My Diary - Getting a New Jersey (and Pennsylvania) Real Estate License

31 Replies

Hi all!

This is a very long and detailed post.  Way longer than I anticipated, but I tried to answer all the questions I had prior to starting this process, which was a lot.  If any of the info below is incorrect, let me know and I'll fix it.

So far, I've taken the pre-licensing course, passed the state exam, and signed up for fingerprints.  I've started interviewing brokers, but I could use some recommendations if anyone has some.  See step 6 below for more...

I was on the fence for a long time about whether or not I wanted to get my license.  I owe a quick shoutout and thank you to @Mark Gallagher , @Jay Hinrichs , and @James Wise for nudging me in the right direction.  

Ultimately, I decided the license will provide resources and connections that I otherwise will not have. Plus, I want access to the MLS so I can stop bugging other agents to show me properties and I can make offers in hours, not days.

Hopefully some wannabe agents will find this useful.  Feel free to reach out to me with any questions.  I'm happy to help with what I can!

Timeline: 

1. Decide you WANT to be an Agent

The first (and hardest, IMO) step to becoming an agent is to decide that you want to be one.  There are plenty of good posts on BP from people smarter and farther along than me that can help you answer that question.

2. Pick a School

Once you decide you want to be an agent, you need to sign up to take the pre-licensing course.  You can't do it online.  In New Jersey, you have to take a 75 hour pre-licensing course and pass an in-class test on the last day.  You can take a 10-day class (two weeks M-F), 8 hours per day, or a 12 week class.  If you can do it, I recommend the 10 day class.  You go over a LOT of information, and having it fresh will definitely help you pass the tests.

  • This should help you choose a school:
    • A-Z list of classes from the state of NJ*
    • Easy to navigate Weichert classes*
      • *Note - the hosting brokers are not allowed to advertise their brokerage to you during class time, so the material will be the same regardless of what class you take.
    • Or just Google it, that's how I found the Princeton School of Real Estate, which is where I took the course.  It was the soonest available and that was my only criteria.
    • The school cost me about $350 and the required book was $40.
  • Quick Tip #1 - the material in each class is the same. The class instructor is not. I recommend doing some research on the instructor prior to signing up.
  • Quick Tip #2 - if you're looking to get both your PA and NJ license, take NJ first.  The hours transfer to PA (they only require 65 hours).  Once you pass the class and state exam for NJ, you'll only have to take the 20-question state portion for PA.  It does NOT work the other way around. (Thanks for the tip, @Mark Gallagher)

3. Take the Pre-Licensing Course

  1. Okay, so you've decided you want to be an agent and you've signed up and paid for the pre-licensing course.  Now you're committed!  
  • Course Outline:
    • Arrive to class with a notepad, highlighter and some pencils/pens.
    • The 630 page textbook you'll receive is called "Principles and Practices of New Jersey Real Estate" by Frank W. Kovats.  Don't be intimidated, it's a handy book that you'll be able to use as a resource long after you pass the class and have your license.  You won't be reading every page.
    • You'll go over everything from NJ laws to mortgages to property management to valuing an investment property.  The tests seemed to focus on NJ laws, contracts, types of estates & deeds, types of agencies, and scenarios of do's and don'ts.  Lots of stuff on discrimination.
    • Take efficient notes.  Use your highlighter.  Each day I would read through the glossary and highlight terms we went over.  This helped immensely.  If your instructor talks about a point a lot, you can bet it will be on the test.
    • Remember, you're there to pass the test, but just as importantly you're there to be a better investor.  It's a great opportunity to further your knowledge.
  • Quick Tip #3 - Bring a bunch of business cards.  Make friends with the people in the class.  People from all walks of life will be there, it's a great place to make connections.

4. Passing the Tests

The last day of the pre-licensing course you'll have to pass a test, and then you must take the state exam.  You must get a 70% or higher on BOTH the class exam and the state exam.  The class exam is similar to the state exam.  

Most schools will let you retake the school exam either the same day or at another time for free if you fail.  You don't have to take the whole class over.  The state exam costs $45 to take.  You can take it as many times as you like if you keep failing.

