Becoming a Real Estate Agent: Don’t Let Your Criminal Record Stop You

becoming a real estate agentYou may be wondering why an attorney is blogging about becoming a real estate agent.

First of all, I am a licensed real estate broker and realtor in California and have personally been through the process of becoming a real estate agent.

Although the real estate market can at times be volatile due to being affected by many local and national factors, making a living as a real estate agent can be very exciting and can provide an extremely profitable career.

Secondly, in my law practice I focus on helping my clients gain employment as real estate agents by removing harmful criminal convictions (misdemeanors and/ or felonies) from their criminal backgrounds.

So in this post, I first discuss the requirements of becoming a real estate agent in California.

Next, I dive in to a couple of practical ways for you to overcome the obstacle of a criminal background in your quest to become a real estate agent.

Step #1 in Becoming a Real Estate Agent: Meet Threshold Requirements of Age and Residency

If you want to become a real estate agent in California, you must be 18 years of age and have residency in California.

“Residency” is a legal status and California courts are likely to consider factors such as 1) where you spend most of your time, 2) where you are employed, 3) where you pay taxes, and 4) where you own a home, when determining residency.

Sleeping on a friend’s couch for a week in California, on the other hand, does not make you a California resident.

If you are not a California resident but still want to become a real estate agent in California, Additional Forms must be filed in your application with the California Department of Real Estate.

Step #2 in Becoming a Real Estate Agent: Pass the Written Test

Becoming a real estate agent involves taking and passing a written examination.

In California the salesperson exam is three hours and fifteen minutes long. It consists of 150 multiple-choice questions and covers topics such as real estate law, escrow, administrative procedure, and ethics.

The broker exam is five hours long and has 200 multiple choice questions, and covers the same topics.

To help you pass the test, there are many online study programs to help you understand the material tested on both the salesperson and broker exams, such as this one.

Once you have met the threshold requirements of age and residency, and after you have passed the written examination, you can then apply for your real estate license, which involves the next two steps.

Step #3 in Becoming a Real Estate Agent: Complete Courses

Unless you are a licensed attorney, you are required to complete three college level courses in order to obtain your real estate license:

  1. “Real Estate Principles,”
  2. “Real Estate Practice,” and
  3. One course from the following list:
    • Real Estate Appraisal
    • Property Management
    • Real Estate Finance
    • Real Estate Economics
    • Legal Aspects of Real Estate
    • Real Estate Office Administration
    • General Accounting
    • Business Law
    • Escrow
    • Mortgage Loan Brokering and Lending
    • Computer Applications in Real Estate
    • Common Interest Developments

Each course you take must be at the college level and valued at either four quarter-units or three semester-units.

To make sure you are taking the correct courses, the California Department of Real Estate has provided a list of the schools offering approved courses here.

Step #4 in Becoming a Real Estate Agent: Make Sure You are Prepared to Pass the Background Check

Becoming a real estate agent in California involves passing a background check.

You are required to disclose all criminal convictions to the Department of Real Estate, even if expunged or reduced to a misdemeanor (as discussed below).

Failure to disclose all convictions may result in a denial of your license!

Failure to disclose your past convictions to the Department of Real Estate can be interpreted as fraudulence or misrepresentation, so what are you to do when you have a conviction that must be disclosed?

What to Do When You Have a Criminal Background to Disclose

If you have one or more criminal convictions to disclose in your path to becoming a real estate agent, first be aware that the Department of Real Estate is primarily concerned with convictions related to violence, fraud, dishonesty, or other behaviors that may reflect negatively on your “qualifications, functions, and duties of a real estate licensee.”

Most criminal convictions can fall under this umbrella to one extent or another, but the good news is there are two measures you can take to improve your chances of licensure.

1) Reduce Your Felony to a Misdemeanor. If you have a felony conviction on your criminal background, California law allows a couple of different ways to reduce your felony conviction to a misdemeanor conviction, either under Prop 47 or under Penal Code 17(b).

As your attorney, I can file and argue your petition to the court for you to ensure maximum chances of success (just contact me for help below).

The reason reducing your felony to a misdemeanor can help you with the Department of Real Estate, even though you would still have to disclose the conviction, is because a judge’s ruling that your felony is worthy of being re-classified as a misdemeanor is very persuasive to the California licensing board.

By definition, a felony conviction involves potential time in prison, whereas a misdemeanor only warrants potential time in jail. Thus, a re-classification of your felony as a misdemeanor makes your record less egregious.

In the case of a Prop 47 motion, your felony conviction is re-designated as a misdemeanor because a change in California law has made your offense now a misdemeanor.

In the case when your felony is reduced to a misdemeanor under California Penal Code 17(b), when the judge grants your motion the judge has declared the reason your felony should be re-designated as a misdemeanor is because of one or more of the following:

  • the nature and/ or circumstances of the offense were not that horrible;
  • your overall criminal record is not that bad;
  • your positive attitude, appreciation of the conviction, and rehabilitation have been established; and/ or
  • you are not a threat to public safety.

A felony reduction to a misdemeanor can prove to be extremely powerful and persuasive to the Department of Real Estate, in determining whether you are fit to be a licensed real estate agent.

For help reducing your felony to a misdemeanor, you can contact me below.

2) Expunge Your Felony or Misdemeanor Conviction. California law also allows, under California Penal Code 1203.4, an “expungement” of your conviction.

An expungement is when the conviction from your record is re-classified as “dismissed” rather than “convicted.”

Both felony and misdemeanor offenses can be expunged, assuming all legal requirements are met.

For example, if you served time in prison for your felony, this would make you ineligible, but serving time in jail for your felony would not make you ineligible.

The reason an expungement can help you in becoming a real estate agent is because it shows the Department of Real Estate that a judge has decided the circumstances surrounding your conviction justify re-classifying it as dismissed rather than convicted – a very powerful statement.

Moreover, even though an expunged conviction must still be disclosed to the Department of Real Estate when you are applying for your real estate license, once your conviction is expunged and after you have obtained licensure as real estate agent, you do not have to disclose an expunged conviction to an employer.

Many employers ask about felony or misdemeanor convictions, and as long as your case has been expunged in California under Penal Code 1203.4, you do not have to disclose that expunged conviction to an employer and may truthfully answer “no” when asked if you have a prior conviction.

Further, even if an employer discovers an expunged conviction on your record, the employer is barred from using evidence of that expunged conviction to take any adverse employment action against you.

Putting it All Together

Lastly, I just want to wish you luck in your path to becoming a real estate agent.

I hope this post was informative and helpful.

If you need help clearing your criminal background, text me at 949-973-6478.

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