How to Become a REALTOR® in Illinois in 9 Steps

by | Aug 1, 2023

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The process for becoming a REALTOR® in Illinois can appear lengthy and overwhelming. It can take up to a year to get licensed and start working as an agent. However, you can stay organized and well-informed by following a comprehensive checklist outlining the entire process. The requirements are straightforward and you’ll have no problem completing them with this guide to becoming a real estate agent in Illinois.

→ Stay on track with this helpful checklist and process overview. 

Table of Contents

  1. Interview Brokerages
    • What is a brokerage
    • How to find a brokerage
    • What to consider when choosing a brokerage
    • What questions to ask when interviewing a brokerage
  2. Take the Pre-Licensing Course
    • What is the pre-licensing course
    • Which pre-licensing course works for you
  3. Pass the Licensing Exam
    • What does the real estate exam look like
    • How to study for the real estate exam
  4. Complete Additional 15-Hour Course
    • What to do once you’ve completed the additional courses
  5. Submit a Background Check
    • How to submit your background check
  6. Commit to a Brokerage
  7. Sign up for Errors & Omissions Insurance
    • What is E&O insurance
    • Will I need to use E&O insurance
  8. Apply for your Real Estate License
    • What do I need for my real estate license application?
  9. Join your local Multiple Listing Service (MLS)
    • What is a REALTOR® and an MLS
    • How to become a REALTOR®
    • Why and how should I join a real estate association
  10. How to Succeed in Your First Year as an Agent

Is Real Estate Right for You?

Before jumping into the world of real estate, pause and reflect on whether or not real estate is the right career for you. 

Real estate attracts individuals for various reasons, such as the allure of a flexible schedule, the freedom to be your own boss, and the satisfaction of assisting people during significant life events. However, seasoned agents will tell you that real estate is much more than merely showing  properties and getting paid. Before you start the process of getting your real estate license, ask yourself these questions:

  • Have you already talked to current agents and brokers?
  • Have you weighed the pros and cons of working in real estate?
  • What will your first year as an agent look like?
  • Do you know the real costs of getting started in real estate?
  • Do you have a personality suited to working in real estate?

Talk to current agents and brokers. Do you have any friends or relatives who are currently working as agents? Suggest a meeting over coffee and ask them questions about life as an agent, what their brokerages are like and what they like and dislike about the culture. Then start setting up interviews with brokerages.

Come to the meetings prepared with questions to ask about how the brokerage trains new agents, what kind of support they provide, how the commission works and what kind of culture the brokerage develops.

Advantages & disadvantages of real estate. Flexibility, unlimited income potential, and being your own boss may overshadow other factors but it’s essential to recognize and consider the cons that come with the territory. These include an irregular income relying solely on commissions, the demand to be available for clients at odd hours, handling stressed-out and emotional clients, and facing the seasonal fluctuations within the industry. Approach this profession with full awareness and a clear understanding of both its advantages and challenges.

How much does it actually cost to get started? The reality is that you must be ready to make a significant upfront investment in your new real estate career. Starting out as a real estate agent in Illinois can easily more than $3,000, which encompasses various expenses such as background check, the pre-licensing course, exam fees, additional required courses, license application fees, membership fees for local, state, and national REALTOR® associations, MLS access fees, annual realty association dues, and personal expenditures like insurance, vehicle maintenance, and work supplies. These costs don’t even cover the expenses of running your business during the initial year! Being financially prepared is crucial for a successful entry into the real estate industry.

What questions to ask current agents and brokers? When you’re talking to agents and brokers, go further than just questions about licensing. Take the opportunity to ask about the experiences you can expect during the first year as an agent. Seek information about the level of support available, including whether the brokerage offers a mentor program. Additionally, be proactive in understanding the financial aspects, such as out-of-pocket costs and anticipated business expenses. Make sure you have the personal finances to survive your first year.

Not everyone’s personality is suited for real estate. Recognize and understand your strengths and weaknesses, and consider how they will influence your journey as a real estate agent. A valuable starting point is conducting a personality assessment to gauge your levels of sociability, assertiveness, achievement orientation, dependability, and emotional resilience. A strong foundation in these aspects will contribute to your success as a REALTOR®.

