Agents act as go-betweens for the principal parties, carrying offers and counteroffers and other questions back and forth. Once a bid is accepted, agents on both sides often continue to work, helping their clients through the paperwork, conveying communications, advising on inspections and moving, and generally shepherding the deal through to closing.
The exact definitions of and distinctions between a real estate agent and a real estate broker vary among states. Generally, however, anyone who earns a basic real estate license (which involves taking a certain number of accredited courses and passing an exam) can be called a real estate agent. A real estate agent is essentially a salesperson, qualified to help consumers buy or sell a property.
A real estate agent is a licensed professional who arranges real estate transactions, putting buyers and sellers together and acting as their representative in negotiations. Real estate agents usually are compensated completely by a commission—a percentage of the property’s purchase price—so their income depends on their ability to close a deal. In almost every state a real estate agent must work for or be affiliated with a real estate broker (an individual or a brokerage firm), who is more experienced and licensed to a higher degree.
Timing is important at this step. Make sure you are following the application process with your state so you can sit for your real estate agent exam soon after you finish your real estate licensing classes. This process will be state-specific and include a fee. Check with your state’s real estate regulatory authority for complete details. Some states require you submit fingerprints and pass a background check. This can take weeks to process. In many states, the application process must be complete before you can register or schedule your exam date. Don’t let the paperwork become a roadblock to getting started in your new real estate career.
Your passing grade on your state real estate licensing exam doesn’t quite mean you have a license yet. A real estate salesperson (agent) is licensed to act on behalf of a broker and may not act as a real estate agent independently. Consider finding a real estate broker early in your licensing process. Once you have completed your prelicensing education requirements and passed your exam, you and your broker will both need to complete final paperwork with the state. Once the form is accepted, your license will be issued, and you may practice real estate under the sponsorship of the broker. Keep in mind that there are a number of items to consider when finding the right real estate brokerage.
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Revisit your state real estate commission's website for instructions on how to sign up to take the licensing exam. (Most states outsource administration of the exams to third-party testing centers.) Exams are typically divided into two portions: one on federal real estate laws and general real estate principles, the second on state-specific laws. Both typically consist of 60 to 100 multiple-choice questions, including math questions that require you to use a calculator (e.g., prorating taxes for a specific property). Most pre-licensing courses provide students with sample tests, and many real estate commissions publish sample questions online.
The process of buying a home or selling a home is very complex and the help of a real estate agent will prove invaluable in the end. Real estate transactions are far more complicated than an online purchase. A lot of paperwork is involved, so when property changes hands, you must have a real estate agent by your side. And the best place to find one is by using our agent directory!