We went back and forth with the 2 least expensive contractors. They both seemed pretty credible. Jerry was a 2nd generation contractor with 20+ years of experience. Still he couldn't provide much in terms of references for a project similar in size and scope to ours. He was definitely the most proactive and attentive. Sandro was Peruvian. Eric had a bit of language barrier with him, but we did get to see his in-progress work in NE, DC and his finished work in Arlington and it was great. At one point we had a handshake deal with Sandro and he was supposed to send us a contract the next day. However, about a week later, he arrived with a contract reflecting a price increased by $70,000! That was a bad day... and it turned us off to Sandro but we decided to embark on what we call in the development work, "VE" or Value Engineering. We simplified the basement entrance, turned the back basement exit into a mere fire escape, and removed underpinning from the plans (taking our finished ceiling height from 8'0" to 7'8"). However, we also added separate metering of utilities, just because we thought it would give us the most flexibility.
It's well into October and we're still waiting for our original permits, but we've changed all of the plans now! Still, people are advising us to push the original drawings through and then submit amendments. Apparently the structural review office is down to 1 man who does all permit review and also covers phone and filing. And the whole office is undergoing training which is killing their productivity. Meanwhile, the interest is ticking away at about $100/day.