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how do you deal with models made with different scales? if you import a model and it is treating your tiles like they're 10 meters long instead of 1, or 1000, or whatever, how do you normalize everything to be equivalent in scale without the original project file? do you just re-scale them manually while eyeballing proportions?
If I'm using max yeah, I'll just rescale things manually, but generally you can work out what the scale of something is off by, so if something was made in mm, and you're using a cm grid system, you just drop it to 10% of it's original scale, or if something was made in inches (by a fucktarded american who still insists on using the imperial system) then you divide or multiply by a factor of 2.54 accordingly.
If you can't work it out like this, then create yourself a measuring stick - create a cube that is, say 1m x 1m x 1m and scale your objects till they look right around it. Another way is to bring in the 'demo soldier' model from Zbrush and scale him up so he's 2m tall and use him as a comparison for scale. A doorway on a building, for example should be around 210cm high.

After doing all this, then I'd reset my pivot to an appropriate point on the mesh (sometimes the center, sometimes the center-base) and make sure it's oriented to the world coordinate system.
Finally, I'd reset the Xform, collapse the xform modifier into the mesh and call it done. All in all this should take between 1-4 minutes.
is the convention that maya's grid tiles are 1 meter in length?
No, Maya is centimeters by default I believe. I don't use it a whole lot, so go double check that, but I'm pretty sure it's cm.

Oh wait you said grid tiles. Uh i dunno what grid size it uses by default, but the units are centimeter, I'm almost certain.

If you really want to have good control of scale and size use Max if you have the option. I've found max to have the most clearly understandable unit system.
im currently learning the basics of 3DCG in maya. i'll try max too sometime after though.

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