You cannot sign up for the state exam until you pass the pre-licensing course and they register you with PSI, the testing company.

You have one year from the day you pass the course to pass the state exam, get your fingerprint and have your license hung up in a brokerage.

Once you pass the pre-licensing course, they'll register you with PSI, the testing service.  You'll get an email from PSI with a link to go and sign up for the test.  They'll have all your info already.  You can choose to take the test anywhere in the state, so I recommend driving to take it as soon as possible while the info is fresh.  I got the email a few hours after passing the course, and signed up to take it the next day on a Saturday, which means I completed the entire process in 11 days.  If you ask me, that's the way to do it.  Get it over with so you can get out there and get started.

  • Tips to pass the tests:
    • Take the practice quizzes in the book.  These were the ones I focussed on: 3-12, 14 & 15, 20. 
    • Take all the practice quizzes, the glossary quiz, and the practice final.  If you're consistently getting 75% or higher, you're ready for both the class exam and the state exam.
    • The glossary is key. Make sure you go over terms you're unsure of.  Ask questions in class.
    • The exams are based on comprehension, so you need to watch for how they word the questions as you will trip yourself up.  For example, when a question is asked in a definitive manner, look for a definitive word in the answers.  This should help you narrow down answers.
      • "You MUST do which of the following" vs. "You SHOULD do which of the following" can yield two completely different answers.
    • You have 4 hours for both the test in the course and the state exam.  You won't need 4 hours.
    • I paid attention (the best I could for an 8-hour class in a metal folding chair) took notes, and did the practice tests.  I had no issue with either test.  K.I.S.S. - keep it simple, stupid!  If you're on BiggerPockets reading this, you're already smarter than most of the agents out there and if they passed, so can you!
  • Quick Tip #4 - Don't compare answers to answers on the tests.  Read the question, then read answer A, read the question, then read answer B and so on.  Also, don't change your original answer unless you're 100% sure you know you were wrong.

5. Getting your Fingerprint

You've done the hard stuff.  Congratulations!  Once you pass the test, you need to get your fingerprint taken.

I was told you cannot schedule your fingerprint until after you take the state exam, but I'm not sure if that was accurate.  I advise you sign up for the fingerprint as soon as you pass the state exam.  I passed the state exam on 8/8/15 and the earliest I could get for the fingerprint within 100 miles of me was 8/17/15.  Ridiculous, right?  

Oh, and it cost $70.

6. Finding a Broker

At any point during this process, you can start interviewing brokers.  You can't do any transactions until you have a sponsoring broker.  Once you pass the state test, take the printout they give you (or you may receive it in the mail) to the broker, fill it out with the broker and mail in the $169 state fee.  The state will send your license to your broker (they hold it in Trenton in the meantime).  You cannot do business on your own.  If you leave the brokerage, you/the broker must notify the state and have your license transferred and accepted by a new broker.

Once you find a broker and join the broker, you can apply to the board of Realtors to become a Realtor (basically just pay your fees). Then, you can join the MLS of your choice, or as many as you choose. You must be a Realtor to join the MLS.  There are 7 MLS in New Jersey and each has a separate fee.  $100-200 each I believe.

The most common question asked in the class was "why would a broker want me?" or "how am I supposed to find a broker?"

Believe it or not, brokers will want YOU! You're splitting your commission with them, paying for your own advertising and MLS fees, etc. They're happy to bring you on board because you'll be bringing them business.

Now, I haven't exactly made it this far.  I'm still trying to choose the perfect broker.  Technically, this means I don't have my license yet.  But I can provide advice on what I've learned so far and the approach I'm taking as a real estate investor.  