If you have solid answers to these questions and know you’re suited for a career in real estate, then you’re ready to learn more about the licensing process.

Complete guide download pdf iowa licensing process

The 9 Steps to Become an Illinois REALTOR®

Let’s dive into the licensing process for becoming a real estate agent in Illinois. It can be a lengthy process that can take anywhere from 3-8 months to complete. There are nine steps for becoming a licensed agent in Illinois:

  1. Interview brokerages. Find out which brokerages have the right support system, tools and culture for you.
  2. Take the pre-licensing course. Take and complete the 60-hour Illinois pre-licensing course 
  3. Complete the 15-hour Applied Real Estate Principles course. Take and complete, practical applications of real estate principles.
  4. Pass the licensing exam. Pay attention in class and you’ll pass with flying colors.
  5. Submit a background check. Submit your background check first as it will take the longest time to complete. You will work on the other steps while it is processing.
  6. Commit to a brokerage. Partner up with the brokerage that will help you succeed.
  7. Sign up for E&O insurance. Protect yourself with errors and omission insurance.
  8. Apply for your license. Send in your completed application with the help of your brokerage.
  9. Join your local MLS. Become a member of your local real estate association and officially become a REALTOR®.

1. Start Interviewing Brokerages

Real estate agents are required to operate under the supervision and guidance of a managing broker in every state. Remember, this is not your typical job interview; it’s a partnership interview! Embrace this opportunity to gain insights into what your career as a real estate agent could potentially entail.

What is a brokerage?

Brokerage-  A brokerage serves as an agency consisting of real estate brokers led by one or multiple managing brokers. In Illinois, obtaining a real estate license requires an agent to be affiliated with a brokerage. The managing broker manages the firm, provides training to agents and staff, ensures errors and omissions insurance is in place, and may offer supplementary services like marketing, coaching, and financial assistance (often at an additional cost) to agents. In exchange for these services, brokers earn a percentage of each agent’s commission.

A brokerage can be as small as one agent working for a broker or it can be a large company or international franchise with multiple brokers and hundreds of agents.

What should you consider when choosing a brokerage?

Before you decide to join a brokerage, it pays to learn more and ask questions. It’s crucial not to be swayed solely by impressive presentations and instead, take the time to thoroughly understand what a brokerage can truly offer you. Remember, you’re an entrepreneur seeking the ideal partnership to drive your success. When conducting interviews with brokerages, consider the following essential topics for evaluation:

  • Coaching and training- As a new agent, a comprehensive training program for your first year is vital to your success.
  • Support services – Consider the range of support services they offer, from limited virtual assistance to end-to-end support through a deal. 
  • Market share – While the largest brokerage in town may not be the best fit for you, it’s essential to choose a brokerage that performs well in the local market.
  • Reputation – Gauge the brokerage’s perception in the community by speaking with friends, family, and industry professionals about their experiences and opinions.
  • Culture – Consider the workplace environment, your compatibility with other agents and brokers, and whether the company’s values and mission align with your own beliefs and aspirations.

What questions should you ask when interviewing the brokerage?

Your brokerage is essential to your success as an agent. Approach your meetings with a prepared mindset, ready to inquire and explore the agency’s culture and level of business support. A good broker will respond to your questions with thorough and honest answers, providing you with a clear understanding of how the company operates.

Training New Agents

  • Is there a new agent training program available at the brokerage? If so, what does it look like?
  • Will you be working with a mentor/trainer/coach? 
  • What tools and systems does the brokerage offer? What training will be provided?
  • What are the costs associated with training?

Brokerage Culture

  • What is the team culture like? Is it a collaborative environment where everyone works together or does each individual operate independently?
  • Are team meetings a regular occurrence? If so, what is their structure and will your attendance be mandatory?
  • Are they predominantly full-time agents or do they include hobbyist agents as well?
  • Does the brokerage have a dedicated support staff in place to assist agents?

Brokerage Brand

  • Is the brokerage affiliated with a larger brand? 
  • What advantages come with working for a national brand? Are there specific events or training opportunities offered by the national brand?
  • In comparison to smaller brokerages, what additional tools and support do the larger brokerages provide?
  • What benefits does working for a smaller, independent brokerage offer in contrast to larger firms?

