How to Become a Property Manager in California

20 Apr, 6:21 am


A Forbes article recently published mentioned that property prices are rising in the state of California, but that the demand for property management companies, and thus property managers, is also rising [1]

This is good news if you are considering a career in real estate. 

Whether you are thinking about managing residential properties or commercial real estate, you will need to know the steps you need to take to become a licensed Property Manager in California.

This article will outline the essential steps to becoming a licensed Real Estate Salesperson and/or a Real Estate Broker. First, let us start with a question that might be on your mind.

How long will it take to become a property manager?

The salesperson pre-licensing coursework will take about four months to complete. However, this depends on:

  • Completion of the 135-hour pre-licensing course material 
  • Passing the subsequent exam 
  • A successful licensing process


property manager discussing rental with clients in california


If you are seriously considering a career in property management, you will need to understand the responsibilities that you will hold. Here is list of common property management tasks:

  • Marketing the rental properties
  • Finding potential tenants
  • Screening prospective tenants
  • Negotiating the lease conditions
  • Managing the lease agreements
  • Processing lease renewals
  • Collecting rental payments
  • Handling late rental payments
  • Inspecting properties
  • Maintaining and repairing properties

As you can see from the list of duties, the property manager is the intermediary between the landlord and the tenant. So, you will need some good communication skills.

In addition to these points, you must work with the owner to ensure the property complies with California real estate laws and building codes.

Working as a property manager can thus be both challenging and rewarding. Sometimes you will have to step into the role of a financial advisor and then as a legal advisor. 

You will need good organization skills if you are to handle each rental property in a timely manner. 

Finally, you can also use basic accounting and finance skills in this profession.


california department of real estate website

There is a distinction between a Real Estate Salesperson License and a Real Estate Broker License, both of which are issued by the California Department of Real Estate, or DRE.

You could start as a licensed Real Estate Salesperson and then, after two years of experience, be eligible as a licensed Real Estate Broker. Alternatively, if you have a university degree with a major or minor in real estate, you could be eligible to apply for a real estate broker’s license without the need for professional experience.

Can you work without a license?

As an unlicensed property manager, you can show apartments and provide information and applications to potential tenants. As long as you are working under the direct supervision of a licensed real estate broker, you could even assist in collecting rental payments and accepting leases from tenants.

In fact, some property managers start working with a real estate firm at an entry-level position to gain experience while they work toward getting a license of their own. It is common practice to partner with a broker who will sponsor your real estate license.

However, only licensed property managers or licensed real estate brokers are in a position to buy or sell real estate on behalf of their clients. Trying to do so without a license would be considered illegal.

What if you are a property owner?

It is also worth mentioning that property owners can rent out their own properties without a real estate license.

Other property owners in Los Angeles, California trust us to manage their investment properties, check out our portfolio here

california property market residential neighbourhood


Let’s recap.

To be a licensed property manager in California you need to have a Real Estate Broker License or even a Real Estate Salesperson License. So, how would you go about getting the necessary certification and licensing?

Pre-Licensing Education

Well, for a start, you must study with an accredited real estate school or a college or university that offers the relevant real estate courses. Most community colleges in the state of California offer the necessary real estate curriculum.

You must complete 135 hours of pre-licensing course material, which is divided into the following three different courses:

  • Real Estate Principles, 45 hours
  • Real Estate Practice, 45 hours
  • an additional elective course of 45 hours

This final elective course could be in one of a number of available topics, such as Accounting, Real Estate Economics, or even Legal Aspects of Real Estate.

After completing each course, you will be provided with a certificate. This is your basic property management certification.

When you apply for your real estate salesperson license, you must provide proof that you have completed these educational requirements. That is, you must provide all three certificates as approved by the California Department of Real Estate.

For full details regarding accreditation and exemptions, go to California Department of Real Estate official website.

Exam Requirements

people discussing real estate exam requirements in california


Once you have completed the above course requirements, you can apply for the real estate salesperson exam. There are a few additional requirements, which you should be aware of, as follows:

  • A legal citizen or legal permanent resident of the United States
  • At least 18 years of age
  • A high school diploma
  • No criminal record (which we will discuss below)

The exam aims to test your knowledge of the real estate industry and procedures, which you would have gained as part of your pre-licensing education.

Exam Structure

The exam will consist of 150 multiple-choice questions and will cover the following seven topics:

  1. Contracts
  2. Financing
  3. Laws of Agency and Fiduciary Duties
  4. Practice of Real Estate and Disclosures
  5. Property Ownership and Land Use Controls and Regulations
  6. Property Valuation and Financial Analysis
  7. Transfer of Property

After a successful pass you can apply for your property management license. This license must be renewed every four years. The process will include providing proof of completing an additional 45 credit hours of continuing education every four years.

After you pass the exam, you will probably want to work with a licensed real estate broker who could sponsor your real estate broker license. If you do go on to get your own real estate broker license, you will no longer be required to work for another broker. You will then also take on more complex roles in the field of property management.

The requirements for sitting the real estate broker exam are basically the same as those for the salesperson exam. However, you will be required to complete not just three but eight college-level courses and two years of professional experience with a property management business.


Bear in mind that the fees for the real estate salesperson exam and license differ from that of the real estate broker exam and license.

You will need to pay $60 to the DRE as part of your exam application process and another $245 for the license application fee. You could also apply for both and pay the combined fee of $305. This will not include the tuition fees covering the three college-level real estate courses mentioned above. 

Additional fees will also be related to the background check and other expenses. So, altogether, you can expect to pay a total of about $650.

For the sake of comparison, you will pay $95 as an exam fee and $300 as a license fee once you are ready to sit the broker license. Once again, you will also have the option to apply for both at once and pay the total fee of $395.

A note on criminal records

The DRE will perform a background check on you as a real estate license applicant. If you have some or other minor offense, the DRE will also determine if the offense is serious enough to deny your application. 

Real Estate Laws

property manager discussing real estate laws with tenants


In addition to studying for your property manager certificate and salesperson exam, you should also be willing to keep up with a certain amount of real estate law. This is something to have in mind when you are considering if this profession is for you.

California has a series of health and safety and building codes that must be followed. All real estate managers are expected to follow California property management laws.

To add to this, many cities in California also have rent control laws in place that property managers are also required to follow. However, as with all things, staying informed with regard to the latest rules and regulations will quickly become part of your work ethic and professional routine.

Starting a California Property Management Company

If your end goal is to start your own property management company based in California, even as a licensed broker, you would need to obtain an employer identification number, or EIN, from the IRS.

There are a number of positive aspects to getting involved in real estate investment. To find out more, have a look at the Entrepreneur article, Why savvy investors prefer investing in real estate over equities?.


In this article, we have shown that becoming a qualified Real Estate Agent in the state of Californa is a well-defined path.  

Becoming a real estate agent or broker is a rewarding career path because it allows you to give financial advice and be part of an industry that makes home ownership a possibility to millions of hard-working Californians. 

If you are willing to study hard to complete the college-level courses, pass the licensing exam as well as continue developing your knowledge and skills in the demanding field of real estate management, then this could be the right career path for you!

Lotus West Properties is a leading property management company in California.   Property owners and landlords have trusted us with their properties in Malibu, Marinda del Rey and Hollywood for decades.