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California Realtor License

Learn how to obtain a California real estate license.

Although the term "Realtor" is often used when referring to a real estate agent, only members of the National Association of Realtors are allowed to represent themselves with the trademarked term "Realtor," meaning that a California Realtor license should correctly be called a California real estate license. More than 165,000 California-licensed brokers and their employees are members of the California Association of Realtors, a statewide trade association that falls under the jurisdiction of the National Association of Realtors.

In December 2008, more than 532,500 real estate agents and brokers possessed a California real estate license, according to the California Department of Real Estate (DRE).  A salesperson is licensed to sell real estate but only under the direct supervision of a licensed broker. A broker arranges the sale or transfer of interests in real estate. A California real estate license is valid for four years, after which it must be renewed. Real estate agents and brokers who possess a license issued by another state must obtain a California license before conducting real estate business activities in California.

California Real Estate License Requirements

In order to obtain a California real estate license, applicants must pass a DRE examination. Prior to taking the exam, applicants seeking a salesperson license must complete the required three college-level courses from a DRE-approved school. A broker license requires the completion of five courses plus three DRE-approved electives, although California State Bar members are excluded from this requirement.

After all necessary coursework is completed, either the Salesperson Examination Application or the Broker Examination Application should be completed and mailed to the DRE along with the required fee and a copy of the course transcripts. Currently the examination fee is $25 for salespeople and $50 for brokers.

If the applicant's fingerprints are not already on file, there is an additional fingerprint processing fee. Fingerprints can be submitted through the California Department of Justice Live Scan Program after submitting the exam application or after passing the exam.

Licensed real estate salespeople and brokers must be at least 18 years old and legal residents of the United States. A real estate broker must have worked as a full-time licensed salesperson during at least two of the last five years. Failure to disclose any criminal history could result in the denial of a license.

California Real Estate License Exam

To pass the examination, salespeople must answer correctly 70 percent of the exam questions and brokers must answer 75 percent of the exams questions correctly. Both salespeople and brokers must have basic reading, writing, spelling and arithmetic skills. They also must demonstrate an understanding of real estate principles, including the legal effect of agency contracts, deeds, deeds of trust, deposit receipts, bills of sale, mortgages, leases and land contracts of sale. Applicants also are tested on their knowledge of real estate law provisions as administered by the California real estate commissioner, as well as the obligations between agent and principal, and the code of business ethics relating to real estate transactions.

Both the broker and salesperson exams are presented in a multiple-choice format. The salesperson exam is three hours and 15 minutes long, while the broker exam is split into two sessions that each last two and a half hours.

Those who pass the test must complete the Salesperson License Application or the Broker License Application if the License Combo Application, which applies for both the exam and license on a single form, was not originally submitted. Applicants who fail the exam can retake the test an unlimited number of times for up to two years following the date of their original exam application. Once the two-year period has passed, the examinee must repeat the statutory requirements, submit a new exam application and repay the examination fee.

Exam Preparation and Tips

To prepare for both the salesperson and broker examinations, the DRE recommends studying the department-issued reference book and the California Real Estate Law book.

Peterson's, a for-profit test preparation and educational services company, offers the following strategies for taking a real estate exam:

• Each question and all possible answers should be read carefully before making a selection
• Guessing an answer to a question is preferable to leaving it blank
• Only one answer per question should be marked, even if more than one answer seems correct
• The answer sheet and question book should be checked frequently to make sure the numbered questions correspond to the right answers
• If the examinee is running out of time, filling in the remaining questions with the same selection for each question is preferable to leaving them blank and increases the chances of answering some of those questions correctly
• If time permits, the examinee should double-check all answers

Examinees are permitted one silent, pocket-size calculator to use during the test. Cell phones and programmable calculators are not allowed.

Out-of-State Applicant Information

Real estate salespeople and brokers are not required to live in California to obtain a California real estate license. To qualify for the examination, nonresidents must complete the same requirements as residents. The California real estate commissioner must approve all required courses completed outside of California. Nonresidents applying for a license must also submit a notarized Consent to Service of Process form with their application to the DRE. Salespeople are required to work under a licensed California broker.

California Real Estate License Renewal

California real estate licenses must be renewed every four years before the listed expiration date. To renew a license, the salesperson or broker pays the applicable fee and provides proof of completion of the required continuing education classes. Continuing education requirements include 45 hours of DRE-approved courses. Expired licenses can be renewed up to two years following the expiration date; however, once the expiration date on a license passes, the salesperson or broker cannot legally participate in real estate activities until the license is renewed.

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