  • My personal approach:
    • I'm attending local REIA meetings and picking other agent's brains
    • I'm looking for a brokerage that will allow me to pursue buying my own properties to rehab and rent
    • I'm looking for a brokerage with a lot of investor connections, that is investor friendly
      • Should have a lot of foreclosure, bank owned listings.  Investors will go look at those properties, which is a good way to make connections.
    • I'm looking for a brokerage with in-house property management
    • I'm being transparent/clear with my intentions
    • Broker has a good education & training program
    • Broker has good reputation in the community

Summary

Summary of Steps to Take:

1. Decide you want to be an agent

2. Choose a school

3. Take the pre-licensing course

4. Pass school test

5. Schedule & pass state exam.  Schedule @ psiexams.com after email is received

6. Get fingerprint. Form provided from school. Schedule @ bioapplicant.com/nj

7. (or anytime) Interview different brokers and get a feel for what's out there

8. Choose a broker, have sponsoring broker submit your license application with you

9. Get out there and get started

Summary of Costs:

$400 course & book, $45 state exam, $70 fingerprint, $170 state application, $100-200 per MLS, $??? Brokerage fees

Total: $700-$1000

If you've followed me this far, you deserve a medal.  Now go get your license! :)

Edit: The formatting looks good before I post, but not so good after.  Sorry about that.

Updated about 3 years ago

Corrections, since I can no longer edit: - PA requires 60 hours pre-licensing education, not 65. It can be done online. - MLS fees are not $100-200. Camden/Burlington County MLS is $700 per year.

Updated about 3 years ago

Corrections, since I can no longer edit: - PA requires 60 hours pre-licensing education, not 65. It can be done online. - MLS fees are not $100-200. Camden/Burlington County MLS is $700 per year. Total fees are closer to $2000.

@Jim Stoffey   wow great post.. I think one thing folks may want to take into consideration a RE professional that is licensed can have a 50 year career or until they retire or die.

I will be working until I die... I have 41 years at it and I am only 44... well maybe a little older.

But those that try to wholesale and live on the fringes I suspect their run is less than 24 months then they are doing something else... of course many rise up and become contractor fix and flip rehabbers.. and some become mega wholesalers.. but its very tough to keep that going for a sustained amount of time.. the RE license allows you to make money legally in may different arenas not just in sfrs...

good luck and here's to you having massive success

@Jim Stoffey

There is some great information in this post. New investors will find this very helpful. 

Excellent post.

Thanks for this! I was planning on getting my PA license soon because I'm looking to purchase properties there next month and the licensing course can be done online but I had no idea that credit hours could transfer over from NJ to PA. Now I'm thinking that I should probably get the NJ license first but the issue would be that I can't do a M-F 8 hour class due to my work schedule so the process might get a bit lengthy if I go for both at once. 

Very helpful post! Thank you once again. 

Well done my friend.  Very useful information for a potential licensee.  I have had thoughts of a similar post pertaining to getting your license in PA.  @Nelson M. if you have any questions feel free to reach out.  

I've also been entertaining the thought of getting my Jersey license as well, as a family member is thinking of buying a rental property at the shore.  I'd gladly pay $400 to earn $20-30k, as well as become someone in my office that other agents could turn to in order to gain a referral fee for any clients they had with similar interests.  

I will say that the licensing exam was much easier than I anticipated.  I remember sitting in the waiting room listening to the others talk about how many times they'd had to take the test and my palms started sweating.  I think the worst part of it was having to get in the elevator with the girl who failed.  The poor thing.  

It's a great idea to interview brokerages prior to getting you license.  Have your goals in hand and be confident.  Yet keep in mind, the licensing process doesn't teach you a whole lot about the day to day of being an agent.  As a new agent you may want to consider that you will need someone to walk you through the process in the beginning.  Education is invaluable and the need for it doesn't stop the day you get your licence.  

Best of luck to you!    

Great post @Jim Stoffey ! One additional cost I would add are the ongoing costs associated with holding a license. Granted those should be more than paid for if your license is being used, but they are a cost nonetheless. For example, membership to the Burlington Camden County Association of Realtors is approximately $700 per year.

Keep us posted on your experience!

@Jim Stoffey

Great post! Good luck!

You mentioned something that made me realize a "quick tip" - it is easier to get the NJ first and then the PA, BUT you can take your classes online in PA - so that might be beneficial for some people. If you get PA first, then you only have to sit in a classroom 2 days for NJ (and then take NJ test, fingerprints, etc.). If you're able to sit in a classroom, I would say getting NJ first remains the way to go for sure. @Nelson M.

