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Q:  Marsha, I have been a high school teacher in Santa Barbara for five years and I’d like to make a change. Real estate has always fascinated me. What do I need to do to get my real estate license?  

A:  It’s a popular idea to explore real estate as a career change. There are many professionals — teachers, attorneys, CPAs, police officers, and, in Santa Barbara, even a nuclear physicist — who have taken the leap and become real estate agents. The process from deciding to be an agent to becoming a licensee takes five to six months. 

The first step is to take 135 hours of courses from a California sanctioned course provider. There are two required courses: Real Estate Principles and Real Estate Practice, which are 45 hours each. The final 45 hours can be selected from an array of approved courses. Once you’ve taken these courses and then passed the required exam, you are eligible to take the state exam. 

The California licensee test is 150 questions. You will be tested on seven areas of real estate: property ownership and land-use controls and regulations, laws of agency and fiduciary duties, property valuation and financial analysis, financing, transfer of property, practice of real estate, and disclosures and contracts. You have three hours and 15 minutes to complete the test. A passing score is 70 percent. 

Once you pass the state test, have your fingerprints taken, submit to a background check, and pay California their license fee, then congratulations! You are now a real estate licensee. This license permits you to work under the supervision of a real estate broker.  

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My strong recommendation is to start your career with a large, established brokerage. They will match you with a mentor and provide invaluable training. Right now, all you know about real estate is how to pass the state test. You need to learn about the actual practice of real estate. 

It’s important to have a strong support system. Real estate is strictly commission based. You may work with a buyer for 100 hours, but if that client goes to an open house and writes an offer with the open house agent, you will earn nothing. 

Early in my career I had clients whom I had worked with for many months. We became friends over our time together. They called me up one Sunday afternoon to tell me their “good” news. They thought I would be thrilled they had finally found a home to purchase. They had no idea I would not be involved and would receive nothing from this transaction. Be sure to educate your clients as to how your hard work is compensated.

Real estate is a huge tent; I love how inclusive a career it is. All California residents over 18 can be issued a license. Everyone is accepted whether you have a middle school education, a law degree or an MD. Simply pass the state exam, work for a brokerage, learn the business and start helping clients. There is a client out there for every type of agent. Be aware: real estate is extremely hard work. You work for yourself. You set your own hours … as long as it’s all of your hours. I’ll see you on caravan!

Marsha Gray has worked in Santa Barbara real estate for more than 25 years. She works at Allyn & Associates, where she helps her clients buy and sell homes and with lending services. To read more of Marsha’s Q&A articles, visit Contact Marsha at (805) 252-7093 or

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