A Comprehensive Guide to Becoming a Real Estate Broker in Massachusetts
We’re in the thick of one of the hottest (and longest) real estate cycles. People are buying left and right, leasing apartments for thousands of dollars a month. If it seems like an exciting time to be in the real estate industry, you’re right. So why are you still sitting on the sideline?
There are a lot of misconceptions about real estate brokers. Some dismiss it as a job for part-time, otherwise stay-at-home moms. While that certainly fits the description of some, the bulk of real estate professionals are hard at work, churning out deal after deal, and they have commissions in the bank to prove it.
It’s not too late to enter the fray. There’s still plenty of steam left in this real estate cycle.
Not sure where to begin? We have you covered. Below is a comprehensive guide to becoming a real estate broker in Massachusetts.
Real Estate Salesperson vs. Real Estate Broker
You may have noticed we led with becoming a real estate broker. Others will tell you that you need to become a real estate salesperson first. They aren’t wrong. There’s a distinction to be made between salespeople and brokers. You must become the former before you can become the latter, a process we detail below.
But in short, here’s what you need to know about real estate salespeople vs. real estate brokers in Massachusetts: all real estate salespeople have to work for a real estate broker. Real estate brokers can work for themselves. You have to be a real estate salesperson for at least three years before you’re eligible to become a broker.
As if the terminology weren’t confusing enough – let’s throw a third term into the mix: the real estate “agent”. An agent refers to a salesperson (an “agent” of the broker), but both salespeople and brokers tend to call themselves agents despite the nuanced differences.
In other words: you must become a real estate salesperson (a.k.a. agent) before you can become a real estate broker. So that’s where we’re going to start.
How to Become a Real Estate Salesperson in Massachusetts
There are a few basic requirements you must meet in order to get your real estate salesperson license in Massachusetts: you need to be at least 18 years old and have a valid social security number.
Check. And check. Now what?
Register for a 40-Hour Pre-Licensing Course
Here’s where the licensure process really begins. In order to get your real estate license in Massachusetts, you must begin by taking a 40-hour pre-licensing class at a certified Massachusetts real estate school. (This is a relatively new standard—in years past, you only needed to take a 25-hour course before sitting for the exam.) Find a list of licensed schools here.
There are real estate schools in cities and towns across Massachusetts. Some offer a week-long program where you attend class Monday through Friday, 9am to 5pm. That’s the fastest way to crank out the course, but also assumes you don’t have other obligations to attend to during the day. An alternative option is to attend a part-time course. There are less intensive courses that run at night or on weekends, but these usually take longer to complete. Find a program that fits well with your schedule.
As of October 2016, you can even take real estate classes online. Not all real estate schools offer this option. Online courses must be approved by the State’s Licensure Board in advance, and they require courses to be taught in a real-time classroom setting. In other words, all students must be able to interact with their teachers in real-time. Instructors may use some pre-recorded materials as a substitution for otherwise interactive online learning.
In terms of costs: most real estate licensure courses in Massachusetts cost between $300 and $500. Those with a keen eye might be able to find a deal on Groupon, but those deals are usually only eligible for certain courses, in certain locations, at certain times. But nonetheless, you might be able to score a major discount this way!
What to Expect in Class
Most classes, whether you’re enrolled full-time or part-time, in-person or online, will follow the same general format. You’ll start by learning basic real estate vocabulary. The real estate exam is loaded with vocabulary (some of which, to be honest, you’ll never use again!). Then you’ll start to learn about the rules, regulations and procedures you’re expected to follow as a real estate salesperson in Massachusetts.
Sprinkled in along the way are several case studies and guest presentations. This is one of the most interesting aspects of real estate school. Guest speakers will usually talk about their unique experiences: How did they get into the industry? What are the qualities of a great real estate agent? What is life like as a real estate agent? They’ll often tell real-life stories that focus on the material you’re learning in class.
Throughout the program, your instructor will give you several diagnostic quizzes to determine how well you’re absorbing the course material. Usually, the in-class quizzes are designed to look and feel very similar to the questions you’ll be asked on the real estate exam. Towards the end of your real estate program, your instructor will administer a full-length real estate exam to prepare you for the test. You and your classmates will spend some time reviewing the test on the last day. That way, the instructor can provide additional clarification about topics that are still a bit fuzzy.
