How to Get a Real Estate License in California

Getting a real estate license in California can prove to be a lucrative opportunity. It’s the 6th largest economy in the world, so there’s plenty of opportunity for growth. It’s also one of the easiest states to obtain and maintain a real estate license. Although it can be quite competitive in certain markets, that makes the journey just as rewarding.

Short Answer
  1. Complete 3 real estate courses
  2. Pass the state exam
  3. Choose a broker

From start to finish, it takes about 3 to 4 months.

Long Answer

Basic Eligibility Requirements:

  • You need to be 18 years or older at the time of applying for the state exam.
  • You must have a valid social security number or be a legally admitted alien. 

1. Fulfill Education Requirements

You’ll need to choose an accredited school to take the 3 required courses: Principles, Practices, and one elective course.

The elective courses are completely up to you. You can choose from Finance, Appraisal, Property Management, Legal Aspects, Office Administration, Escrows, Mortgage Loan Brokering and Lending, Business Law, General Accounting, Common Interest Developments or Computer Applications in Real Estate.

I personally recommend the Finance course because there’s an entire section on Finance on the state exam, so it’ll help you the most later. Legal Aspects is a strong second choice.

Special Exemptions

If you’re a member of the California State Bar, you are exempt from the courses but you still need to take the State Exam.

If you’ve taken a college course in Accounting, Micro/Macro Economics or Business Law, this can count as your elective course.

How long do the courses take?

California has a restriction on how fast you can complete the courses. You have to wait for at least 18 days before taking the final exam, and you take one at a time. That means for 3 courses at 18 days each, the fastest you can finish would be 54 days.

How much does it cost?

I’ve seen online schools offer the program anywhere from $99 to $500. I’m a strong believer in “you get what you pay for.” I don’t recommend going for the cheapest ones. They won’t give you the right amount of preparation for the state exam, and you’ll end up paying for it later anyways if you don’t pass it on your first attempt. I also wouldn’t go for the most expensive ones (unless they’re on promotion). Usually, the best value is somewhere in the middle.

Choosing a School

There’s a dizzying list of real estate schools out there. So, it can be hard to decide which one to go with. Each school has their own pros and cons; so ultimately, it depends on what you want. You can take a look at our Review of the Top Real Estate Schools in California to give you some ideas. 

2. Pass the State Exam

After you’re done with the courses, you’ll mail the course certificates along with your application to take the state exam.

The state exam has 150 multiple-choice questions. You get up to 3 hours and 15 minutes to finish and need a score of 70% or better to pass.

It costs $60 to take the exam, and you take it at one of the California Department of Real Estate (DRE) offices.

The main offices are in Sacramento, Fresno, Oakland, San Diego and Los Angeles. However, there are satellite locations that may be closer to you. The tests are held 3-4 times per week, every week. Every time I’ve looked they’ve always had availability. You can see the exam dates and availability here.

If you’re in a hurry, the state has a fast track application option, where you pay the $60 exam fee and $245 license fee upfront. This cuts down on the paperwork going back and forth, allowing the DRE to finish processing your application faster.

If you don’t pass the state exam on the first attempt, don’t get discouraged. You can re-take it as many times as you need.

Almost done...

Congrats! You passed the state exam! Just a few more house-keeping things to wrap up.

License Fee

If you didn’t choose the fast track option from before, this is when you’ll pay the DRE the license fee of $245.


You’ll also need to verify your identity through electronic finger-printing program called Live Scan. It’s a very quick and painless process, but costs $49. You can find a location near you here.

Background check

The DRE may deny your application if you’ve been convicted of a substantially related crime. What does that mean? You can read about it under the section Criteria of Substantial Relationship

Any court-ordered child support must be current.

3. Choose a Broker

You’ve got your real estate license! Now you’re ready to make some money!
In order to use your license for any real estate transaction, you have to hang your license with a broker. 

Finding a broker is easy, choosing one is hard.

I suggest going out to visit at least 3 to 5 brokers and see what they have to offer. You’ll want to evaluate their culture, reputation, support, and commission split.

In my experience, company culture is the #1 deciding factor for determining happiness and whether you’ll want to stay there. There are a lot of indirect benefits you get when you find a great company to work with (even if they don’t have the highest payout). It’s not a coincidence that the best friends I’ve made in my own life came from the company that I had the most fun at. 

Also, I wouldn’t stress about it too much. If you pick one that you regret joining, you can always quit and find another company that’s a better fit for you.

Renewing Your License

Your real estate license is good for four years. To keep it active, you’ll have to renew it.

Luckily, it’s super easy to do: you just need to complete 45 hours of approved CE and then pay the renewal fee.

You can complete the 45 hours of CE at any time during your 4 year cycle. However, you’ll have to wait at least 90 days before your license expires to turn in the certificates.

Once you’re done with the courses, simply turn in the certificates on the DRE’s online eLicensing portal.

California will mail you a courtesy notice to remind you of your renewal date, but I definitely wouldn’t rely on it. A lot of people mistake it for junk mail and throw it away.

Some Final Thoughts

If you’re going to be in real estate, California is the best place to do it. It’s one of the strongest real estate markets in the world with huge upside potential. There’s plenty of business to go around.

Maybe a career in real estate will work out for you, maybe it won’t. It only takes a couple of hundred dollars and about three months of your time to find out. If you’ve kept reading up to this point, I think the only thing you’ll regret is if you didn’t give it a try.