Real Estate Education

How to get a real estate license in California (CA) in 5 steps

We walk prospective California real estate agents through the process, detailing the costs, time commitment, and steps required to get licensed.

If you’re interested in becoming a real estate agent, then you’ll be happy to learn that now is an excellent time to get your California real estate license. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects about 51,600 openings for real estate sales agent jobs each year, on average, over the next decade. [1]

In this article, we’ll look at how to become a real estate agent in California and start an exciting new career. From the number of class hours required by the state to applying for the license exam, keep reading to easily find the most important information, requirements, and steps to take to get your real estate license in California.

Requirements to get your real estate license in California

Getting your real estate license in California comes down to fulfilling your required California real estate course hours, qualifying for the license examination, and passing the exam. Taking an approved course of study equips you with the knowledge you’ll need to pass the exam and succeed as a California real estate agent. To pass, you’ll need a score of 70% or more on the state exam.

Approved Prelicensing Courses in California

Getting your California real estate license begins with a 135-hour accredited prelicensing course. We recommend The CE Shop. It’s our #1 choice for real estate education in California.

Requirements checklist

Since there is a potential to start as a real estate salesperson in as few as 54 days, California is an ideal state for launching your real estate career. Here’s a helpful checklist to get you started:

  • Be at least 18 years old to be issued a real estate license in California 
  • Pass a background check, including mandatory fingerprinting, which the California Department of Real Estate (DRE) uses to identify criminal history and determine eligibility 
  • Complete your pre-licensing education requirement by enrolling in and completing 135 hours of California DRE-approved courses 
  • Qualify for and pass the California Real Estate License Exam
  • Sign with a brokerage in order to officially buy or sell real estate in California 
  • Submit a license application to the DRE for approval to get your real estate salesperson license

The California real estate license exam

  • How hard is it to pass the California real estate exam? 

    From FY 2022 to 2023, there were 56,741 salesperson exams administered. Of those, 20,671 people passed the real estate exam and became licensed salespeople in California. Based on last year’s statistics, that’s about a 36% pass rate for exam takers. [2]

    70% is the score you’ll need the first time around to be eligible for your license.

  • How long does it take to get a real estate license in California? 

    The more time you spend studying for the real estate license exam, the greater your chance of scoring at least 70% the first time around (which is what you’ll need to be eligible for your license).

    When it comes to the time commitment for becoming a licensed salesperson, at the very least you’ll have to invest 135 hours into taking three real estate courses approved by the California Department of Real Estate. Do the math, and that’s 2.5 hours of classes every day for 54 days in a row if you’re feeling ambitious.

  • How much does it cost to get a real estate license in California?

    As with any pursuit of education that will enhance your career, there are costs involved in getting your license. When it comes to getting a real estate license in California, here’s what you need to budget for:

    • Fingerprint processing fee paid to the Live Scan fingerprint service provider = $49
    • Pre-licensing exam coursework = $99 to $400
    • Salesperson examination only, application fee = $60
    • Original license fee = $245
    • License renewal fee after 4 years = $245
    • Other miscellaneous fees = about $240

    Estimated total =  Between $938 and $1,239 [3]


The fee for pre-licensing exam coursework can be closer to $100 or up to $400. It all depends on the education provider you choose. State universities tend to be the most expensive, community colleges land in the middle of the pack price-wise, and online real estate courses taken through a California education provider or real estate school tend to be the most budget-friendly.

5 important steps to getting a California real estate license 

Step 1: Take 3 California DRE-approved courses

Before applying for a real estate license, you must meet the Department of Real Estate’s education and experience requirements. To be eligible to take the real estate salesperson exam in California, be prepared to enroll in and successfully complete three very specific college-level courses. 

These courses need to be approved by the DRE and include California Real Estate Principles, California Real Estate Practice, and one elective course. According to the California DRE, each of these courses must be completed at one of the following:

  • An institution of higher learning accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges
  • A comparable, regional accrediting agency that the U.S. Department of Education recognizes
  • A private real estate school with courses that are approved by the California Real Estate Commissioner

Special considerations for attorneys in California 

Are you a member of the California State Bar? If you furnish proof of your admission to practice law in California, then you are legally exempt from the college-level courses required by the DRE. A photocopy of both sides of a California State Bar membership card will suffice as evidence of admission. 

