Real Estate Salesperson Exam
After finishing the pre-licensing education requirement and getting an official transcript or credit certificate, applicants can apply for the exam. They can apply just to take the exam or fill out a combined exam and license application.
Download a copy of the application at the department’s website. You have to print out, complete, and sign a hard copy of the application. Then mail it to:
Department of Real Estate
P.O. Box 137001
Sacramento, CA 95813-7001
Include a check, money order, or completed credit card payment form for the fee with the application. To pay by credit card, download and complete a Form 909. Make checks and money orders payable to the Department of Real Estate. Don’t send cash.
The examination fee is $60. The license fee is $245. You can pay them both together if you fill out the combined examination and application form. There’s no discount for paying them at the same time. It’s $305 either way.
Include a copy of course transcripts or completion certificate to prove you finished the required pre-licensing education. It can six weeks or longer to process the application. In the meantime, you can check the current wait times at the department’s website.
If an application is rejected for some reason, the applicant has two years from the date of the application to fulfill the requirements. After that, the applicant will have to send in a new application and pay the fees again.
Once the application has been processed, applicants will receive an authorization to schedule the exam. They can schedule the test online at the department’s online system. Exams are usually given weekdays in Fresno, Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento and San Diego.
Taking the Exam
Bring at least one of the following forms of photo identification:
- State driver’s license
- Department of Motor Vehicles identification card
- U.S. passport
- Passport from a foreign government
- U.S. military identification card
All forms of identification must be current and issued within the last five years. The exam service will provide basic calculators. The examination room is off-limits for other calculators, cell phones, watches, tablets, laptops, cameras, and recording equipment. Purses, wallets, backpacks, briefcases, suitcases, food, drink, and study materials are also prohibited.
The salesperson test has 150 multiple choice questions. Test-takers get three hours and 15 minutes to finish. A passing score requires answering 105, or 70 percent, of the questions correctly.
Some of the exam facilities give the test on computers. Results of these tests will be available as soon as the exam is finished. Other exam facilities use pencil and paper tests. These results will be mailed within five business days.
Fingerprinting and Background Check
You also have to pass a criminal background check using your fingerprints. You can either provide your fingerprints after you’ve applied for the exam or after passing the exam. But you won’t get your fingerprint processing fee back if you fail the exam.
To get fingerprinted, visit the Department of Real Estate website and download the Live Scan Service Request form. Print it, fill it out and then take it to an approved service provider. You can find a list of services on the state attorney general website here.
Bring the $49 fingerprint processing fee with you. Make sure it’s payable to the service, not the Department of Real Estate.
You may not be able to get a California license if you fail to disclose criminal charges or convictions or disciplinary actions relating to business or professional licenses or certificates. This includes actions in any state.
Felony or misdemeanor convictions that relate somehow to working as a real estate agent could also be a problem. The most common disqualifying convictions include violent crimes other than assault, sex crimes, bribery, burglary, perjury, embezzlement, extortion, forgery, fraud, tax evasion, and possession of drugs for sale for transport.
Picking a California Broker
Before completing the application, you’ll need to identify a broker who will sponsor you. The broker has to complete part of the application and sign it. Agents may be recruited during pre-licensing education by brokers who want to hire them after licensing.
You can also research brokers and contact one to ask if he or she will sponsor you. It makes a difference which broker sponsors you. The best will provide you with support, training, leads and overall mentoring. Here are some of the best brokerages in Los Angeles and San Francisco:
Los Angeles Business Journal reported in 2018 the top-producing LA agents worked for these companies:
- Westside Estate Agency
- Halton Pardee & Partners
- Douglas Elliman
- Coldwell Banker
- Berkshire Hathaway
- The Agency
According to the San Francisco Business Journal, the top Bay Area residential brokerages in 2018 were:
- Coldwell Banker
- Golden Gate Sotheby’s International
- Vanguard Properties
- Zephyr Real Estate
California’s Best Real Estate Markets
The market where you begin your real estate career also makes a difference. And size matters. Here are the largest cities in the state with their populations:
- Los Angeles: 4,057,841
- San Diego: 1,453,775
- San Francisco: 897,536
- Fresno: 532,703
- Sacramento: 513,330
- Long Beach: 466,203
- Oakland: 426,410
- Bakersfield: 388,092
- Anaheim: 356,308
Size isn’t the only factor when choosing a market to get started. The sales activity in the market is another consideration. And California has some hot areas outside the major cities.
Realtor.com’s ranking of the hottest real estate markets in the country included three California metropolitan areas. Rankings are based on the number of days properties stay on the market and number of views listings get.
- Yuba City
The Final Steps
Getting a California real estate license will take from a few to several months. That includes the pre-licensing education, application processing and examination scheduling.
Military veterans can get expedited processing. You’ll need a copy of your U.S. DD Form 214, NGB-22 form, or honorable discharge certificate. Mail it with application, education certificates, other supporting documents and fee to:
Department of Real Estate
P.O. Box 137014
Sacramento, CA 95813-7014
Attn: Expedited Military Processing
Unlike most states, California may issue a restricted license in some situations. A restricted license may:
- Be for a limited time period
- Require an agent to work with a specific broker
- Require an agent to post a surety bond
- Follow some other condition the Department of Real Estate considers necessary
So, How Do You Get a California Real Estate License?
Getting a California real estate agent license is not easy or simple. With it in hand, you can feel comfortable that you are well-qualified to work in the field. And California’s large and growing population and dynamic real estate market promise an unmatched opportunity to start a real estate career.