On your last day of the program, assuming you’ve attended all 40-hours, you’ll receive your certificate of completion. The certificate requires three people (non-relatives) vouch for you in terms of your character, but this is generally an easy requirement to meet.
Studying for the Real Estate Exam
As you’re wrapping up your real estate course, you’ll want to think about registering for the licensure exam. You’ll need your completion certificate and ID number to register for the exam. We recommend people take the exam while the material is still fresh in your memory. That said, bake in a little time to study if you haven’t been studying throughout the duration of the program.
Because – here’s what people don’t always tell you: the real estate classes, on their own, usually aren’t sufficient for most people. Most people need to spend more than the 40-hour program studying for the exam. As mentioned above, the real estate exam is loaded with complex vocabulary. The test is also riddled with legal terms, state regulations, and math problems. One of the best ways to study for the exam is by getting your hands on a Massachusetts-specific set of real estate vocabulary flash cards. These can be purchased online or via app (Quizlet is one source).
NOTE: You must take the real estate licensure exam within two years of completing the pre-licensing class. Otherwise, you’ll need to re-take the 40-hour course.
What to Know About the Massachusetts Real Estate Exam
OK, so the time has come: you’re ready to sit for the Massachusetts real estate exam. This is one of the most important steps in your journey to becoming a real estate agent. Register to take the exam at any one of several testing centers located across the state. It costs $85 and is usually offered at least weekly.
On the day of your exam, be prepared to show up at the testing facility at least 15 minutes early. You’ll need to bring a photo ID and a copy of your real estate course certificate indicating completion. When it’s your time to take the exam, the administrator will take your picture and then sit you down at the computer to take the test. You can’t bring anything into the room with you. Most testing centers have lockers for you to store your personal belongings. They’ll provide scratch paper and a calculator for you to use during the exam.
The MA real estate exam consists of 120 multiple-choice questions. The test is broken down into two sections: general real estate knowledge and Massachusetts real estate law. You need to score at least 70% on each section to pass the exam.
You have four hours to complete the test. You can leave the room for bathroom breaks, but this time will count against your four hour allocation. Most people don’t need the full four hours to complete the exam, but prepare accordingly nonetheless.
After you submit your answers, you’ll go back to the waiting area. Your scores will be tabulated almost instantaneously. You’ll know within a few minutes if you passed the exam or not. If you did, congrats! You’re ALMOST a licensed real estate salesperson in Massachusetts!
Once you’ve passed the test, the last thing to do is to pay the state’s licensing fee. The real estate license costs $150. You can pay that right there at the testing center. Do so and you’ll leave the testing center with your Massachusetts real estate salesperson licenses in hand.
Now, the Fun Part: Getting Started as an Agent
Once you have your real estate salesperson’s license, you’ll want to start shopping around and interviewing brokerage companies. In Massachusetts, all real estate agents are required to “hang their license” with a brokerage firm.
You’re required to work for a brokerage firm for at least three years, which the state looks at like an apprenticeship program. Some brokerage firms will provide intense support, physical space, equipment, access to their databases, and mentorship. Others will give you a company email address and set you free—where you’ll be expected to navigate the real estate industry on your own.
At first glance, the first option seems to be the better one, right? For the most part that is certainly true because you truly can’t put a price on training. The best brokerages provide the most training classes taught through a wide variety of different teachers so you get exposed to the greatest number of skill sets. Support will come at a cost vs the bare boned, no frills, good luck, fly by night real estate companies that offer high commissions but also higher failure rates. As you will have learned in your real estate course, real estate agents work on a commission basis. Real estate changes rapidly, when it doubt go with market leaders.
So, depending on the arrangement and level of support, websites and resources the broker provides you, you’re looking at anywhere from a 50/50% commission split to an 85/15% commission split. With the former, you obviously get more training. There are companies out there that have extensive training courses in both apartment leasing and sales; and it is incumbent upon you to do your research. Figure out the company that gives you the best path from apartment leasing into residential and investment sales.