Is Pa 65 or 60 hours?.....Also, I thought you could take the course online. Thanks @Mark Gallagher for clarifying.  Is it cheaper to take the course online?

@Christian Bors PA is 65 hours, can't confirm whether online is cheaper or not.

@Rick C. Thank you for the info for Burlington/Camden County MLS...I'll add that to my post here. I didn't realize they were that much, but should be very worth it.

@Jason Shellaway Great info & advice.  I agree with you...I didn't think the test was too bad.  I can't imagine that elevator ride, I was the one of the first ones done on the in-class test and I booked it out of there to avoid that situation

Updated about 3 years ago

PA requires 60 hours***

Fabulous Post! I just did all this this summer for many of the same reasons. I took the online course @ Polley Associates, took about 10 days, 18 hours a day:) Then took the course exam a few days after finishing the online class and then the state exam a few weeks after that. I agree that the State exam wasn't that hard. If you have the time I definitely recommend just jamming it all in.  I found taking the online course in a matter of a week allowed me to have everything fresh in my mind for the exams so that I didn't have to really study for the course or state exam. Maybe not the smartest advice, but worked for me. 

I live on the main line in PA and interviewed quite a few brokers (BH, KW, Long & Foster, Coldwell, Wiechert) I decided on KW. They are VERY open to agents that want to build their own investment portfolio. I also loved how transparent they are with their contract, fees etc. I did NOT choose them for their higher commission split, I chose them primarily because of their reputation for good training & nice corporate culture, they seem to have happy & helpful agents. Most people in my position would have probably chosen Berkshire Hathaway (they hands down have the market share where I am). For several reasons I didn't choose them, one of which is an agent is only allowed to sell his/her own property every 2 years. KW lets you sell as many of your "own" properties as you want. I am starting next week so I'll keep you posted on their training. I am primarily interested in re-doing OLD homes with good bones and it seems to be very hard to find ones around me with a good ROI, thus I am thinking it's going to take awhile to find). In the interim I'm hoping to make some money buying and selling real estate.

HI, Jim,

I am both a broker in that I manager an office in Princeton Junction, NJ for a major national broker and I am also an experienced, serious investor. I have been at it for 30 years. I would be very up front with the manager of my potential office. If I am correct and you want to join the office for the sole purpose of having access to the MLS and doing your own deals as opposed to representing sellers and buyers in the sale or purchase of their homes, you must tell the broker so. Some will let you "hang your license" at their office. Some will not.

@Christian Bors It's actually 60 hours for a PA license.  @Mark Gallagher  made a fantastic point noting that you can't take the NJ exam online as far as I know.  I took mine in PA through real estate express and I will note that there are 2 sections, 30 hrs PA Fundamentals and 30 hrs PA practices, you have to sit for a final exam on each section in a public facility (school, library, etc.) with a proctor.  It's  fairly loose process at this stage, at lease where I am, get a computer at the public library, pass the test then call the librarian back to sign off on it with their email address.  Once you pass both of those exams you are eligible to sit for the licensing exam which must be taken at a PSI facility, more like a room where the proctor can see everyone at the same time, basically don't sneeze or go into your pocket for tissue kind of deal.  

@Gretchen Bond 10 days! Even if there were 30 hours a day that's some kind of dedication, way to get 'er done!  I like your choice in brokerages as well ;)  I'm sure each office is a little different but the training is there for the taking, it's up to you to take advantage of it.  Getting a good mentor is key in my mind, training on how to close seller leads, negotiation tactics etc. is one thing, when it comes time you'll need someone to help you fill out your agreement of sale, reply to inspections and the like, that's when you'll know if you have a good mentor.  

Very informative post.  Had some questions for either of the NJ agents if you don't mind answering. @Rick Stein @Jim Stoffey

What are the on-going costs of an agent in NJ?
How much are MLS fees per month or per year?

