July 19th, 2015
Susi in North Carolina asked:
I started taking real estate pics for a few realtors I worked for in Colorado and recently moved to North Carolina. I would love to offer my services to real estate companies here in NC, but I have a question: Do I need to register as a business and/or have special insurance before I go and take real estate pictures for agents?
There are two questions in there so let’s address each one separately.
Business registration: Business registration can mean different things, but in most states, the primary purpose of business registration is to make sure businesses collect sales tax on their business transactions and periodically remit that revenue to the state. So the underlying question that drives registration is, do you need to collect sales tax?
North Carolina does have a sales tax. Here is the info on NC sales tax collection. A primary issue for real estate photographers is does your state require you to collect sales tax on digital transactions? That is, the photos that a photographer delivers is not a tangible product like other retail businesses provide. Some states require sales tax on digital photos and some don’t. Based on a little online research, it appears that when you live in NC and provide digital products, you do need to register with the state of North Carolina dept of revenue and collect sales tax on each shoot, but you should contact the NC dept of revenue and verify that. Sales tax collection rules are different in different states so you need to verify what the rules are in your state.
Another reason to register a business is to form a corporation or limited liability company (LLC). This can be beneficial but is not essential for real estate photographers so I’m not going to go into details here. You can easily get by as operating as a sole proprietorship. If you are operating as a sole proprietorship some states require you to either have your business name the same as your personal name or register with the state if the name of your business is different than your name. Here is a list of state requirements. Check out what your state requires.
Business liability insurance: Yes, it is generally a good business practice to have you and your employees covered by insurance that will cover anything you may damage in a property you are shooting. This insurance will cost from $500 to $1200 a year depending on the coverage you purchase. For more on this subject and some recommended insurance providers see this post and associated discussion.