Cost & Commission

  • What are the fees and costs associated with joining the brokerage?
  • What are the monthly expenses (education, training, and desk fees) that one can expect to incur?
  • What does the brokerage cover and what will agents be responsible for paying?
  • What is the commission structure?
  • Does the brokerage offer additional resources like marketing, coaching, or financial assistance?
  • Is there potential for agents to grow and increase their commissions?

While searching for a brokerage, be cautious of those offering low upfront costs and enticing commission splits. It’s crucial not to solely “chase the money” when making your decision. Some brokerages may offer attractive commission splits but don’t cover any of your business costs, free continuing education or access to support staff. Alternatively, others might propose a 100 percent commission split, allowing you to retain all your earnings, but then counter it with substantial monthly fees for office space and business expenses, ultimately impacting your profits. Consider the full package and the value offered by the brokerage before making your choice.

Ensure that you have thorough answers to every question you ask and carefully evaluate what holds the utmost significance to you, make an informed choice that best suits your professional aspirations.

2. Complete the Illinois Real Estate 60 Hour Pre-Licensing Course

To take the licensing exam, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) mandates completion of a 60-hour course covering real estate practices and law. This course can be taken either in a traditional classroom setting or online with varying costs depending on the chosen option.

What is the Pre-Licensing Course?
The 60-hour Illinois pre-licensing real estate course covers fundamental topics related to real estate practices and law, providing aspiring agents with essential knowledge and skills needed to pass the licensing exam.

Ensure you enroll in courses taught by accredited instructors and approved by the IDFPR. Completion of a course from an unapproved provider will not be considered valid, and you won’t be eligible to sit for the licensing exam. You can find a list of approved courses and course providers on the IDFPR website:

Which Pre-Licensing Course Works for You?

Consider your schedule, support network, familiarity with others who have taken the course, budget, learning style, and experience in real estate when deciding how to take the pre-licensing course.

What kind of support do you have? Completing the 60-hour course demands a substantial time commitment. In-person courses typically range from three to four weeks, while online courses can take up to six months. Essentially, it can feel like taking on an additional job, necessitating support from your network to stay focused and complete the course.

Do you know anyone who has taken the course? Don’t hesitate to seek guidance from friends, family, or network connections who have previously taken the course. Reach out to them for advice as they can provide valuable insights based on their experience, offer study tips, and help you with exam preparation. Their firsthand knowledge can be immensely beneficial as you embark on your own journey.

Do you have the budget for the course? The cost of the pre-licensing course can vary depending on the delivery method and course provider, but you should anticipate spending approximately $400 to $700, and this amount may or may not cover additional learning materials. Some online may charge a fee if you wish to extend the course beyond 6 months. If you decide to extend it beyond the 12-month duration, they may require you to repurchase the course.

What is your learning style? When it comes to taking the course, you have choices. So opt for the one that aligns with your learning style. If you prefer guidance from an instructor and studying with classmates, consider taking the in-person classroom course. On the other hand, if you thrive on independent learning and flexibility, the online option might be better suited for you.

Are you completely new to the world of real estate? For beginners exploring the real estate industry, an in-person course could be the ideal choice as it allows learning from an instructor and interaction with classmates. However, if you have prior knowledge of real estate or have family members working in the field, an online course might be more suitable and comfortable for you.

How to take the Illinois Pre-Licensing Course

When considering the 60-hour course for Illinois, you have two options: an in-person course and an online course. Each option has its pros and cons, and the best course choice for you will depend on various factors.

During your search for a course it’s important to make sure they’re an accredited provider by IDFPR. You can find a list of approved course providers on their website.

In-Person Pre-Licensing Course
When choosing an in-person pre-licensing course, there are two schedule options available:

  • Weekday courses, which are typically held for 5-8 consecutive business days with about eight hours of instruction each day.
  • Weekend courses, which typically take place on Friday evenings and all day on Saturdays and Sundays (though variations in schedules may exist depending on the location).

