Do You Need To Register as A Business If You Operate A Real Estate Photography Business?

July 19th, 2015

BusinessRegistrationSusi 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.

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One Response to “Do You Need To Register as A Business If You Operate A Real Estate Photography Business?”

  • Cities usually require that you have a business license. You also have to have a business license in each city you do business. Practically, you will need to have a business license in the city where you are located. It’s unlikely that you will be spotted and cited for not having a business license in neighboring cities unless you have put advertising on your car. I know that in many cities in southern California, code enforcement officers cruise neighborhoods during the week looking for contractor’s vehicles and checking that they have a business license for that city. TV, Film and photos laws in California are very messed up. It could be argued that I need a “film production permit” to take photos commercially on location. Yep, it would be ludicrous and a judge is likely to throw out any charges, but stranger things happen all of the time.

    If you are in an unincorporated area, you may have to have a license issued by the county. It’s a huge racket as you don’t get anything in return for having the license other than the right to do business within city limits. Anything that can be taxed…….. (They call it a “fee” so it can’t be voted away).

    If you don’t have a commercial store front, you can probably get away without getting a business license, but you might be opening yourself up for a pretty big fine depending on where you are. Check with your city to see what their requirements are. If you work from your home and you are a renter, you may have to get a signed permission slip from the owner. There will also usually be a prohibition against having employees or customers visiting your home.

    I have a (overpriced) business license from the city where I live and operate as a sole proprietor with no employees. I’ve never been approached by any code enforcement officers and asked to provide proof of a business license. Other than reminding me to send money each year, I don’t hear anything from the city at all.

    If you plan to operate a RCMA (drone), you will be flying a big flag and may attract attention you don’t want if somebody call the cops over privacy concerns. The police might in turn call code enforcement or check your business license status directly. Do your homework.

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