Each course is a minimum of 45 hours, for a total of 135 hours. Once you complete all 3 courses, you’ll have the proof of completion certificates that the DRE requires. [4]

Approved Prelicensing Courses in California

Getting your California real estate license begins with a 135-hour accredited prelicensing course. We recommend The CE Shop. It’s our #1 choice for real estate education in California.

Step 2: Complete and submit your exam application

Next, you’ll need to complete the application to take the California real estate exam. If you’re completing the application for the exam only, you can apply online or complete the Salesperson Examination Application (RE 400A) form. 

If you’re filling out the combined application to take both the exam and obtain a license, then you can complete the Salesperson Exam/ License Application (RE 435). Either way, you’ll have to submit your application and include the $60 application fee, as well as proof of fulfillment of your education requirement. Don’t be surprised (or worried) if the review process takes between 2 to 6 weeks.  

Special considerations for brokers

Have you completed the courses required for the broker examination and license? If you have completed the 8 statutory, college-level courses required for the broker exam and license, then you’re already eligible to take the salesperson exam. You just need to submit proof that you completed the courses to apply for the exam. [5]

Step 3: Take (and pass) California’s real estate exam

After the DRE approves your exam application, you’re ready to schedule your licensing exam. You can use the eLicensing online system to select from available exam dates and sites.

What to bring to the exam: Be prepared

When the day comes for you to take your real estate licensing exam, the only thing you’ll need to be admitted is a valid form of photo identification. The following are the only forms of photo identification accepted:

  • Current state-issued driver’s license or DMV identification card
  • U.S. passport or passport issued by a foreign government
  • U.S. military identification card [6]

Here are a few of the items that you cannot bring into the exam room:

  • Backpack, briefcase, purse and /or wallet (don’t forget to remove your photo ID!)
  • Gum, food, and drinks
  • Keys, watch 
  • Study materials, pens
  • Smart device, laptop, tablet
  • Personal calculator, cell phone

Don’t worry, basic calculators are provided for you to use during the exam. The possession of a cell phone, however, is strictly prohibited, even if you aren’t using it or you’re on break. There will either be individual lockers, a “personal belongings” table, or both available for storing your cell phone, calculator, and other prohibited items during the exam. 


The California real estate salesperson exam consists of 150 multiple choice questions and is three hours long. To pass, you’ll need to score 70% or higher. [7]

Where to take the exam: Exam centers

The DRE administers this computer-based test at the following exam centers in California:

  • Fresno
  • La Palma (Orange County)
  • Oakland
  • Sacramento
  • San Diego

Step 4:  Find a sponsoring real estate brokerage 

According to real estate law as described by the California DRE, you are required to select a sponsoring brokerage if you plan to practice licensed real estate in California. [8] While you may obtain a real estate license even if you do not plan on being employed by a broker right away, you are not permitted to provide any services requiring a California real estate license until you are under the supervision of a licensed broker. 

Ready to be hired by a real estate brokerage?

To select the right brokerage for you, here’s are three things to consider:

1. Brokerage culture and size

Some real estate salespeople prefer bigger brokerages with a national reach while others do better at a localized, boutique brokerage. Brokerages that focus on ultra-luxury real estate sales may be ideal for one person, while another real estate agent may prefer a brokerage dedicated to helping first-time homebuyers. Ultimately, it depends on your personal preferences and professional goals.

2. The commission split

For a new real estate agent, a fair commission split is between 50/50, where the real estate agent and broker get equal sums of money from a commission split, and 70/30, where the real estate agent receives a larger portion than the broker. The split is often determined by a firm’s size and the number of real estate salespeople that are overseen by the broker.

A good rule of thumb is this: If a firm offers you a commission split lower than 50/50 because you are a new real estate agent, keep looking for a brokerage. 

3. The mentorship opportunities

When picking a brokerage, look for a firm that will set you up for success down the road by providing mentorship and training programs. Having that kind of professional support is especially important if you’re new to real estate! 