For individuals with full-time jobs, childcare responsibilities, or other commitments during the week, the weekend option may be more suitable. In-person courses offer advantages such as instructor assistance, a faster pace leading to quicker course completion, and learning materials included in the course cost. However, it’s essential to note that in-person courses may have less flexibility and usually come with a higher cost compared to online courses.

Online Pre-Licensing Course
Online courses offer significant flexibility and ample time for completion, and they are often more cost-effective. However, they typically lack instructor assistance and do not include learning materials. This option is well-suited for individuals with full-time jobs. Conversely, an in-person course may be more suitable for those entirely new to the real estate world.

It’s essential to note that the online course may not be the best fit for individuals who struggle with self-discipline or procrastination. While online classes tend to be more budget-friendly than in-person classes, they may require the purchase of supplementary materials like workbooks and practice exams.

3. Complete 15-Hour Applied Real Estate Principles Course

After successfully completing the pre-licensing course, you need to take a 15-hour Applied Real Estate Principles course. This additional course provides practical knowledge and applications of the principles learned in the pre-licensing course. Both the 60-hour pre-licensing course and the 15-hour Applied Real Estate Principles course are mandatory requirements for obtaining a real estate license in Illinois.

This course fulfills 15 out of the 75 hours of instruction mandatory for all applicants seeking a broker license in Illinois. It offers an interactive learning experience through situational simulations, case studies, role-playing, and real estate activity demonstrations, which involve the practical application of the fundamental principles covered in the 60-Hour Broker Pre-License Topics Course. Topics covered include real property principles, state and federal laws, real estate transactions, and various career paths in the real estate industry. This course range in cost from $104-$140 and is often packaged with the 60-hour course to reduce cost.

On the IDFPR website, you will find a list of approved courses along with the contact information of the providers.

What to Do When You Complete the Course

Each course may have its unique completion requirements, such as a final exam to assess your knowledge or periodic assessments. Upon fulfilling the course requirements, you will receive a certificate of completion. Once you obtain your certificate, you can schedule and take your licensing exam.

4. Pass Illinois Real Estate Licensing Exam

Once you successfully complete both the 60-hour pre-licensing course and the 15-hour Applied Real Estate Principles course, you can register for the real estate licensing exam. However, it’s crucial to wait until you receive your certificate of completion from the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) before registering for the exam, which typically takes a day or two. Ensure you have a printed copy of your certificate to present at the testing center.

It is highly advisable to take the licensing exam promptly after completing the 60-hour and 15-hour courses. Doing so will help keep the material fresh in your mind, especially if you have also completed exam preparation.

The real estate licensing exam in Illinois is administered by PSI Examination Services, an independent company with testing centers conveniently located throughout the state. The exam fee is $58 and there is no limit to the number of times you can take the exam if needed.

What to know about the Illinois Real estate Exam?

The Illinois real estate licensing exam consists of two parts: the national section and the state section. The national section is 100 multiple-choice questions and candidates have two and a half hours to complete it. The state section is 40 multiple-choice questions with a one and a half- hour time limit. To pass the exam, you must score 75 percent or higher on both sections. Some questions may involve math and candidates are permitted to use a simple calculator during the exam.

PSI has an exam bulletin that will give you a complete overview of what will be on the exam, tips for exam prep, how to schedule the test, what you are allowed to bring into the testing room and other helpful information.

How Do You Study for the Exam?

You might be wondering how to prepare for a three-hour exam. However, there’s no need to worry! Paying attention during the pre-licensing course should adequately prepare you for the exam. Additionally, the exam consists entirely of multiple-choice questions, which can make it more manageable. When in doubt, utilize the process of elimination to tackle any questions you are unsure of.

Certain course providers offer exam preparation resources to help you get ready for the licensing exam. For in-person courses, this may involve taking a practice exam on the final day of class. On the other hand, online providers may grant access to study guides and a question bank for an additional fee. Additionally, you can find free study tools on the internet, such as Quizlet, which is a website for creating flashcards to aid in your preparation.

of class. On the other hand, online providers may grant access to study guides and a question bank for an additional fee. Additionally, you can find free study tools on the internet, such as Quizlet, which is a website for creating flashcards to aid in your preparation.

