The simple answer is, “it depends.” It mostly depends on where an individual wants to practice real estate. Becoming a real estate agent requires a state license. Each state regulates their own real estate licensing process, and each state’s regulations or rules are slightly different. But, there are a few basic requirements that are always consistent.

States require people to take pre-licensing training from a certified institution before they can sit for the real estate licensing exam. The required number of training hours can vary significantly by jurisdiction: In Virginia, for example, real estate agents must take 60 hours of pre-licensing training, but in California they need to take 135 hours.
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.
A real estate broker is a step up the professional food chain. Brokers have additional training and education that have qualified them to pass a higher licensing exam; most states also require them to have a certain amount of recent experience as an active real estate agent. Brokers handle the technical aspects of the real estate transaction. A client signs a contract with a brokerage, not the individual agent. In many states brokers' additional certification authorizes them to handle other legal and financial aspects of a deal, such as handling the earnest money deposit and establishing the escrow account.

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 broker is a step up the professional food chain. Brokers have additional training and education that have qualified them to pass a higher licensing exam; most states also require them to have a certain amount of recent experience as an active real estate agent. Brokers handle the technical aspects of the real estate transaction. A client signs a contract with a brokerage, not the individual agent. In many states brokers' additional certification authorizes them to handle other legal and financial aspects of a deal, such as handling the earnest money deposit and establishing the escrow account.
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