How to Become a Real Estate Agent in 5 Easy Steps

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When I was in my 30s, I spent five years working as a sales assistant to a top mortgage broker in Saint Paul-Minneapolis.

It was then that I fell in love with the real estate industry and then I decided to become a licensed real estate agent.

If you’re feeling drawn toward becoming a real estate agent, know that you can do it with just a few easy steps.

You’ll need to study and take a state exam to get your license. But once you’re in the game, working as a real estate agent is fun and can be very lucrative.

With some commitment and effort, you could produce a six-figure income as a full-time agent.

Steps to Becoming a Real Estate Agent

two business women working on becoming a real estate agents together

Becoming a real estate agent will take some preliminary work. Once you’re licensed, it’ll take more work to get your career off the ground.

Here are some steps you can take to begin your own career as a real estate agent.

1. Research the Industry

Before you become a real estate agent, it’s a good idea to get to know the industry. Check qualified real estate websites that can give you an idea of what being an agent entails.

As a newer agent myself, here are some things I think you should know about the industry before you start.

Real Estate Isn’t Just About Sales

One of my biggest fears about entering the real estate business was that I am NOT a salesperson. In fact, I hate selling stuff.

However, I am a dedicated service person. I love helping people. And I’ve learned in this business that while some sales skills help, dedicated service will get you far further.

My managing broker told me after I completed my first year that I had a great year for a first-year agent. I sold several houses.

And one of the compliments I consistently got from my clients (and still do) is, “Laurie always works hard for me. She returns calls promptly and does what I ask her to do.”

This is total service stuff. If you have a heart for helping people, you’ve got a great start. The rest can all be learned.

Real Estate Can be Stressful

Working with mortgages and real estate can be very stressful. You’re dealing with people’s emotions — especially if you’re selling residential as opposed to commercial properties. Buying a house can be trying for clients.

Clients put an offer on a home and immediately make plans in their heads about “their” home long before closing.

On the other end, there are oodles of regulations to be followed and paperwork to be done before a home can be sold.

Sometimes paperwork requirements or issues with a home get in the way of closings. Buyers’ emotions get fired up as agents scramble to fix the issues.

And there are stringent time deadlines in real estate. It helps to know that going in and be prepared for some days to be stressful.

Do everything that you can do to help, but then know that that’s enough. You can’t control everything.

Real Estate is a 24/7 Job

It’s important to know that real estate can be a 24/7 on-call job. Some long-time agents have made it a rule that they’ll only work or show houses during certain hours.

However, until you have a rock-solid client base, you’ll probably spend some serious time working nights and weekends.

When considering a career in real estate, it’s important to know the basics but not too many details. Too much knowledge may scare you away from trying. Just learn the major details.

2. Interview Brokerage Firms

As a real estate agent, you need to be licensed through a brokerage firm. A brokerage firm is a real estate company such as RE/MAX or Keller Williams.

Each office has a managing broker who runs the office and holds a broker’s license.

A broker is a licensed real estate agent who has taken additional classes and tests to be approved to manage a real estate office.

Until you get your own broker’s license (if you choose to) you need to be licensed under a broker.

It’s important to interview with several brokerage firms in your area before choosing one to sign with. Every firm runs its business a bit differently. They all offer agents different things.

Some firms are very hands-off. They just want you to do your job and sell. Other firms are very hands-on and offer an abundance of training and support.

I chose my firm (Edina Realty) after a recommendation from a friend who is a long-time agent. He suggested Edina because they offer a lot of support and training.

As it turned out, this was the perfect atmosphere for me to begin my career in.

Ask the Right Questions

You’ll want to interview several firms in your area to find the right fit for you. Ask each firm for a comprehensive list of their features and benefits. Ask them about their philosophies.

Questions you can ask as you interview with real estate firms:

  • How does your commission structure work?
  • What types of fees does your firm charge?
  • What types of training and continuing education do you offer?
  • What is the company culture like?
  • How do I know if I’m a good fit for a career as a real estate agent?
  • What marketing and other materials do you provide?
  • Are you currently looking to take on new agents?

Knowing how each firm works is important. However, know that you can have different types of managing brokers within a firm, too.

My managing broker is very team oriented. She’s great at working on maintaining and improving the cohesiveness of our group.

This, for me, makes it extra fun to work for her as I am a team player by nature.

However, I know that at other Edina Realty offices, the managing brokers handle their teams differently. You’ll have to find the right firm and the right managing broker to fit your style and personality.

Hopefully, by the time you’ve finished your interview process you’ll have a fairly certain idea of which brokerage firm and manager you want to work with.

At that point, if you decide that a career in real estate is right for you, you can start the process of getting your license.

3. Take Your Pre-license Training and License Exam

If you’ve decided after your interviews that you are ready to get licensed, it’s time to start researching training options.

Most states have at least two or three options for real estate license training. And most states have courses you can take in person or online.

Here are the basics for real estate license training. You’ll want to ask yourself a couple of questions before deciding on training.

Decide Which Training Company/Method is for You

You’ll have to decide which real estate license training company you want to go with. In addition, you’ll need to decide whether you want to do online training or classroom training.

As far as the training company you choose to use is concerned, I would begin by asking any recently licensed agents you know which company they used.

Ask how they felt about the training and if they would use the provider again.

Checking online reviews is helpful as well. Look for independent reviews if you can find them.

Decide Whether to Take Classroom Courses or Online Courses

Whether you take classroom courses or online courses is up to you. Ask yourself some of these questions to determine which classroom setting might work best for you:

  • What is my proximity to the classroom location? Will I need to get a hotel for the week or can I commute?
  • How do I learn best? Is a classroom setting more conducive to learning? Or would I function better training from home?
  • What type of classes can my schedule accommodate?