The key areas to focus on are:

  • Take practice exams. An excellent way to study and familiarize yourself with the test format. Numerous practice tests are available online.
  • Study the vocabulary. Master the real estate vocabulary introduced in the pre-licensing course. Utilize flashcards to enhance your memorization of key terms and phrases.
  • Know the national laws. A significant portion of the exam will assess your knowledge in this area. Be sure to understand them thoroughly.

Take the exam ASAP. Aim to take the exam as soon as possible after completing your courses. By doing so, the material will remain fresh in your mind, increasing your chances of success.

5. Submit a Background Check

In Illinois, anyone applying for a real estate license is required to undergo a criminal background check, which involves checks by both the Illinois State Police (ISP) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). This process typically takes 3-6 weeks to complete. It’s important to note that the background check must be completed within 60 days of submission.

There is a $60-$65 fee for the background check depending on which vendor you use. You can find the form (OOS-FP) on the IDFPR website. You will need to complete it to start the process. After completing the form you can find approved vendors to complete the fingerprinting process. Make sure to keep your receipt in the case that an issue arises during the application process. 

The process is facilitated by an IDFPR-licensed fingerprint vendor. Once the background checks are finalized, the results will be electronically transmitted to the IDFPR Real Estate Division. If you are within the state, the background check typically takes around 3-4 weeks, while for out-of-state applicants, it may extend to approximately 3-6 weeks. For more information on the out-of-state fingerprinting process check out the IDFPR website.

6. Commit to a Real Estate Brokerage

Choosing a brokerage is one of the most important steps in the licensing process. Why? The partnership between you and the brokerage is what will set you up for success (or failure) as a real estate agent. 

Look back at what you have learned while interviewing brokerages. Choose the brokerage that provides the best answers for you to each of these questions.

  • What does the new agent training entail, and how comprehensive is it?
  • Can you tell me more about the tools and systems the brokerage provides to support agents?
  • What are the associated costs for the training program?
  • Could you describe the brokerage’s culture and working environment?
  • Does the brokerage have a support staff available to assist agents?
  • Are the mission and values of the brokerage aligned with your own?
  • Are the mission and values of the brokerage aligned with your own?
  • Which business costs will you be responsible for, and which ones will the brokerage cover?
  • Does the brokerage offer opportunities for professional growth and advancement?

Before you can submit your real estate license application in Illinois, you are required to make a commitment to a brokerage. Once you have chosen a brokerage, they will assist you in completing the final steps of the licensing process.

7. Sign up for Errors & Omissions Insurance

It’s essential to obtain Errors and Omissions insurance. While it’s a positive scenario to never have to utilize your E&O insurance, having coverage can protect you from unforeseen situations.

What is E & O insurance?

Errors and Omissions insurance serves as a type of malpractice insurance specifically designed for real estate agents. It offers protection in the event that a client files a claim against you for negligence resulting from an error or omission in your professional services. Should the claim be covered, the insurance company will handle legal expenses and provide legal support on your behalf.

Will I ever need to use E & O insurance?

Even the most reputable and reliable agencies can face lawsuits from dissatisfied clients. The term “negligence due to an error or omission” encompasses various scenarios:

  • A buyer feeling misled about a property
  • An agent providing incorrect tax or legal advice
  • Failure to disclose an issue with a property
  • Failure to fulfill the terms of the contract
  • Neglecting to take necessary actions when required

8. Submit Your Real Estate License Application

Congratulations, you’ve reached the most gratifying step in the licensing process: submitting your application! This application will be submitted through the account you created with the IDFPR. Your brokerage will assist you in completing and submitting the application to ensure a smooth process.

What do I need for my real estate license application?

Ensure you have everything you need to submit your license application by going through this checklist:

  • Certificate of Completion: 60-hour pre-licensing course
  • Certificate of Completion: 15-hour Applied Real Estae Principles 
  • Pass notice from PSI Examination Services for Illinois licensing exam
  • Complete your background check
  • Commit to a brokerage
  • Purchase E&O insurance
  • Pay the $125 license fee

Once it’s reviewed and processed & approved, you will be notified that you are officially a licensed real estate broker in the state of Illinois!