If you are looking at apartment leasing, seek companies that utilize the most websites and have the largest databases. There are a few companies out there which have developed advanced proprietary apartment syndicating software which gives their agents the edge in marketing. Great domain names matter and web traffic is super important because leads matter. The less time you spend marketing and the more time you spend showing and closing with customers is the best way to win long term.
Product matters in apartment leasing. Let’s be honest, a great apartment will sell itself. You want to look for companies that have the best apartments and the most google reviews. With sales you will probably want to specialize a lot more and know what type of sales you want to get involved with, because there is a huge difference between residential and commercial sales. Look for companies that know how to integrate apartment leasing into investment sales. Details matter.
In our opinion, if you’re in this for the long-haul, be patient and find brokers with significant technical knowledge. Find brokers who have previously worked in the high technology space or have even started internet companies. The game of real estate has shifted to the brokers that understand the vital mix of real estate and technology. You also want to find brokers that have been working in this industry for well over a decade. Just because you can get your brokers license in three years doesn’t mean you will learn even 30% of what is required to be a great. Work for a broker who will teach you the ins and outs of the industry. Yes, you’ll earn less initially, but these lessons will make you a better real estate agent in the long-run.
Once you get started as real estate salesperson, you’ll be required to work for at least 25 hours per week for three years in order to qualify to become a real estate broker.
Becoming a Real Estate Broker
Once you’ve met the requirements to become a broker, then you need to begin the real estate broker licensure process. It’s similar to the process you went through to become a salesperson. You’ll need to take a broker course at a state-approved real estate school. The course is another 40-hours’ worth of training followed by another exam.
The brokerage exam covers the following topics:
- Property rights
- Condos and leases
- Contracts and deeds
- Financing real estate deals
- Nuances of brokerage
- Fair Housing laws
- Massachusetts housing laws
- Settlement statements and closings
- Property management
- Commercial real estate transactions
The material in the brokerage course is intended to supplement what you’ve already learned during your three years’ worth of on-the-job training. Importantly, the course is intended to prepare you to become a broker – a position in which you could very well be accountable for the salespeople under you (should you desire to hire salespeople).
As was the case with your last exam, the brokerage test will consist of 120 multiple-choice questions. The test is divided into two sections: National (80 questions) and State (30 questions). You must answer 70% of the questions correctly in each section in order to pass. The brokerage exam costs $106.
Once again, if you pass, you’ll be required to pay $150 to obtain your license, but you’ll receive your license the same day as you pass the exam.
Upon becoming a broker, you’ll need to present a $5,000 surety bond that’d been completed and signed by an insurance agent. Before you freak out (!!!) – know that you only need to pay about $50 to obtain this five-year bond insurance policy. You need to have this surety bond to act in the capacity of a broker.
Congrats! Now you’re a licensed real estate broker in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts! You’re on the right track. As a broker, you no longer need to split your commissions with anyone else. Even better, you can start collecting a share of the commissions earned by any salespeople who work for you.
Whether you’re a licensed real estate salesperson or licensed real estate broker, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts expects you to engage in continuing education. In order to keep your license valid, you’ll need to take continuing ed classes every two years.
Continuing ed classes are pretty easy to complete. You only need to take 12-hours’ worth of courses and these can all be completed online. Best yet – there’s no test required!
After you complete your continuing ed courses, you’ll need to sign and return the state’s “Licensee Renewal” form. If you fail to complete these courses, your license will become “inactive” which requires another fee to reactivate.
Still have questions?
We’ve thrown a lot of information at you today. After all, we promised a comprehensive guide! If you still have questions, we suggest browsing the Commonwealth’s “Board of Registration of Real Estate Brokers and Salespersons” website. This is a great resource for anyone who’s interested in getting their real estate license. We recommend starting with the FAQ page, which can be found here.
If you’ve been contemplating becoming a real estate agent, wait no longer! It’s such a fun, fast-paced industry – particularly here in the Greater Boston area where real estate IS ON FIRE. If you put in the work, it’s a career that can be highly rewarding.