In my case, I chose to take the online classes. There were several reasons for this decision:

  • I homeschool my four kids and needed to be available for them during the day.
  • The class center location would’ve meant at least an hour-long drive each way in rush hour.
  • I struggle with some ADD. Kaplan’s online courses are split up into dozens of segments, each about 10 minutes long. This allowed me to learn at my own pace.

The downside of taking the online courses was that it took me three months to get my license. If I had taken the in-person classes I could’ve been licensed in less than a month.

However, you can complete the online classes as quickly as you wish. There is typically a limit to how long you can stretch them out, though.

And know that, at least in Minnesota, if you take the online classes, each course must be followed by a proctored exam.

These are exams given by the education company that are meant to ensure you really did listen to the online classes.

The exams mimic the state exam in a way. They’re multiple choice and usually dozens of questions long. I liked taking the proctored exams because they helped me retain the information I’d learned online.

Once you’ve decided which company you’re going to train with and whether you’ll train online or in person, you can start your courses. Here’s how the sequence of courses and the exam worked in my state.

Required Courses for Real Estate Licensing

The types of licensing courses you’ll need to take and total number of hours of training you’ll need vary by state.

In Minnesota, there are three courses you need to take to get licensed: Course I, Course II and Course III. You need a total of 90 hours of classroom or online training.

Note that state-required training hours for real estate licenses vary widely throughout the U.S.

Examples of other states’ education requirements:

  • Texas: 180 hours
  • Colorado: 168 hours
  • Tennessee: 90 hours
  • Washington: 90 hours
  • New York: 75 hours
  • Pennsylvania: 75 hours
  • Alabama: 60 hours

Check with your state’s department of commerce for its licensing requirements. It may also be able to direct you to a real estate licensing school in your state.

I took my courses through Kaplan. They have classroom locations throughout the U.S. In Minnesota, each of their courses is 30 hours long.

Here’s how Kaplan sets up their real estate license training for Minnesota. Again, your state requirements may vary. But this will give you an idea of what you might expect.

Pre-license Course I

Pre-license Course I teaches the fundamentals, principles and language of real estate. It covers the basic facts of real estate licensing that you’ll need in order to pass the exam.

The course includes information about state and national laws, and various real estate terms. It’s important because real estate laws are pretty stringent.

You need to know what they are in order to conduct your real estate business in a lawful manner.

You take the real estate licensing exam for the state of Minnesota after you pass Course I. However, you can’t officially get licensed until you complete Courses II and III.

Details of the Exam

The licensing exam for the state of Minnesota consists of two parts: a national exam and a state exam. The national exam consists of 80 questions. You need to answer 60 correctly (75%) to pass.

The state exam consists of 40 questions. You need to answer 30 correctly (75%) to pass. There’s a four-hour time limit for completing both tests, but many people get it finished faster than that.

Again, these details are specific to Minnesota. Your state’s licensing requirements and exam details may be different. Visit your state’s commerce department website for more information on licensing.

Pre-license Course II

After you pass your licensing exam, you can move on to Course II. Course II in Minnesota covers the nuts and bolts of real estate transactions. You’ll learn things like:

  • How to evaluate a seller’s property
  • How to complete a listing contract and buyer representation agreement
  • How to write up a residential real estate purchase agreement

This course is all about practical application of forms and documents in the business.

Pre-license Course III

Course III was my favorite. To me, it was more fun than the others. You learn about selling, architectural styles and different conditions the property might be in. The course was a lot less labor-intensive than courses I and II, but still contained important details.

Once you’ve finished all required courses and taken your state exam, you’re officially ready to be licensed!

4. Sign Up With Your Brokerage Firm

Now it’s time to talk to your managing broker. Let him or her know that you’ve taken your courses and passed your exam.

If you haven’t chosen a brokerage yet, now is the time to do additional research. The sooner you make a decision as to which brokerage you want to sign with, the sooner you can start training and begin your career.

5. Join Real Estate Agent Associations

After you’ve signed on with your brokerage firm, your manager will help you join the various real estate associations.

For instance, you may have heard the two terms, real estate agent and Realtor. What’s the difference?

A real estate agent is a person who is licensed to conduct real estate business. A Realtor is someone who is a member of the National Association of Realtors.

Not all members of the association are agents. Property managers, home appraisers and real estate brokers can also be members and are therefore called Realtors, too.

You don’t have to join the National Association of Realtors to become an agent, although some brokerage firms may require it.

Realtors have the added responsibility of committing to higher ethics standards in order to protect their clients.

There are fees associated with becoming a Realtor. However, there are benefits to doing so as well. The main one is that, because of the ethics code, some consumers may prefer to work with a Realtor over a regular agent.

In addition to the National Association of Realtors, there are state and local clubs and associations. Again, your manager can help you learn which associations will be beneficial for you to join.

Additional Real Estate Agent Training

Most real estate licensing schools and realty companies offer additional training as well. They’ll train you in how to gain a client base, expert customer service practices, more detailed practical tips and more.

I suggest taking as much training as you can. However, space it out, especially in your first year of being licensed. There’s a lot to learn and you don’t want to get overwhelmed.

In addition, all states have Continuing Education (CE) requirements. These are class hours you have to take in order to maintain your license. Your manager can help you manage your required CE hours and find classes.


Having spent a full year now working as a part-time real estate agent, I can say with confidence that it’s an awesome career.

It’s not for everyone. You have to have a love for houses and for people. You also need some organizational and computer skills — or at least the willingness to learn them.

If you’re willing to master what you need to know to become successful, you can make a fun and lucrative career as a real estate agent.

Or, you can save yourself thousands of dollars if you want your license for the purpose of investing in real estate.