How to Become a Real Estate Agent

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

As a real estate agent, you play an important role in home and property sales. Learn what it takes to become a real estate agent and how to get started.

[Featured image] Woman in an office standing in front of a desk

Real estate agents help people buy and sell property, but this career offers much more. On any given day, you might host an open house, design a website to market a property, or help a family negotiate a contract for purchasing their first home. 

Read on to learn how to become a real estate agent. The path typically involves taking specific courses, passing an exam, and working with a broker to get your license. 

What is a real estate agent?

A real estate agent helps clients buy and sell residential or commercial properties and rent and lease buildings and land. In this role, you'll have a variety of duties that help clients get the best deals for the sale, purchase, or rental of their property, including listing properties and advertising to attract buyers. You'll also help negotiate contracts, search for properties that fit your client's needs, and coordinate with other real estate professionals, such as brokers and Realtors. 

How to become a real estate agent

Each state has requirements for real estate agents, but you'll typically need a high school diploma. A certificate, certification, or bachelor's degree in real estate or a related field, like marketing, finance, or business administration, can help you but may be optional. In most states, you'll need to take some courses and pass an exam to become a licensed real estate agent. 

Read more: Your Guide to Business Administration Degrees

Here’s a step-by-step guide to how to become a real estate agent:

1. Learn the duties of a real estate agent.

Before you embark on your real estate journey, familiarize yourself with the job duties. Real estate agents can benefit from being efficient multi-taskers, as the job can include a variety of tasks. While no two real estate agents do exactly the same thing each day, you may find yourself performing some or all of the following duties:

  • Searching for and communicating with potential clients

  • Communicating with potential clients about their wants and needs

  • Communicating with current clients about what's going on with their property or contract

  • Coming up with a competitive market price for a property based on research and prior knowledge

  • Helping buyers with the mortgage process

  • Assisting buyers to prepare a house for sale

  • Keeping up with local community information, such as the best schools, crime rates, and entertainment options

  • Hosting open houses

  • Creating print media to promote properties for sale

  • Creating and executing a digital marketing plan for each property for sale

  • Showing houses to potential buyers

  • Negotiating deals for clients

  • Preparing documents and ensuring they meet all state and local laws and regulations

2. Learn your state’s real estate regulations.

Each state has unique requirements for real estate agent licensure, though they typically involve taking some courses and passing an exam. All states have an age requirement, while some have education qualifications you must meet. For example, you must be 18 years old in Georgia and have your high school diploma or GED, while applicants must be 19 years old with a high school education or equivalent in Nebraska. You must also complete a background check. Some states may require fingerprinting or require you to disclose any criminal history.  

Once you satisfy any basic requirements for your state, you'll typically need to enroll in a program that allows you to take a certain number of hours of real estate courses from an approved school or organization. You usually have to pay for these courses, which will vary by state. Also, some states have reciprocity agreements with other states, which means if you earn your license in one state, another state will let you practice there without additional coursework.

3. Prepare for the exam.

Some pre-licensure coursework requires a final exam to complete all course requirements. Depending on the state, you may also need to score a certain percentage on it to move on to the next step. Once you do that, you can prepare for the final state licensing exam.

Find out if your state previews the topics on the exam so you'll better understand what you need to study. You can also look for practice exams online. Some states may offer them, as do some real estate schools.

Once you know what to study, it may help to make relevant notes or flashcards and review them as much as possible. Some experts suggest breaking your study sessions into periods of 30 or 45 minutes to make them more efficient [1].

After scheduling the exam, ensure you know where the exam will take place, how to get there on time, and how to park. Finally, stay positive. You've worked hard to reach this point, resulting in a rewarding and exciting real estate career.

4. Register and sit for the exam.

You will likely have to register to take your state's licensing exam, which means paying a fee. Your state's regulatory board can tell you when to register and where you can take the exam.

The exam typically consists of two parts—a national section and a state-specific section. The number of questions and time allotted for the exam will depend on the state. If you don't pass one or both sections, you can usually retake the exam after a specific passing of time.

5. Find a sponsoring broker.

The final step to earning your license in most states is finding a broker to sponsor you. As an agent, you'll work on behalf of a broker, and they'll help you finally earn your license. Research and find a broker who meets your needs and goals. For example, if you're interested in selling commercial property, look for a broker with this specialty. Some states may require you to find a broker before you take the real estate exam, so always check with your state's regulatory board on current rules.

Once you've chosen a broker and they agree to sponsor you, they'll help you complete the necessary paperwork to get your license. The two of you will submit it to your state's licensing board. Once it's approved, you'll officially be a real estate agent.

Required skills for a real estate agent

Real estate agents work hard and often work weekends and evenings in addition to regular office hours. You must have good organizational skills, as you'll likely work with multiple clients simultaneously. You must also be a great communicator, self-motivated, and a good negotiator. Knowledge of the real estate market and your local community is essential to the job. Other skills that you typically need as a real estate agent include:

  • Adaptability

  • Comfort using the latest technology

  • Negotiation skills

  • Integrity

  • Problem-solving

  • Self-motivation

  • Time management

  • Marketing

Real estate agent career path

Working as a real estate agent can be exciting and rewarding. You may advance your career with more education or try different jobs in the industry. Some examples of what your real estate agent career path may look like include:

  • Becoming a Realtor by joining the National Association of Realtors

  • Becoming a real estate broker yourself

  • Going to law school and becoming a real estate attorney

  • Switching to the financial side of things and becoming a mortgage officer or appraiser

  • Showing off your creative side by professional staging and photographing homes for sale

  • Taking a more hands-on approach and managing or investing in property

How long does it take to become a real estate agent?

For the average person, it may take anywhere from about two to six months to become a real estate agent, which can vary depending on where you live and your own pace. Your state requirements and your schedule can impact that. Taking your pre-licensing courses online or in person can also play a role. Getting your license can take longer if you need to take your licensing exam more than once.

Salary and job outlook

According to Lightcast™, real estate agents make an average annual salary of $99,178 [2]. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the real estate field will continue to grow through 2032 at a rate of 3 percent [3]. This growth rate is considered as fast as average compared to other fields.

Read more: Real Estate Agent Salary Guide: What to Expect

Getting started with Coursera

Once you've earned your real estate license, continuing your education can help you advance your career. On Coursera, you'll find courses that can help you do just that and more, such as Financing and Investing in Infrastructure offered by Bocconi University, Introduction to Negotiation: A Strategic Playbook for Becoming a Principled and Persuasive Negotiator offered by Yale University, and Finance for Non-Finance Professionals offered by Rice University.

Article sources


The Learning Center, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. "Strategic Test Prep," Accessed January 16, 2024

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