4. The tech and marketing capabilities

Cutting-edge tools, technology, and market insights are more important than ever. Look for a brokerage that offers innovative agent services and the marketing prowess you need to maximize exposure for you and your clients’ listings.

Step 5: Apply for your California real estate license 

You’ve passed your real estate licensing exam and chosen a sponsoring brokerage… what’s next? You’re ready to fill out the license application and submit it to the DRE for approval. 

Just download your license application from the DRE’s eLicensing online system. When you submit the completed application, you’ll also be expected to include a $245 payment for the required fees and Live Scan fingerprints. [9]

The DRE will notify you when your application has been approved and your official license certificate is available online for printing. To print your certificate, you’ll log onto your free eLicensing account and choose the option to print your license certificate from the menu. 

Your last step? Frame your certificate and display it proudly! 

Exam / license paper application checklist

Before you gather the required salesperson documents, you should: 

  • Read appropriate license instructions carefully (RE 435A or RE 436A).  
  • List your legal name on the application.  
  • Include the items listed below in your packet (check off each item as you assemble your packet).
  • Mail completed application package and fee. [10]

 Required documents for the salesperson applicant:

* Make 2 photocopies of the copy provided. After fingerprints are completed, the Live Scan operator will keep the original. You should return the second copy to the California DRE and keep the third copy for your records. 

FAQs to help you kickstart your California real estate career

Now that you’ve learned how to get a real estate license in California, you’re ready to launch your real estate career. Still trying to decide if real estate is right for you? Keep reading for answers to prospective and new real estate agents’ most frequently asked questions.

  • Can I apply for a California real estate license online?

    Once you have passed the real estate licensing exam, you can apply for a real estate salesperson license online by using the Online Exam/License Application System (OELA). You will need to create an eLicensing account in order to use OELA. Then you can complete and submit the license application (unless you have previously completed the Combined Examination and License application) and pay the applicable fee.[11]

  • CA real estate license: By the numbers
    • $744,280 is the value of the average California home
    • 13 days is the average time it takes for a California home to become pending [22]
  • What is the California real estate license renewal process?

    Renewing your license every 4 years is as simple as

    1. Completing continuing education courses
    2. Entering information into the DRE’s e-licensing system
    3. Paying a renewal fee

    Be aware of your license’s expiration date and take the proper steps to renew your license well before that date. To remind you, the DRE does send a letter to your mailing address around 60 days before the expiration date. [12]

  • What are the continuing education requirements for a California salesperson renewing for the first time?

    Before you renew your salesperson license for the first time, the DRE states that you’ll have to complete 45-clock hours of DRE-approved continuing education (CE). [13] This must include:

    • Four different courses (3 hours each) in ethics, agency, risk management, and trust fund handling
    • One course (3 hours) in fair housing with an interactive participatory component. That means during the course, you will role-play as both a consumer and a real estate professional
    • One course (2 hours) in implicit bias training
    • Consumer protection courses (a minimum of 18 hours)
    • One or more courses in consumer service or consumer protection to round out the remaining 45-clock hours.
  • Where and when can I take continuing education classes?

    When it comes to your continuing education courses, there are several different California real estate schools and real estate education course providers to choose from. Schools and providers tend to offer various packages at different price points, allowing you to choose from online or printed continuing education materials, online courses, and online exams for CE credits.

    For the most part, these California real estate schools let you choose between studying online or having books sent to your office or home. This gives you the flexibility to study where and when it’s convenient for you.

  • How can I renew my license?

    You may renew your real estate license by completing and submitting the following at least 90 days before the license’s expiration date:

  • Can I renew my license online? 

    If you have an eLicensing account, you can certainly renew your salesperson license online using DRE’s eLicensing online system. The eLicensing system is an expedited, easy, and secure way to renew your license any day of the week, at a time that works best for you. [14]

    To renew your real estate license online: [15] [16]

    • You must be a California resident who does not hold a restricted license, or
    • You must be an out-of-state resident who already has a Consent to Service of Process form on file with the DRE.
    • You must be ready to provide all the information detailed in the Salesperson Renewal Application: RE 209.
    • All your continuing education requirements must be met before you use eLicensing for your renewal.