9. Join the local MLS and REALTOR® Associations

The final step on your road to success as a real estate agent is to join your local MLS and realty association. Your newly affiliated brokerage will guide you through the application process and even act as a sponsor for your membership application.

Multiple Listing Service (MLS)– An MLS is an information-sharing platform provided to real estate agents by the local association of REALTORS®. It is a private platform where local agents looking for buyers or sellers can publish listings. Only members of the local association have access to that region’s MLS. An agent may belong to more than one association and may, therefore, have access to multiple MLS’s. An MLS also aggregates information for third-party listing sites as a benefit to member agents.

The cost of membership can vary by location but you can expect to pay around $765-$1102 upfront. This includes the entrance fees & dues split among the National Association of Realtors, State Board of Realtors, and Local Board of Realtors. From there, you pay annual dues to your local association, with portions of it going to the state and national associations. Your annual dues will be prorated if you join after January.

Why should I join a real estate association?

If you’ve been calculating all the monthly fees and questioning the need to join an association, there are clear professional advantages that come with being a REALTOR®. The most tangible benefit is gaining access to the regional MLS, an invaluable tool for your success as an agent. Moreover, there’s an added element of professional prestige associated with the title REALTOR®. These associations uphold strict codes of ethics, signaling to clients that you adhere to a higher standard of professionalism and integrity compared to non-REALTOR® individuals.

While technically not mandatory to work as an agent, joining realty associations is highly recommended for your professional growth and achievements.

How to Become a REALTOR®

There are many regional associations of REALTORS® in Illinois, so your area is likely covered by one. Your local association is the first step to becoming a member of the state and national associations. To be eligible to join you need to be a licensed real estate agent in Illinois, be sponsored by a broker who is a member of the association and pay a fee. Membership to your local association includes membership to the state association (Illinois REALTORS®) and the national association (National Association of REALTORS®).

How do I join the Association of REALTORS®?

To qualify for membership, you need to hold a valid agent license, have sponsorship from an existing member broker, and be prepared to cover the entrance fees and annual dues. You can locate your local association through the following:

Each board provides an application form that requires your licensing details, and your sponsoring broker will need to endorse the application. You can also find fee schedules on their websites, giving you a clear understanding of the amount due in fees. Once you complete the application and submit the required dues, the board will inform you when you become an official REALTOR®.

How to Succeed in Your First Year as an Agent

Congratulations on obtaining your license, joining your local MLS, and becoming a REALTOR®! Well done!

Now comes the crucial step of planning out your first year as a real estate agent. It’s worth noting that only 13 percent of agents endure beyond five years in this industry. The initial years can be financially challenging as you establish your business. To ensure you belong to that successful 13 percent, make the most of your available resources.

  • Use your brokerage as a valuable resource and a source of professional support.
  • Make the most of your newly established network to enhance your opportunities.
  • Employ professional tools to streamline your work and boost productivity.
  • Approach the real estate journey with a clear and informed perspective.

Your brokerage serves as your primary pillar of professional support, especially during your initial year and beyond. Opt for a brokerage with a robust training program for new agents, as it will equip you with the essential education and professional tools necessary for success.

Take advantage of your new network, In real estate, word-of-mouth plays a pivotal role, relying heavily on referrals and connections. Make the most of your professional network within your MLS and real estate associations. Additionally, seek out a mentor who can provide valuable guidance to navigate the challenges you may encounter in your first year.

Use all the resources you can find. Consider enrolling in this comprehensive online video course, which covers a wide range of topics, including budgeting, lead generation planning, business plan development, and much more.

Go in with your eyes wide open. Your first year as a real estate agent won’t be a walk in the park. It’s common for most agents to earn less than $10,000 during their initial year in the business. Building a referral-based clientele takes time, and you’ll also need to invest in various business necessities. To avoid any surprises, go into your first year well-informed and fully prepared to tackle the challenges that come with being a new agent.

The real estate licensing process in Illinois might seem lengthy, with obtaining your license and joining a real estate association taking up to a year. However, you can simplify the process by following a comprehensive guide that breaks down each step and outlines all licensing requirements. Stay organized, utilize checklists, and rely on your support system as you progress through the journey of becoming a REALTOR® in Illinois.

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