Written by Kacie Goff
If you have a felony conviction on your record, you’re probably itching for a fresh start. And a career in real estate could provide exactly that.
But in order to work as a real estate agent, you’ll need to get licensed with your state’s department of real estate. And those departments have specific prerequisites, many of which are designed to ensure real estate agents are trustworthy and honest — meaning your conviction could be a problem.
But each state handles felonies differently as they relate to real estate licensure. A felony conviction could be a hurdle you need to jump — or it could be an all-out roadblock. We’ve built this guide to help you understand if you can get a real estate license in your state if you have a felony.
First up, you might be wondering if you can avoid this whole headache and simply not tell anyone that you have a felony conviction.
When it comes to applying for a real estate license, though, that would mean you need to lie outright. All states vet the moral character of potential real estate agents. It makes sense because these agents will be helping people with arguably one of the biggest, most important transactions of their lives. On top of that, real estate agents often have keys to their clients’ homes. All told, home buyers and sellers want to be able to rest easy knowing they’re working with an agent they can trust.
So each state’s real estate department looks into your criminal history. If you fail to disclose your conviction on your application, that act could disqualify you from ever being able to get your real estate license. So it’s best to be honest and go through the steps to explain your conviction to the department of real estate.
It really depends on your state law. Our research shows that you’ve got about a 50% shot here. But to give you an idea of what you can expect where you live, let’s look at a handful of states.
Alabama’s a fairly difficult state, but it’s not impossible. The Alabama Real Estate Commission (AREC) says that you can’t have a felony conviction involving “moral turpitude.” Read: you can’t have done something depraved or immoral.
But since that’s something of a judgment call, you can submit what’s called a Determination of License Eligibility to the AREC. They’ll look at your criminal background and decide if you should be able to apply for a real estate license. Doing this first ensures you don’t put in any time, work, or money when your license application would ultimately be denied.
Completing the Determination for License Eligibility is a three-step process that requires fingerprinting. To see the steps, read AREC’s webpage on this topic.
The Florida real estate license application has a section that requires you to check a box if you’ve ever been convicted of a felony, but it also gives you a place to explain that conviction.
Generally, if you apply for your real estate license in the Sunshine State with a felony on your record, the Florida Real Estate Commission (FREC) will schedule a hearing with you about it. This is your chance to plead your case, explaining to the FREC why you can act as a trustworthy real estate agent. The word on the street is that the FREC approves the majority of the applicants they see in these hearings.
In Michigan, you can apply for a real estate license even with a felony conviction. At that point, your application goes to the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA), which will determine if your conviction should disqualify you for licensure.
Generally, if your felony has anything to do with the type of work you’d be doing as a real estate agent, they’ll deny you. A conviction for fraud, for example, could mean a no from LARA.
Here’s a hot tip from the Oregon Real Estate Agency website: “The law does not list specific criminal offenses or other circumstances, which would prevent a person from receiving a license. However, failure to disclose criminal, civil, and administrative proceedings is grounds for denial of a license.”
Basically, your felony might not mean your application is denied, but make sure you tell them about it.
Texas is sort of a blend of Michigan and Oregon. Like Oregon, there’s no specific crime that bars you from getting a license, provided you’re honest with the Texas Real Estate Commission (TREC) about it. Like Michigan, the TREC will determine if your felony relates too closely to real estate work and, if so, your application will most likely be denied.
All told, state laws vary — and often even vary from case to case. In almost all states, it makes sense to at least start the application process so your state’s real estate department can determine if you’re eligible for licensure.