    Ready to renew online? Once you log on, eLicensing will prompt you to enter all the information necessary for license renewal, including the course number and completion date of continuing education courses if those are required. [17]

    No matter what renewal method you choose, your application must be postmarked or your eLicensing transaction completed before midnight of your license expiration date to continue operating under your existing license. If for some reason you don’t renew your license before the expiration date, keep in mind that you cannot practice real estate in California until your license has been renewed.

  • Does California have real estate license reciprocity with any other state?

    While you don’t have to be a state resident to practice real estate in California (residency is not a requirement to become licensed) there are out-of-state requirements for non-residents. California has no reciprocity with any other state to waive any of the requirements for those who want to obtain a license. Requirements include qualifying for the appropriate written examination in California.

    If you’re an out-of-state resident applying for the California real estate salesperson examination, be ready to provide proof of completing the “statutory courses in out-of-state institutions.” And by proof, we mean transcripts from an institution accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges or a comparable regional accrediting entity. The DRE will want to see that each course you took is worth 3 semester-units credit or 4 quarter-units credit.

  • How much money does a California real estate agent earn?

    $$ According to ZipRecruiter, the average salary of a California real estate agent is $90,804  per year as of September 15, 2023. This is the equivalent of $44 per hour, $1,746 per week, or $7,567 per month. Compared to the national average of $86,356, an agent in California makes $4,448 more per year. [18]

    While ZipRecruiter is seeing salaries as high as $149,377 and as low as $29,045, the majority of real estate agent salaries currently range between $67,400 and $103,700, with top earners making $129,667 annually in California.

    ZipRecruiter scanned a database of millions of active jobs published locally across the country to determine that California is ranked number 5 out of 50 states nationwide for real estate agent salaries. ZipRecruiter also reports that the top 5 cities/areas where the typical salary for a real estate agent is above average in California are:

    • #5 San Leandro, $101,440 annual salary
    • #4 Bolinas, $105,673 annual salary
    • #3 Danville, $107,008 annual salary
    • #2 Richmond, $108, 297 annual salary
    • #1 San Mateo County, $124,257 annual salary
  • What’s the real estate agent commission rate in California? 

    Based on several recent surveys, the average real estate agent commission is between 5% and 5.5% in California, depending on the location within the state. This average reflects the total for both the listing agent and the buyer’s agent, and is typically split between the two 50/50. [19] [20]

  • CA housing prices: By the numbers

    $744,280 is the value of the average California home

    13 days is the average time it takes for a California home to become pending [21]

The bottom line

Whether it’s tips on getting your real estate license in California or news about housing inventory across the nation, HousingWire is here for you for every step of your real estate journey. We provide the most up-to-date information and insight you need into the biggest home trends, changes in real estate, and more.

  1. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Quick Facts: Real Estate Brokers and Sales Agents”
  1. California Department of Real Estate. “Licensee and Examinee Statistics”
  1. California Department of Real Estate. “Out-of-State Applicants”
  1. California Department of Real Estate. “Steps to Becoming a Licensed Real Estate Salesperson or Broker”
  1. California Department of Real Estate. “Requirements to Apply for a Real Estate Salesperson License”
  1. California Department of Real Estate. “Taking the Exam”
  1. California Department of Real Estate. “How and Where Exams are Scheduled”
  1. California Department of Real Estate. “2023 Real Estate Law (as of January 1, 2023)”
  1. California Department of Real Estate. “California Department of Real Estate eLicensing System”
  1. California Department of Real Estate. “Exam/License Application Checklist”
  1. California Department of Real Estate. “Use eLicensing for Faster Service”
  1. California Department of Real Estate. “Renewing Your License”
  1. California Department of Real Estate. “Continuing Education Requirements”
  1. California Department of Real Estate. “FAQs – Using the eLicensing System”
  1. California Department of Real Estate. “California Department of Real Estate eLicensing System”
  1. California Department of Real Estate. “Out-of-State Applicants”
  1. California Department of Real Estate. “Continuing Education Requirements”
  1. “Real Estate Agent Salary in California”–in-California
  1. FastExpert. “2022 Survey Results: Real Estate Agent Commissions by State”
  1. “How much commission do real estate agents make? Use this calculator to find out”
  1. Zillow. “California Home Values”

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