A license is required to be a real estate professional in California. The prerequisites for obtaining a license include completing specific college-level coursework, passing a written examination, and undergoing a state background check.

California offers two levels of real estate licenses: a salesperson license and a broker license. Since obtaining a broker license requires documented experience, those new to the business must apply for a salesperson license first.

California Real Estate Salesperson License

A California real estate salesperson is authorized to handle real estate transactions but must work under a licensed broker. A salesperson cannot own his own company or hire other agents to work under him.

The requirements for a salesperson license include completing three college-level courses: real estate principles, real estate practice and an elective course from an approved list. You must complete these courses at an accredited university or private real estate school approved by the California Real Estate Commissioner.

Completing the education requirement grants you the opportunity to take the written real estate salesperson examination. Once you pass the exam, you can apply for a real estate salesperson license with the California Bureau of Real Estate, which then conducts a background check.

You must disclose any and all criminal convictions on your application. Depending on the crime, a conviction may or may not be disqualifying. But failure to disclose a conviction, even for a minor offense, is grounds for immediate denial of your application.

California Real Estate Broker License

The first prerequisite to obtaining a California real estate broker license is accumulating two years of experience as a real estate salesperson under a licensed broker. This experience must be completed within five years prior to applying.

Becoming a broker requires additional education beyond that demanded of salespeople – eight college courses, rather than three, taken at an accredited university or approved private real estate school.

You must take and pass a written real estate broker examination; it follows a similar format to the salesperson exam but covers additional topics relevant to the brokerage side of the business. You must submit an application to the state, which includes proof of completing the coursework and passing the exam, along with information for a background check. Again, answering the questions about prior criminal convictions truthfully is paramount. The one thing sure to get your application denied is a failure to disclose a conviction, no matter how minor the crime.

Exceptions to Education Requirements

If you are applying for a salesperson license and already have the eight courses required for brokers under your belt, you do not have to take the three salesperson courses.

If you are an attorney who is a member of the California State Bar in good standing, you are exempt from some of the requirements to become a licensed real estate salesperson or real estate broker. Basically, you are granted permission to sit for the exam straight away. Your eligibility to practice law in California can be used in place of the college classes required of other applicants. However, you must still take and pass the relevant exam to become a salesperson or broker. Moreover, you are not exempt from the two years of real estate experience required of broker applicants. However, that experience does not necessarily have to be in sales: Other types of experience, such as practicing real estate law, might be deemed acceptable. Decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.