And which are the major MLS's that are a must join in NJ if living in central NJ? (GSMLS? Middlesex MLS?, NJMLS?, etc) Thanks

@Alex W. thank you! As Rick C. said, Burlington/Camden County MLS fees are $700 per year. There are 7 MLS for the state of NJ. That's the extent of my knowledge there. Sorry I couldn't help you more. Rick Stein should be able to answer your questions.

@Rick Stein thank you for the advice. We met at SJ REIA's Shark Tank meeting and you directed me to Berkshire in Haddonfield. I spoke to the managing broker there (Rob). He was very helpful. I was upfront of course with my intentions. We're supposed to get together, I am waiting to hear back. Thank you again & perhaps I'll see you tomorrow at the SJ REIA main meeting and we can discuss further.

@Jason Shellaway  it is 60 hours for PA...I'm not sure where I got 65 hours.  Whoops!  But I can say with confidence that you can not take the NJ state exam online.  You have to take it at one of the PSI testing centers...not a huge deal, they are open 6 days a week with locations all over the state.  I got in the next day

Hi Jim,

actually, I am doing the same, preparing the 63-hr pre-license course, in Florida

It is hard for me, because I am doing it  between working 6-7 days a week.

I want to be able to access the MLS to become an investor in Broward county. I am looking around to see if I can buy a single family home and find my first deal.

Good luck ! 

@Alex W. as @Jim Stoffey mentioned there are numerous MLS systems per state. In NJ I mainly use Garden State which is one of the cheapest out there. Off the top of my head it's $65/6 months.

I live in your area, would you recommend the Princeton School of Real Estate?  I'm currently looking for a school to take the pre-licensing course.  Thank you in advance.

Hi Janelle,

I see your post on BiggerPockets! I am the admin asst. for SJREIA (South Jersey Real Estate Investors Association) 

We are a 500 member real estate networking and educational association. We have several meetings each month on various topics and at different locations throughout south and central NJ. There is a "newbie's" group but all our meetings cater to all levels of investors - new thru seasoned.  We have 2 main meetings next week - one in Cherry Hill the other in Princeton. We also have a member's only on-line chat forum where members network with each other remotely and many other benefits.

Since you mentioned Princeton in your post, I just wanted to let you know about us. On our website calendar we have our upcoming meetings listed with all details. Hopefully you can attend one of our meetings to see if SJREIA is a good fit for your investing/networking needs.

Sincerely,

Lynn Richman

Originally posted by @Tom Dagney :

Hi Janelle,

I see your post on BiggerPockets! I am the admin asst. for SJREIA (South Jersey Real Estate Investors Association) 

We are a 500 member real estate networking and educational association. We have several meetings each month on various topics and at different locations throughout south and central NJ. There is a "newbie's" group but all our meetings cater to all levels of investors - new thru seasoned.  We have 2 main meetings next week - one in Cherry Hill the other in Princeton. We also have a member's only on-line chat forum where members network with each other remotely and many other benefits.

Thank you, I plan to join some events after the holidays!

Thank you @Jim Stoffey for writing and everyone else for posting on this thread. I recently relocated to NJ from SC due to my 9-5'er and I'm ready to dip my toes in the real estate market here. I'm in Atlantic County so the amount of REOs is outrageous.  I have flipped two homes in SC, one I've sold and one I'm holding as a rental. I've been considering a real estate license for a while, and really appreciate the information. 

@Christina Archly Welcome to the country's top state for foreclosures & Zombie houses, there's plenty to flip, just need to find the buyers. This was a great thread by @Jim Stoffey & helped me get licensed in NJ, PA & CA. The Philly market is hotter than NJ since you're close, also look into The Real Estate School in Cherry Hill, they're the best!

Thank you @Jim Stoffey very good post. I'm taking the 2 week / 10 day class starting this coming Monday here in Bergen County NJ. I'm looking forward to it but I'm also a little nervous about paying attention for all that time while sitting on that cold metal chair. 

Quick question: You said to bring notebook I was wondering if I could bring my tablet with it's bluetooth keyboard and take notes that way? Would much rather type than write. Would that work? 

Thanks!

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