What Does It Take to Become a Real Estate Agent?


Have you ever wondered what being a real estate agent might be like? If so, you’re not alone. You might be surprised by how many people have considered the same thing. You might be even more surprised to discover how many people have done it. It’s estimated that more than 3 million licensed real estate agents are in the US. That’s almost 1% of the country’s population. 

Many people get into real estate, hoping to make money through a fun and fulfilling career. The reality, though, is that most agents never end up making a full-time income in real estate. The journey to real estate success is much more challenging and takes longer than most people expect. But for those who stick it out, the dreams of a high-income, high-impact career are very possible.   

About the author: Jordan Hall is a (reformed) attorney, real estate broker, and entrepreneur. He wrote the book, Every Degree Debt Free, about his experiences paying for law school without loans. Today, he no longer practices law but helps folks build wealth so that they can live their purpose and leave a legacy. He is also a French fry connoisseur.

So, what does it take to become a real estate agent?

The short answer to that question is, “Not much.”  Obtaining a real estate license is relatively easy. In most states, it requires a few weeks’ worth of classes and passing a modest exam. However, obtaining a license and making a living selling real estate are two very different things.

Let's get familiar with what it takes to earn a real estate license, how you can make money as an agent, and answer some of the common questions about the subject.

Getting a license

Real estate licensing is governed by the individual states, so your state will determine the exact requirements. Most states require a minimum level of education about real estate and the rules and laws surrounding it. This education requirement can be satisfied by attending some prescribed classes offered by an accredited real estate “school” (many of which are available online) or, in some cases, can be satisfied by having obtained certain course credits from university or community college classes.

Once you have completed the required education, you must pass a real estate licensing exam. The exam generally covers the materials from your education requirement and your state's relevant real estate laws.

Most states also require a background check before granting a real estate license. Assuming you’ve completed the education requirement and passed the licensing exam and background check, you are now licensed to sell.

But just as a driver’s license is somewhat useless without a car, a real estate license necessitates additional tools.

Joining an MLS

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) is the largest trade association comprising real estate agents (members bear the designation, Realtor). This organization advocates for the real estate industry and helps facilitate real estate sales and relationships among agents. One of the main ways they do this is through the multiple listing service or MLS. The MLS is the local database where properties can be listed for sale, and information about those listings can be propagated. Only those agents who are members of the local Realtor board have access to the list and search for properties and information through the MLS, so joining is a must for most agents around the country. This, of course, comes with a cost, usually around $1,000 per year.   

Building a business

Becoming licensed and joining the MLS are the prerequisites for getting started as a real estate agent, but making money requires an entirely different skill set. It’s like the difference between earning a degree and landing a job.   

To start making money, you’ve got to convince people to do business with you. This usually takes time.

According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), the median income of agents with 16 or more years of experience was $85,000 in 2021. Contrast this with the median income of agents with two years or less experience of just $8,800.

Fortunately, loads of resources exist to help you build your business. I struggled through my first several years as an agent, doing just a handful of deals each year until I found some resources (books and YouTube videos) that helped me determine the right actions. During my sixth year, I crossed the six-figure income threshold.  

Only after I discovered the right actions to take and began taking them consistently over time did I start to see marked results.   

Can I be a part-time agent?

Many people consider getting into real estate on a part-time basis. This can certainly be a great way to begin to learn the business. However, I always remind folks that a part-time commitment usually also means part-time income. In the real estate business, results follow after and rise to the level of effort and investment.

Becoming a real estate agent has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I’ve made a good living, built lasting relationships, and grown personally through this career. However, while becoming an agent was relatively quick and easy, building my business was not. It has taken years of time and effort and continues to. If you’re considering getting a license, I highly encourage you to do it. Remember, the return you get will be a direct product of the time, energy, and effort you put in.